Monday, October 14, 2013

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century

In 1954, two teenaged girls killed one of their mothers by beating her head in at Victoria Park near Christchurch, New Zealand. This horrific and inexplicable murder was made famous by the 1994 movie Heavenly Creatures, which established director Peter Jackson and launched the career of actress Kate Winslet. 

Juliet Hulme was originally from England and Pauline Parker was from New Zealand. They met as young teenagers and became the closest of friends, living in a fantasy world of their own. Each had health issues, and they bonded while sitting on the sidelines of physical education classes at school. They called each other by made-up names and dreamed of running away to Los Angeles. When Hulme’s parents split up and made plans to return to England, the girls were determined not to be parted. Somehow they convinced themselves that killing Pauline’s mother was the answer. They lured her to the park and used a brick in a stocking to bludgeon her to death.
Years later, after the girls were found guilty and sent to prison for short terms, it came to light that Anne Perry, author of two bestselling mystery series set in Victorian England, was in fact Juliet Hulme. As a longtime fan of Perry, this fascinated me, so when Peter Graham’s book Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century was published, I knew I had to read it. 
Author Graham lives in New Zealand and was a barrister before becoming a crime writer. Since so much time has passed since the crime and many of the key people have died, Graham has to fill in some of the details with guesswork and speculation. It’s important to keep that mind when reading the book. 
 Like most works of “true crime,” this book is told in a sensational manner. Early on, Graham refers to Pauline’s “mongoloid” sister and I thought, can he really not know that’s not the correct term? Indeed he does know, as he talks about Down’s Syndrome in a later chapter; the earlier reference was no doubt meant to be provocative and to help set the scene as things were in 1954.
 I was riveted to this book, as indeed I was to the excellent Heavenly Creatures.  There is still no good explanation for why the two girls picked out Pauline’s mother to attack. They had four parents after all, plus the lover of Juliet’s mother. Although both girls kept diaries, Mrs. Hulme managed to destroy Juliet’s before she was arrested. Pauline’s, however, was used to provide evidence at the trial, and passages in it are quite chilling. It’s also a fascinating look into a teenaged mind.
Graham speculates over why the girls committed the crime, but no one knows for sure. Anne Perry and Pauline Parker (now known as Hilary Nathan) aren’t talking, if they even know themselves.  For me, the lack of proof of a good solid motive does not detract from the story. In addition, I visited New Zealand a few years ago and the references to places I visited were of special interest to me.
If you are a fan of true crime, of Anne Perry, or of the human mind and what it is capable of, I recommend Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century.

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