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I'm a rich man, Mr. Poirot. I have enemies, but I need to get to Calais. You start now.
~ Ratchet (Cassetti) tried to convince Poirot to protect him

Lanfranco Cassetti (also known as Samuel Ratchet) is the main antagonist of Murder on the Orient Express, the famous Hercule Poirot novel written by Agatha Christie. Initially, he appears as the story's victim. However, he was soon revealed to be a notorious kidnapper and child murderer and was killed by the victim's relatives and friends (12 people in total on the same train) for revenge.

He was portrayed by the late Richard Widmark in 1974, Peter Strauss in 2001, Toby Jones in 2010, and Johnny Depp in 2017. In the 2006 video game adaptation, Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express, he was voiced by Sean Donnellan.

Biography

Early life

Lanfranco Cassetti was born in 1871 in Naples, Italy.

In 1895, when he was 24 years old, Cassetti and his family immigrated to the United States of America, and moved to Chicago, Illinois. Cassetti began working in the Chicago Loop as a Mafia henchmen before eventually becoming the boss of a Chicago gang, and his family became members of the Mafia as well.

Cassetti's Mafia group performed multiple kidnapping stunts. Cassetti, the group leader, would hire men down on their luck to do most of the work. They would kidnap a child, demand high ransom prices for the child's safe return, collect the money from designated areas, and then murder the children anyway; Cassetti would greedily take most of the ransom money for himself, and betray the men that he hired, leaving them to be arrested by the police, and possibly executed. If the police ever got on their trail, the gangsters would always murder their victim, bury the body, and continue to extort millions.

In 1920, The Wartime Prohibition Act was put into effect: this was a Constitutional act that banned production, imporation, and sale of alcohol - mostly whiskey and beer - in America. This was a huge mistake, as this outraged many people and instigated the fury of the Mafia. In Chicago, a city famous for its beer production at the time, the mobs decided to go against the law, dividing the city into personal territories where they would produce and import their own alcohol, making millions from this process. Cassetti's group was one of the Chicago mobs to make millions off of Prohibition bootlegging.

Whenever he was in public, Cassetti would act as a philanthropic business executive, masking his Mafia and Prohibition business.

It's possible that, at some point in his career, Cassetti, while on one of his many trips to New York City, hired Antonio Foscarelli to be in his Mafia business for a short while, but then double-crossed him to the NYPD.

The Armstrong Kidnapping

In June 1924, Cassetti set his main goal high: kidnap the firstborn child of John Robert Armstrong, a British Army Colonel who served in World War I.

The Armstrongs lived in a large 2-story mansion called Edenfield in Great Neck, Long Island, New York. When Daisy Armstrong was born in early 1927, Cassetti's plan came to life.

By early 1930, Cassetti had everything planned out: he would become a talkative customer at a shop where the Armstrongs' nursemaid Susanne Michel worked when she wasn't working at the mansion. Not knowing who Cassetti was, she disclosed special information to him that he would later use to his advantage, including when she would not be at the mansion.

At 3:00 a.m. on April 17, 1930, Cassetti hired two down-on-their-luck men, brothers Jeffrey and Robert Perkinson, to go with him to the Armstrong mansion. Cassetti and Jeffrey climbed up to the bedroom on the second floor, and snuck in through the window. Once inside, Cassetti snatched Daisy from her crib and snuck away down the stairs. Then he and Jeffrey entered the car, driven by Robert, and all three of them drove away.

3 days later, on April 20, Cassetti demanded an enormous ransom sum of $200,000. Colonel Armstrong paid the money in the hopes of Daisy's safe return. However, on May 1, Daisy's corpse was found in the forest: Cassetti had fatally shot her anyway.

The same day of the body's discovery, Sonia Armstrong, who was pregnant, was so shocked and heartbroken that she went into premature labor and miscarried, dying from the complications a few days later (in the 1974 movie the baby was still-born). Susanne was arrested and was wrongfully convicted for complicity in the crime, and the NYPD refused to listen to her claims, passing them off as hysterical denial. A week before her trial, Susanne - thinking that she did indeed cause Daisy's death - committed suicide by jumping out her jail cell window. In the 1974 movie her name was Paulette and she threw herself out of her bedroom window to avoid being arrested. In the 2017 film, she was incorrectly found guilty and hung herself while in prison. Later on, the NYPD found out that she was actually innocent, and posthumously cleared her of all her charges. Consumed by these tragedies with no hope of seeing another morning, Colonel Armstrong commited suicide by gunshot.

Escape from Justice

On October 31, 1930, Cassetti and Jeffrey Perkinson were arrested for the kidnapping and murder. Cassetti used some of his wealth to hire some impressive defense lawyers for his upcoming trial.

