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I'm a rich man, Mr. Poirot. I have enemies, but I need to get to Calais. You start now!
~ Lanfranco Cassetti trying to convince Poirot to protect him.

Lanfranco Cassetti, also known as Samuel Edward Ratchet, is the main antagonist of Agatha Chrsitie's 1934 Hercule Poirot novel Murder on the Orient Express and its film adaptations.

Initially, Cassetti/Ratchett appeared as the story's victim. However, he was soon revealed to be a notorious kidnapper and child murderer; soon enough Cassetti was eventually killed by the victim's relatives and friends (thirteen people in total on the same train).

Portrayals

Biography

Murder on the Orient Express

Cassetti was the leader of a gang which kidnapped people for ransom. According to Poirot, their method was well-known to the American police. After a kidnapping, if the police appeared to be closing in on them, they would kill their victim, while continuing to extract as much money as possible before the crime was discovered.

Some years before the events on the Orient Express, Cassetti and his gang had kidnapped three year old heiress, Daisy Armstrong, the daughter of the wealthy Colonel John Robert Armstrong. Following their usual method, the group demanded a massive ransom of $200,000. Desperate for their daughters safe return, the Armstrongs paid it, but when the police followed the instructions, they found Daisy dead. It was believed that she had been dead for at least a fortnight, suggesting that Cassetti and his gang killed her before collecting the ransom, or perhaps even making the demand.

Unfortunately, Cassetti's selfish act would result in four more deaths. Daisy's mother Sonia Armstrong was six months pregnant at the time of her daughters death. The shock and despair caused her caused her to go into premature labor. Ultimately, both she and the baby died. Colonel Armstrong was likewise distraught at the news of Daisy's death, but the loss of both his wife and second child proved to be too much. Heartbroken and inconsolable, Colonel Armstrong committed suicide by fatally shooting himself.

The final victim was Susanne Michel, Daisy's French nursemaid who was wrongly suspected of complicity during the kidnapping. Her pleas of innocence fell on deaf ears and fearing what might happen, she threw herself out of her bedroom window. Tragically, evidence of her innocence emerged not long afterwards and she ended up being acquitted too late.

  • In the 1974 movie, Susanne's name was Paulette and was Sonia's personal maid.

Following Daisy's murder, the police conducted a thorough investigation, eventually managing to track down and arrest Cassetti. The kidnapper/murderer was put on trial, but unfortunately for the victims relatives, justice would not be served. Using his wealth and his "secret hold over various people" Cassetti managed to get himself acquitted on an unspecified technicality. As a result of this and double jeopardy, Cassetti could not be tried for the murder again despite everybody knowing that he had done it. Even so, Cassetti fled the country for his own safety.

  • In the 1974 movie, Cassetti had an accomplice who helped him kidnap and murder Daisy. After obtaining the ransom money, Cassetti betrayed his accomplice, leaving him to be arrested, tried, convicted and executed while he disappeared.
  • 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.

In Europe

Cassetti left America by way of travelling through Mexico and Brazil, changed his name to Samuel Edward Ratchett, and lived in Paris, France. 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. As shown in multiple adaptations, 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.

  • In the 2017, 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.

At some point, 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 didn't know any other languages other than English, MacQueen acted as his translator. Cassetti also hired Edward Masterman - the batman of Colonel Armstrong, and the former butler of the Armstrongs - to be his valet.

Around this time, Cassetti received 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, who is onboard the Train with his friend and railway director M. Bouc, or Senor Bianchi in the 1974 movie. Cassetti says his life is in danger and he produces a small gun that he carries at all times, believing 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 Bouc/Bianchi gives Poirot his compartment while he goes to sleep in another one. 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. Caroline Hubbard (Harriet in 1974), 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/Bianchi 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. 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, some are mere scratches. 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 summons Mr. Bouc, Dr. Constantine and the 13 suspects to the restaurant car. There he lays out all of the evidence before stating that there are two possible explanations behind Rachett/Cassetti's murder.

The first theory goes thus. A stranger—some gangster enemy of Cassetti—snuck onto the train either at Vinkovci, or one of the previous stops. Disguising themselves as a conductor, this unnamed, unidentified individual waited for the right opportunity to sneak into Rachett's compartment, which they did using a set of stolen keys. They then murdered Rachett for reasons unknown. Taking advantage of the storm, thie person then escaped through the window of another compartment and is more than likely by now already out of Yugoslavia. The crime also occurred an hour earlier than everybody thought, because the victim and several of the others failed to notice that the train had crossed into a different time zone. Meanwhile, the other noises that Poirot and the other guests heard on the coach that evening were purely circumstantial and are completely unrelated to the murder.

