Stranger Than Fiction – Spotlight on an Author

On June 22, 1954 Pauline Parker and her best friend Juliet Hulme asked Parker’s mother, Honorah Rieper, to go for a walk with them through Victoria Park in Christchurch, New Zealand.  As they walked through a wooded area the girls took out a stocking with a brick in it and bludgeoned Rieper to death.  Covered with blood, they returned to the tea shop where the three had been before the walk, and announced that Rieper had fallen and hit her head.  The body was found with multiple wounds, and not far away, police found the weapon.  There followed a sensational trial where the two girls were convicted, and put in jail for an indefinite period of time.  They were saved from the death penalty because Parker was 16, and Hulme was 15 at the time of the murder.

To understand the murder we have to look at the nature of the girls’ friendship.  The two  bonded in part because both wanted to be famous writers.  They would write their stories, and then get together and act out the fantasy worlds they created in their heads.  They dreamed of moving to New York together where they would publish their novels to great acclaim, and then become famous actresses in Hollywood where they would hand-pick the actors who would appear with them in the movies that would be made from their novels.

All their plans fell apart when Juliet Hulmes’ parents divorced.  Her father intended to return to England, and Juliet was to be sent to South Africa to live with her relatives.  Juliet was being separated from Pauline in part because her parents were afraid that the girls were too close, and worried that they might enter into a homosexual relationship due to that closeness.  However, Juliet pleaded for them to allow Pauline to go to South Africa with her, and her parents agreed to the idea if Pauline’s mother would allow Pauline to go.  When Pauline’s mother refused to let Pauline go, the two girls decided to kill her and flee to New York.  Thus, the murder in the park.

After five years in prison the two were released with, some say, the stipulation that they never again meet.  After their release the girls, with new names, slipped into anonymity.  Parker stayed in New Zealand for a while under strict surveillance, and then moved to a small town in England where she ran a children’s riding school.  Hulme moved to the United States for a time, then settled in Scotland where she lived with her mother.

The story might have ended there if the murder and the trial had not been so sensational.  In 1994 the story became the inspiration for a movie entitled Heavenly Creatures directed by Peter Jackson and starring Melanie Lynskey as Pauline Parker and Kate Winslet as Juliet Hulme.  A reporter researching the murder discovered that Juliet Hulme was not only still alive, but had become a famous mystery writer under the name Anne Perry.   Since being outed in 1994 Perry has discussed her crime a number of times – rather matter-of-factly some say.  When author Joanne Drayton informed Perry that she was working on a book about the Parker-Hulme murder, Perry spent about 50 hours with her discussing the crime and other things.  Drayton’s 2012 book is entitled The Search for Anne Perry.  Peter Graham published a book in 2013 entitled Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century

Perry has penned over 75 books of both novels and short stories which have sold over 25,000,000 copies.  Her best known book is The Cater Street Hangman (1979).  Her latest book is Midnight at Marble Arch (2013).  In her 1994 novel The Hyde Park Headsman, one of Perry’s characters states, “Well, it’s not very difficult to hit someone on the head, if they trust you and are not expecting anything of the sort.”

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