Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century

Because in 1994 Anne Perry’s books were not yet selling in the numbers they soon would sell, many of her current fans (if they were old enough even to have heard about it at the time) missed the big announcement that year about the author’s true identity.  Some forty years after having been convicted of one of the more infamous murders in the history of New Zealand, a New Zealand journalist revealed that Anne Perry is none other than convicted murderer Juliet Hulme – the same Juliet Hulme who in 1954, as a teen, helped Pauline Parker, her best friend, beat the girl’s mother to death with half a brick that Juliet brought from home for that specific purpose.  Peter Graham’s Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century is a meticulously researched account of events leading up to the murder, the murder itself, the trial that followed, and what happened to the key players in those events once the two killers had been released from prison to go their separate ways. 

Juliet Hulme, daughter of a prominent English couple, came to New Zealand as a young girl when her father was recruited for a university position in Christchurch.  Her lack of social skills did not stop the physically striking Juliet from making an impression on her classmates, albeit it, for the most part, a negative impression.  Pauline Parker, on the other hand, was blessed neither with physical attractiveness, nor with any social skills of which to speak. The angry and socially inept Pauline wanted badly to find a soul-mate to whom she could reveal her thoughts and dreams, and Juliet wanted just as badly to find someone she could recreate in her own image. The two girls were made for each other because each of them got their wish.

The two teens shortly after the murder
Pauline Parker’s mother, Honorah Rieper, did not die an easy death.  Barely aware of what was happening to her, the woman nonetheless valiantly attempted to fight off her attackers, and it was only when Juliet held her down by the throat that Pauline was finally able to finish off her mother.  There was never any doubt as to whom the woman’s murderers were, but the defiantly gleeful manner in which the two teens confessed to what they had done still managed to shock and surprise the country. 

Five and one-half years later, after the two young women were released from prison, they assumed new names and began the new lives far from Christchurch, that they hoped would shield them from further notoriety.  And it worked for forty years.

There is a lot of material out there, including one major movie (Heavenly Creatures), a documentary made inside Anne Perry’s Scotland home (Interiors), and several books that attempt to explain how two fifteen-year-old girls could so callously murder the mother of one of them.  In Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, Peter Graham explores each possibility, one by one, reaching his own conclusion that the strong homosexual ties between the two girls, compounded by a perfect meshing of two distinct personality disorders, created exactly the perfect storm needed to make such a thing possible. 

More recent photo of "Anne Perry"
Perhaps most shocking today, is how differently the two women have responded to what they did in 1954.  On the one hand, Paulette Parker has lived a life of repentance and appears still to be much bothered by what she did to her mother.  On the other, Juliet Hulme (Anne Perry) still shows no remorse whatsoever and has constructed a version of the events that she uses to explain why she had no other choice but to help her friend commit matricide.  As Graham notes, Perry’s version of what led up to the murder is so obviously false that it cannot be taken seriously.  Anne Perry appears to be much the same person that she was in 1954.

When asked if she ever thinks of the woman she and Paulette murdered, this writer who has made a fine living for herself writing bloody murder mysteries for the last four decades said this:

“No. She was somebody I barely knew.”

And yet, as late as 2006 according to Peter Graham, Anne Perry and her publisher were known to grant interviews about the murder just prior to the publication of a new Anne Perry book, under the theory, I suppose, that “no publicity is bad publicity.” 

To this point, they seem to be correct about that. 

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