After hearing this solution, Dr. Constantine objects. He insists that the evidence simply does not support that theory and that Poirot must surely know this. The detective agrees with him, but tells him not to judge or dismiss this explanation so hastily. With that, Poirot offers up his second theory and its by far the much more elaborate and sensational of the two.

According to the detective there is no single suspect; beacuse all thirteen of the passengers and the train conductor are guilty. Poirot's suspicions were first aroused by the fact that all the passengers on the train and the conductor seemed to be familiar with one another, despite being from so many different nationalities and social classes. He theorizes that only in the "melting pot" of America would a group of such different people form some connection with each other. Poirot reveals that from listening to their conversations and reconstructing the burnt letters, he has figured out that they are all connected to the Armstrong family in some way:

  • Hector Willard MacQueen, Cassetti's secretary is the son of the district attorney that prosecuted Cassetti for Daisy Armstrong's kidnapping. Boysihly devoted to Sonia Armstrong, MacQueen would have heard from his father about the details about Cassetti's escape and resolved to kill Cassetti himself, in order to avenge both Sonia and his father.
    • In the book, MacQueen's father failed to get Cassetti convicted, but in the 1974 movie, he managed to at least get Cassetti's accomplice sentenced to death.
    • In both the book and many of the films, Hector's father also knew that Susanne/Paulette was never involved In the kidnapping. In the 2017 movie however, his superiors pressured him into prosecuting her, leading to Susanne/Paulette being sent to prison. When the truth came out following Susanne's suicide, these same men threw Mr. MacQueen under the bus, tarnishing his reputation and ruining his career.
  • 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, Masterman is revealed to be terminally ill with thyroid cancer.
  • Colonel John Arbuthnot was Colonel Armstrong's comrade and best friend.
    • In the 2001 television film, he was a billionaire software developer.
    • In the 2017 film, he was a doctor, filling in for Constantine's role.
  • Caroline Martha Hubbard is, in actuality, Linda Arden (real married last name Goldenberg) the most famous tragic actress of the New York stage. She is Sonia Armstrong's mother and Daisy's grandmother.
  • Countess Elena Andrenyi (née Helena Goldenberg) is Sonia Armstrong's younger sister.
  • Count Rudolph Andrenyi is Helena Andrenyi's husband, Sonia and Colonel Armstrong's brother in law, and Daisy's uncle.
  • Princess Natalia Dragomiroff was Sonia Armstrong's godmother and is 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 film, his nationality is changed to Cuban and his name is Biniamino Marquez.
  • Miss Greta Ohlsson, a Swedish missionary, was Daisy Armstrong's nurse.
    • In the 2017 film, her nationality is changed to Spanish and her name is Pilar Estravados, referencing a character from Hercule Poirot's Christmas.
  • Pierre Michel, the train's conductor, is the father of Susanne, the Armstrong's falsely accused nursemaid who committed suicide.
    • In the 2017 movie, he was rewritten as Susanne's brother.
  • Cyrus Bethmen Hardman, a private detective ostensibly retained as a bodyguard by Cassetti, was a policeman at the time of the Armstrong case, who was in love with Susanne/Paulette and wanted to marry her.
    • In the 1974 film, he is a Pinkerton detective hired to guard Cassetti while masquerading as a theatrical agent.
    • In the 2017 version he pretends to be an Austrian Professor who makes rather prejudiced remarks.
    • In the Poirot episode, he's replaced by Dr. Constantine, who was the OB/GYN to Sonia at the time of her death.

Noting that these friends and relatives had been gravely affected the deaths of their loved ones deaths, Poirot says that they were also, understandably, furious about Cassetti's subsequent escape from justice. Knowing that the villain could not tried again, the group had decided to take the law into their own hands. After making the necessary arrangements, they met at the designated time.

On the night in question, they gathered outside Cassetti's room, which they had easy access too. One by one, each conspirator stabbed Cassetti once. This explains the inconsistency of the strike patterns that Dr. Constantine observed. It also means that nobody involved would ever know which one of them dealt the fatal blow that killed the man responsible for their suffering. This, Poirot say, is how the murder was carried out. Twelve conspirators representing a "12-person jury". The only one that did not stab Rachett/Cassetti was Countess Andrenyi. Given her relationship to Sonia Armstrong, she would have the prime suspect. For that reason, her husband took her place and carried out the deed on her behalf.