On November 25, 1930, Cassetti was placed at a jury trial. Cassetti's Chicago gang went to New York City, intent on freeing Cassetti. Using Cassetti's large bank account and the massive wealth he had accumulated from Prohibition and the kidnappings, they bribed the jury to let Cassetti loose on a technicality. Evidence was "misplaced", and Cassetti walked away a free man. Had Cassetti not been let loose, he would have been executed or lynched by an angry mob.

On December 20, 1930, Jeffrey Perkinson was executed by electric chair. On the eve of his execution, he announced to everyone the name of his boss, but by then, it was too late, as Cassetti had already escaped from justice.

In Europe

To avoid further prosecution, Cassetti left America by way of travelling through Mexico and Brazil, changed his name to Samuel Edward Ratchett, and lived in the 10th Arrondisment of Paris, France. In the 1974 movie, he hired a man to kidnap and Murder Daisy, but then betrayed him by leaving him to be arrested, tried, convicted and executed while he disappeared with the Ransom money. In the 2017 film, Cassetti's first name is John and he committed the crimes by himself two years earlier. In both movies, there was no trial for him as he fled the country before he could be arrested.

While in Paris, he worked as a financier. He lived off his rentes, or interests paid by the French government.

A connoisseur of classical art and antiquities, Cassetti became an art dealer, and would sell art to different parties.

The art that attracted his attention the most was 13th-century Oriental pottery, such as ancient urns, frescoes, and statues. He was also attracted by Oriental rugs and carpets, and Kashan silk scarves.

To make even more money, he would create perfect forgeries of the antiquities and sell them for higher prices the antiquities true value. One notable case was in Milan, Italy, when he forged Oriental carpets, and sold them for thousands of dollars.

Cassetti spent the rest of his life travelling to the Middle East to steal these relics and antiquities from archaeological sites, return to Paris, forge them, and sell them for prices higher than their actual price value.

On January 7, 1934, Cassetti hired a bankrupt oil broker named Hector MacQueen- the son of the District Attorney at his trial - to be his secretary and courier. Since Cassetti did not know any other languages other than English, and had even forgotten his original Italian language, MacQueen acted as his translator.

In March 1935, Cassetti hired Edward Masterman - the former butler of the Armstrongs, and the batman of Colonel Armstrong - to be his valet.

Around this time, Cassetti recieved anonymously-written threatening letters, actually written by MacQueen and Masterman as warning notes.

Death

During the journey to Western Europe on the Orient Express, Cassetti approaches Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot, claiming his life is in danger. He produces a small gun that he carries at all times, saying he believes it's necessary. He wants to hire Poirot to discover who is threatening him. Despite offers of increasingly substantial sums of money, Poirot declines his offer.

That night, in Vinkovci, at about 23 minutes before 1:00 a.m., Poirot wakes to the sound of a scream. It seems to come from the compartment next to his, which is occupied Cassetti. When Poirot peeks out his door, he sees the conductor Pierre Michelle knock on Cassetti's door and ask if he is all right. A man's voice replies in French, "Ce n'est rien. Je me suis trompé" ("It's nothing. I was mistaken"), and the conductor moves on to answer another bell further down the passage. Poirot decides to go back to bed but is disturbed by the fact that the train is unusually still.

As he lies awake, Poirot hears Mrs. Harriet Hubbard ringing the bell urgently. When he rings the conductor for a bottle of mineral water, Poirot learns that Mrs. Hubbard claimed that someone had been in her compartment and the train has stopped because a large snowdrift is blocking the track. He dismisses the conductor and tries to go back to sleep, only to be awakened again by a knock on his door. This time, when Poirot gets up and looks out his door, the passage outside his compartment is empty, except for a woman in a scarlet kimono retreating down the passage in the distance. The next day, he awakens to find that Cassetti is dead, having been stabbed 12 times in his sleep. Bouc suggests that Poirot take the case, as he is so experienced with similar mysteries. Poirot also enlists the help of Stavros Constantine, a Greek Medical Doctor, who along with Bouc slept in another coach and is therefore not a suspect. Nothing more is required than for Poirot to sit, think, and take in the available evidence.

The door to Cassetti's compartment was locked and chained. One of the windows is open. Some of the stab wounds are very deep, at least three are lethal, and some are glancing blows. Furthermore, some of the wounds appear to have been inflicted by a right-handed person and some by a left-handed one. The pistol Cassetti carried is discovered under his pillow, unfired. A glass on the nightstand is examined and revealed to be drugged. A small pocket watch is discovered in Cassetti's pajamas, broken and stopped at 1:15 a.m.

Poirot finds several more clues in the victim's cabin and on board the train, including a woman's linen handkerchief embroidered with the initial "H", a pipe cleaner, and a button from a conductor's uniform. All of these clues suggest that the murderer or murderers were somewhat sloppy. However, each clue seemingly points to different suspects, which suggests that some of the clues were planted.

