Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, by Peter Graham

If you are into old-school crime thriller novels, maybe you’ve heard of Anne Perry’s bestselling works. Even fewer may know her origins as Juliet Hulme, whose adolescent friendship with Pauline Parker in early 1950s New Zealand would prove fatal. Not for her, mind you, but for Pauline’s mother Honora. Juliet and Pauline’s story has been told a few times, but probably not in as much detail as this.

Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme met at 14 and 13 years old respectively in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1952. They bonded quickly over their debilitating childhood illnesses and shared interests in literature, film, and music. Soon, they began creating an immense and intense fantasy life together, which both their parents soon found disturbing. After efforts were made to keep them apart, the girls devised a deadly plan to murder the main obstacle in their way: Pauline’s mother, Honora.

This case came onto my radar after I viewed the Peter Jackson film Heavenly Creatures, which is undoubtedly a strange, but extraordinary film. It was interesting to me how the girls’ friendship was based in an incredible world that only they understood and could partake in. How that world became more and more real to them as time wore on, to the point that the girls considered themselves goddesses. Or, as Pauline put it in her poem “The Ones That I Worship,” “heavenly creatures.”

I was primarily interested in the details of that world, and this book delivered those details, plus tons more. The girls wrote each other letters in the voices of characters in their stories, often neglecting their personal lives in favor of playing out fantastical and often violent tales in their two magical kingdoms.

There is much psychological and historical discourse in this book, not just in the girls but their parents as well. Some have complained that the parents’ history goes on for too long, but it provides significant insight into how the girls turned out.

The book is definitely a slow burn, but that is part of the appeal. A lot happened to build up to the murder, so we must see it to appreciate the impact.

Perhaps this case has endured for so long because of personal reactions to it. Some people sympathize with the girls in that their parents were so overbearing or neglectful that it drove the girls dangerously close together. Others call the girls monsters, forgetting the fact that they were young, impressionable children whose place in time and in the world did not yield a proper, caring upbringing.

After all, this was 1950s New Zealand, when the girls’ personalities and interests were not commonplace or acceptable in society.

I am not defending the girls’ choice to murder Honora Parker. I am just making a brief statement on historical context, and why the girls’ fixation on sexuality and drama would be seen as odd or disturbing. In that case, some might even see the girls as being ahead of their time.

Whichever way you look at it, this book is a pretty comprehensive picture of the case. It’s one of the more fascinating and addicting cases of true crime I’ve heard, mostly for the psychological aspects. 1950s psychology was not as developed, so the girls could have had undiagnosed mental illnesses we can study today. The book offers some explanations for their behavior, but the exact answer is not known. How much more interesting than a retrospective on mental health can you get?

For all this, I still have a hard time putting my feelings about this case on paper. All I know is that the enchanting, violent world these girls created will haunt me for a long time to come. But who knows? I might find myself seeking out some Anne Perry (the name that Juliet took after she was released from prison) novels, just to peek into the mind of one of New Zealand’s most notorious killers.

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