  • In the 1974 movie however, they both stabbed Cassetti. Helena held the dagger and Rudolph helped her plunge it down.

To cover their tracks, the conspirators had booked extra berth under a fictitious name, Harris. That way, nobody but the conspirators and the victim would be on board the coach. Then once Rachett's body was discovered and the police found out that one of the passengers was missing, this fictitious person would become the prime suspect in Cassetti's murder. The only people not involved in the plot would be Bouc/Bianchi and Dr. Constantine, both having slept in the other coach. 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. With his theory relayed, Poirot summarizes that there was no other way that the murder could have been carried out.

By the time he has finished, several of the suspects are in tears, having broken down when Poirot revealed their connection to the Armstrong family and/or Susanne/Paulette. Taking the lead, Mrs. Arden confirms that she is indeed an actress and that Poirot's second theory is the correct one. Turning to Poirot, she then tells the detective thate they came up with the plan immediately after Cassetti's acquital, before telling him, Bouc and Constantine in detail about the role each of them played in order to get justice for their loved ones. She then makes an emotional plea on behalf of her fellow conspirators stating that Cassetti's actions ruined their lives and stole the lives of four innocent people that did not deserve it. Arden even says that if necessary, she is prepared to take the full blame and responsibility. The evidence can be skewed to implicate her alone, sparing the other passengers and Michel from prison. She also points out that by doing what they did, everyone present has avenged Casetti's other victims, whilst saving other families from going through what they went did.

Turning to his friends, Poirot asks what they think about the whole matter? Mr. Bouc is fully sympathetic to the Armstrongs relatives. Feeling nothing but disgust and contempt for Cassetti, he declares that Poirot's first explanation is the correct one. The murder was carried out by a single unnamed person, who escaped from the train unnoticed. Dr. Constantine also agrees with this assessment, adding that in "hindsight" he can see that he has made several "mistakes", which he will need to "amend". With his job done, Poirot, who likewise sympathizes with the Armstrong's and Susanne's relatives announces that he has "the honor to retire from the case". As such, Cassetti's killers go free and Daisy's murder is avenged.

Agatha Christie's Poirot

Toby Jones as Cassetti

In the episode adapted 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 miscarried; 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.

Five 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.

Unlike his book or film counterparts, Poirot is outraged. Whilst he understands why they did it, he is adamant that the conspirators had no right taking the law into their own hands. He openly scolds them for their actions and despite the others insisting that Cassetti got what he deserved, Poirot spends the rest of the episode in a state of dilemma. On the one hand, he knows that the conspirators were merely avenging their loved ones and had killed an evil man who got away with murder and so much more. At the same time though, he struggles with the idea of consciously letting twelve people who willingly committed murder get away with their crimes. Like in the book, Linda Arden offers herself up as a sole scapegoat, but in the end, Poirot decides to let them all go, deciding that in the long run justice has prevailed. Even so, Poirot is last seen clutching his rosary, showing that the decision still ways upon his conscience.

Trivia

  • Like Paul Déroulard, Cassetti is an interesting case in Poirot novels, since he was both a victim and a murderer, yet served as the sole villains in their respective stories for the people who killed them were actually sympathetic.
  • Due to causing the death of a child through kidnap and deceit, as well as causing four more indirect deaths because of his actions, Cassetti is considered to be the most villainous "victim" in the entire detective fiction franchise of Agatha Christie. In an extent, he is considered to be even worse than other villainous "victims" such as Simeon Lee and Lady Boynton.
  • Like Grace Springer, Mrs. Clapperton, Henry Reedburn, Harrington Pace, Sir Reuben Astwell, Paul Renauld, Simeon Lee, Lady Boynton, Leslie Ferrier, Paul Déroulard, Lord Edgware, Madame Giselle, and Stephen Norton, Cassetti is presented as a murder victim, but their depraved nature and/or former crimes soon come to light in some parts of the stories.
  • In Agatha Christie's Poirot, Cassetti seemed to have some remorse and confessed the sins to God before his death, though it never saved him from his doom.
  • The Armstrong kidnapping case was based on the actual kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son in 1932, just before the book was written. An innocent, but perhaps loose-lipped, maid employed by Mrs. Lindbergh's parents was suspected of involvement in the crime. After being harshly interrogated by police, she committed suicide.
  • The 2017 film of Murder on the Orient Express was the third film starring Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz. The first was Blow and the second was Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