By reconstructing parts of a burned letter, Poirot discovers that "Ratchett" was Cassetti. As the evidence mounts, it continues to point in different directions, giving the appearance that Poirot is being challenged by a mastermind. A critical piece of missing evidence—the scarlet kimono worn the night of the murder by an unknown woman—turns up on top of Poirot's own luggage.

The Solution

After meditating on the evidence, Poirot assembles Bouc and Dr. Constantine, along with the 13 suspects, in the restaurant car, and lays out two possible explanations of Cassetti's murder. The first explanation is that a stranger—some gangster enemy of Cassetti—boarded the train at Vinkovci, the previous stop, murdered Cassetti for reasons unknown, then escaped unnoticed and its possible that the man has already left Yugoslavia. The crime occurred an hour earlier than everyone thought, because the victim and several others failed to note that the train had just crossed into a different time zone. The other noises heard by Poirot on the coach that evening were unrelated to the murder. However, Dr. Constantine objects, saying that Poirot must surely be aware that this does not explain the circumstances of the case.

Poirot's second explanation is much longer and rather more sensational: all of the suspects are guilty. Poirot's suspicions were first aroused by the fact that all the passengers on the train and the conductor were of so many different nationalities and social classes, and that only in the "melting pot" of the United States would a group of such different people form some connection with each other.

Poirot reveals that the 12 other passengers on the train, and the train conductor, were all connected to the Armstrong family in some way:

  • Hector Willard MacQueen, Cassetti's secretary was devoted to Sonia Armstrong. MacQueen's father was the district attorney for the kidnapping case. He knew from his father the details of Cassetti's escape from justice and intended to kill Cassetti. In both the book and the 1974 film, Hector's father had known that Susanne/Paulette was never involved In the kidnapping while in the 2017 movie, his father believed she was involved and was responsible for prosecuting her and sending her to prison, with his career being destroyed when the truth was discovered after her suicide.
  • Edward Henry Masterman, Cassetti's valet, was Colonel Armstrong's batman during the war, and later his valet, who also acted as butler to the Armstrong household. In the 1974 film, his last name is Beddoes. In the 2017 release he has his original last name and is terminally ill.
  • Colonel John Arbuthnot was Colonel Armstrong's comrade and best friend. In the 2017 movie, he was black and a Doctor, filling in Constantine's role.
  • Mrs. Hubbard is, in actuality, Linda Arden (real married last name Goldenberg), the most famous tragic actress of the New York stage, and was Sonia Armstrong's mother and Daisy's grandmother.
  • Countess Andrenyi (née Helena Goldenberg) was Sonia Armstrong's sister.
  • Count Andrenyi is the husband of Helena Andrenyi.
  • Princess Natalia Dragomiroff was Sonia Armstrong's godmother, and a friend of her mother.
  • Miss Mary Debenham was Sonia Armstrong's secretary and Daisy Armstrong's governess.
  • Fräulein Hildegarde Schmidt was the Armstrong family's cook.
  • Antonio "Gino" Foscarelli, an Italian-American car salesman based in Chicago, was the Armstrong family's chauffeur. In the 2017, his name is Biniamino Marquez, which is Hispanic.
  • Miss Greta Ohlsson, a Swedish missionary, was Daisy Armstrong's nurse. In the 2017 release she was Spanish and named Pilar Estravados, referencing a character from Hercule Poirot's Christmas.
  • Pierre Michel, the train's conductor, was the father of Susanne/Paulette, the Armstrong's nursemaid who committed suicide. In the 2017 movie, he was Susanne's brother.
  • Cyrus Hardman, a private detective ostensibly retained as a bodyguard by Cassetti, was a policeman in love with Susanne. In the 1974 film, he is a Pinkerton detective hired to guard Cassetti while masquerading as a theatrical agent. In the 2017 version his name is Gerhard and pretends to be an Austrian Professor who makes rather prejudiced remarks.

All these friends and relations had been gravely affected by the Armstongs' and Susanne/Paulette's deaths and were outraged by Cassetti's subsequent escape. They took it into their own hands to serve as Cassetti's executioners, to avenge a crime the law was unable to punish. Each of the suspects stabbed Cassetti once, so that no one could know who delivered the fatal blow. Twelve of the conspirators participated to allow for a "12-person jury", with Countess Andrenyi taking no part in the crime as she would have been suspected the most, so her husband took her place (in the 1974 movie, they both stabbed Cassetti by holding the dagger). One extra berth was booked under a fictitious name – Harris – so that no one but the conspirators and the victim would be on board the coach, and this fictitious person would subsequently disappear and become the primary suspect in Cassetti's murder. The only people not involved in the plot would be "M. Bouc/Signor Bianchi" for whom the cabin next to Cassetti had already been reserved, and Dr Constantine. The main inconvenience for the executioners was the snowstorm and the last minute, unwelcome presence of Poirot, which caused complications resulting in several crucial clues being left behind.