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Murderers
Novels
Alfred Inglethorp | Alistair Ravenscroft | Ann Shapland | Anne Meredith | Bella Tanios | Claude Darrell | David Hunter | Dorothea Jarrow | Dr. Geoffrey Roberts | Dr. James Sheppard | Elsa Greer | Evelyn Howard | Frances Cary | Franklin Clarke | Gerda Christow | Jacqueline de Bellefort | Jane Wilkinson | Jessie Hopkins | Josiah Bland | Katherine Martindale | Lady Westholme | Lanfranco Cassetti | Marthe Daubreuil | Martin Alistair Blunt | Michael Garfield | Miss Chadwick | Miss Gilchrist | Nick Buckley | Nigel Chapman | Norman Gale | Patrick Redfern | Robert Orwell | Robin Upward | Rowena Drake | Simon Doyle | Sir Charles Cartwright | Stephen Norton | Superintendent Sugden
Short Stories
Dr. Andersen | Hugo Cornworthy | Marrascaud | Nurse Harris | Robert Ames | Roger Havering | Zoe Havering

Villainous Victims
Abandoned & Betrayed Accomplices
Anne Morisot | Carlotta Adams | Eileen Corrigan | Leslie Ferrier
Abusers
Lady Boynton | Lord Edgware | Simeon Lee
Blackmailers
Angèle Blanche | Charles Trenton | Henry Reedburn | Leopold Reynolds | Louise Bourget | Madame Giselle
Killers
Lanfranco Cassetti | Mrs. Lorrimer | Paul Déroulard | Paul Renauld | Stephen Norton
Unscrupulous
John Christow | Linnet Doyle | Millicent Pebmarsh | Mrs. Clapperton | Sir Reuben Astwell

Accomplices
Anne Morisot | Carlotta Adams | Christine Redfern | Eileen Corrigan | George Challenger | Gerda Blunt | Hilde Martindale | Leslie Ferrier | Louise Farley | Madame Daubreuil | Merlina Rival

Others
Alice Cunningham | Big Four | The Crofts | Countess Vera Rosakoff | Frances Cloade | Freddie Rice's husband | Henrietta Savernake | Miss Van Schuyler | Rowley Cloade

Sophie Hannah's Continuations
The Monogram Murders (2014): Jennie Hobbs | Nancy Ducane | Samuel Kidd

Adaptational, Homage & Non-Canonical
Agatha Christie's Poirot: Grace Springer | Harrington Pace | Marie McDermott | Sister Agnieszka |

           RidleyScottSignature.webp Villains

Movies
Directed
Nostromo Drone | Ash | Roy Batty | Pris Stratton | Leon Kowalski | Zhora Salome | Lord of Darkness | Blix | Pox | Blunder | Tic | Koji Sato | Harlan Puckett | Adrián de Moxica | Christopher Columbus | John James Urgayle | Commodus | Hannibal Lecter | Mason Verger | Paul Krendler | Rinaldo Pazzi | Cordell Doemling | Guy of Lusignan | Raynald of Châtillon | Frank Lucas | Sir Godfrey | Prince John | Sheriff of Nottingham | King Philip of France | David 8 | Peter Weyland | Engineers | Deacon | Malkina | Harlan DeGroat | Pharaoh Rameses II | Xenomorphs | Neomorphs | Praetomorphs | Jacques le Gris | Pierre d'Alençon | Patrizia Reggiani

Produced
Azro | Fulgencio Capulet | Tybalt | Dave Paris | Miss Gribben | Di Radfield | Agent Lynch | Brock Pike | General Russell Morrison | Vladimir Malevich | John Hinckley Jr. | Wallace Corporation (Niander Wallace & Luv) | Lanfranco Cassetti

See Also
20th Century Studios Villains | Alien vs Predator Villains | Blade Runner Villains | Book of Exodus Villains | Buena Vista International Villains | DreamWorks Villains | Hannibal Villains | Hercule Poirot Villains | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Villains | Paramount Villains | Robin Hood Villains | Shakespeare Villains | Studiocanal Villains | Universal Studios Villains | Warner Bros. Villains

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