Poirot summarizes that there was no other way the murder could have taken place, given the evidence. Several of the suspects have broken down in tears as he has revealed their connection to the Armstrong family, and Arden confesses that the second theory is correct, but begs Poirot to tell the authorities that she acted alone as Cassetti's murderess. The evidence could be skewed to implicate her and she declares she would gladly go to prison if it meant the other passengers and Michel were spared. She points out that everyone present has suffered because of Cassetti's actions, that there would likely have been other victims like Daisy if Cassetti had gone unpunished and that Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham are in love.

Fully in sympathy with the Armstrong family and feeling nothing but contempt for the victim, Bouc pronounces the first explanation as correct. Dr. Constantine agrees, saying he will edit his original report of the murder as he now "recognizes" some mistakes he has made, which clearly indicate that Poirot's first explanation was correct after all. Poirot announces that he has "the honour to retire from the case". Therefore, all twelve killers were spared.

In Agatha Christie's Poirot

This Devil

In the episode adpated from the novel, included in the twelfth season of Agatha Christie's Poirot, Cassetti was portrayed by Toby Jones, who also played Arnim Zola, Culverton Smith and Dream Lord.

Cassetti was a mafia henchman operating out of Chicago, Illinois. In 1933, he kidnapped a three-year old girl named Daisy Armstrong from her Long Island estate Edenfield, and sent her parents a ransom demand of $200,000. Even though it was paid, Cassetti had already killed Daisy, less than an hour after she was kidnapped.

Daisy's pregnant mother Sonia was so shocked by the report of Daisy's death that she went into premature labor and miscarriaged; she later died from the complications. Her husband, Colonel Armstrong, unable to face another day, committed suicide by gunshot. Françoise, the Armstrongs' housemaid, was arrested on suspicion of aiding the kidnapper, and hanged herself in her jail cell. Though she had in fact casually told Cassetti a few things about the family and the house - namely when she would and wouldn't be there - she was completely unaware as to who he was and what he was planning.

Cassetti was arrested, but his mafia associates had leverage on members of the legal system, and in addition, they threatened D.A. MacQueen with the death of his son Hector MacQueen if he did not comply to their intentions. The evidence was "misplaced", and Cassetti went free. He took the ransom money, adopted a new identity as "Samuel Ratchett", and went on the run.

5 years later, in September 1938, the Armstrongs' former professional governess Mary Debenham organised a meeting of all those he had wronged. They gathered on the Orient Express where Cassetti was travelling. He had received threatening messages, telling him to return the $200,000 to a lockbox at Calais-Maritime Station. Ratchett correctly deduced that his life was in danger and asked the detective Hercule Poirot for help; Poirot refused his offer. That night, Cassetti was drugged, and the drugs paralyzed him while he tried to sleep, keeping him awake while the following events would unfold. The twelve people gathered by Debenham entered Cassetti's lodging on the train. Each one of them took a turn in stabbing him, ensuring that none of them knew for sure who delivered the killing blow.

After solving the crime, Poirot let the murderers go as they had killed an evil man.

Trivia

Navigation

 
Agatha Christie's Poirot (title card) Villains

Murderers
Alfred Inglethorp | Evelyn Howard | Marthe Daubreuil | Jane Wilkinson | Claude Darrell | Lanfranco Cassetti | Sir Charles Cartwright | Norman Gale | Dr. Geoffrey Roberts | Franklin Clarke | Bella Tanios | Nurse Harris | Jacqueline de Bellefort | Simon Doyle | Lady Westholme | Superintendent Sugden | Jessie Hopkins | Martin Alistair Blunt | Patrick Redfern | Elsa Greer | Miss Gilchrist | Marrascaud | Nigel Chapman | Ann Shapland | Gerda Christow | Dr. James Sheppard | Rowena Drake | Nick Buckley | Michael Garfield | Stephen Norton


Villainous Victims
Grace Springer | Mrs. Clapperton | Henry Reedburn | Harrington Pace | Sir Reuben Astwell | Paul Renauld | Lanfranco Cassetti | Linnet Doyle | Louise Bourget | Simeon Lee | Lady Boynton | Leslie Ferrier | Paul Déroulard | Mary Gerard | Lord Edgware | Madame Giselle | Stephen Norton


Others
Alice Cunningham | Countess Vera Rosakoff | The Big Four | Anne Meredith | Miss Van Schuyler


TV Series Only
Rohda Dawes | David Hunter | Dr. Gerard

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