It’s June 1954 in Christchurch, New Zealand, and best friends Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker face the unthinkable. The obsessively close pair have been threatened with permanent separation from each other — so they hatch a deadly plan to stay together. The teenagers target Parker's mother and commit a terrible crime... This shocking murder would haunt the girls for the rest of their lives — even after Hulme changed her identity and became the bestselling historical crime novelist Anne Perry. And the case is once again in the limelight after Perry's death.
Haunted by the past
Even after her wild success as a novelist, Anne Perry — the former Juliet Hulme — was never able to outrun her sensational true-crime past. "Why can't I be judged for who I am now, not what I was then?" she lamented to The Guardian in 2003. "I had to give up my past — the hardest thing imaginable — and begin life in my new identity as Anne Perry, knowing even a tiny slip could unravel everything."
The past she tried to escape from began when Hulme was born on October 28, 1938, in London, England. Her parents were Hilda and Dr. Henry Hulme — the latter was a physicist who would go on to help create the hydrogen bomb. Then, when Hulme was six, her parents had a son named Jonathan. After Jonathan’s birth, however, Hulme became seriously ill.
A fateful trip overseas
Apparently, the young girl began to suffer from both bronchitis and pneumonia. At one point, she became so ill that a medic was reportedly prepared to sign a death certificate for her. But at eight years old, Hulme was sent thousands of miles across the world to live in the Bahamas with people she didn’t know. Hulme’s parents, it seems, had hoped that hotter climates may be of benefit to their daughter’s health.
A deadly best friend
Just a few months after arriving in the Bahamas, though, she was sent away again — this time to the Bay of Islands, a subtropical area in New Zealand. Finally, when Hulme was 13 years old, her father found a job as a clergyman at Canterbury University College on the country’s South Island, and the teen was duly reunited with her family. Then Hulme met a girl named Pauline Parker.
Two friends, one love
Pauline Parker had been growing up in a very different world. She was born on May 26, 1938, in Christchurch, New Zealand, to working-class couple Honora and Herbert Parker. And although her parents lived in the same house, they were not married – presumably a somewhat unusual domestic arrangement for the time. Yet even at this stage, Parker had something in common with Hulme.
The past meets the present
Parker had been seriously ill as a child, too. She had apparently suffered from osteomyelitis — an infectious condition that affects the bones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, when Hulme and Parker encountered each other as students at Christchurch Girls’ High School, they formed a connection owing to their similar experiences. In fact, it’s believed that the pair both expressed rather idealized views of their past health problems.
The girls become firm friends
At high school, neither Hulme nor Parker was able to participate in sports activities due to their respective childhood illnesses. Instead, then, they focused on their shared appreciation for books. The girls occupied themselves by writing, while Parker even informed her parents that she was working on an opera.
They enter The Fourth World together
And as the duo’s friendship developed, they allegedly invented a rich fantasy realm complete with their own interpretation of heaven that they called The Fourth World. Hulme and Parker apparently went as far as to believe that their bond allowed them to attain a type of divine enlightenment. More worryingly still, the pair also believed that on occasion they were actually able to visit The Fourth World.
Their parents were concerned
Their strange behavior wasn't going unnoticed. According to reports, both Hulme and Parker’s parents suspected that there was something unusual about their children’s friendship. Parker’s mother had even taken her daughter to see a medical professional about what she perceived to be an unhealthy obsession between the two. But despite the intensity of the teens’ bond, there appears to be little evidence that the relationship was ever romantic.
The girls get closer and closer
Then, when Hulme was 14 years old, her health took another turn for the worse. As a result, she was kept for several months in a medical facility while her parents traveled to London alone. Rather than driving Hulme and Parker apart, however, it seems that the experience merely brought the two girls closer together. According to Hulme, Parker kept in touch with her every single day.
A twist in the tale
After Hulme was discharged from the hospital, she returned to live with her parents in their large Christchurch home once more. But their family life would be shattered when the girl apparently walked in on her mother in bed with another man. And so, with divorce on the cards, Dr. Hulme decided to leave New Zealand and return to England to continue his research. It was this development that led to a shocking crime.
The friends planned to escape
It seems that Dr. Hulme had at first intended to leave his daughter in Christchurch with her mother. Yet before he could depart, he made a disturbing discovery about Hulme and her friend Parker. The girls had apparently been plotting an escape to America, where they hoped that they could make money from their novels.
They wouldn't be separated
Horrified by Hulme and Parker’s scheme — and seemingly disturbed by their intense relationship — Dr. Hulme changed his mind about leaving his daughter behind. Instead, he planned to send Hulme to South Africa, where she and her brother would stay with a relative. But Hulme’s response to the idea was simple: she demanded that Parker accompany her
A dark plot
Some reports have documented that Hulme’s mother, Hilda, consented to this rather strange arrangement. Honora, on the other hand, is said to have refused to let Parker go. But neither parent could have guessed the terrifying lengths that their daughters would go to so that they might stay together. The girls had begun plotting a terrible solution to their predicament.
A sinister scheme
On the afternoon of June 22, 1954, Hulme and Parker put their sinister scheme into motion. The teens, accompanied by Honora, set out for a walk in Victoria Park in the hills above the city of Christchurch. And just as the girls had planned, Hulme — carrying a stash of decorative pebbles hidden in her pocket — rushed ahead of the others.
Young girls become young murderers
Once Hulme had run far enough along the path, however, she dropped the stones on the ground. Then, when the others had caught up, Honora leaned down to scoop up one of the colorful rocks. And it’s believed that while the woman was distracted, Parker pulled out a stocking-wrapped brick from her pocket.
The girls' vicious attack
The teens' plan kicked into action. The story goes that Parker hit her mother squarely around the head using the makeshift weapon. And when Honora fell to the ground as a result, her daughter apparently continued to rain down blows. Next, Hulme is thought to have returned to Parker’s side and aided her friend in the vicious assault.
A web of lies
Once their gruesome task was complete, Hulme and Parker sprinted the short distance back to the park’s kiosk. There they found the owner, Agnes Ritchie, on duty. And while still covered in Honora’s blood, the friends began to gasp out a fabricated tale. According to the pair’s initial accounts, Parker’s mother had stumbled over a log and taken a blow to the head when she fell.
They're taken into custody
When Ritchie’s husband Kenneth went to investigate, he discovered Honora’s lifeless body beneath a tree and a brick that had been discarded nearby. Ritchie reportedly also heard the girls giggling as they cleaned the blood off their hands at a nearby sink. The authorities subsequently arrived, and later, police officers took Parker and then Hulme into their custody.
Standing trial for murder
Just a few weeks after that fateful day, there came an announcement that would send shockwaves through New Zealand and the rest of the world: Hulme and Parker were to stand trial for Honora’s murder. And as the proceedings began, the teenagers found themselves at the center of a media circus — the likes of which Christchurch had arguably never seen before.
An obsessively close friendship
During the trial, much was made of the obsessively close nature of Hulme and Parker’s relationship. According to Famous Australasian Crimes, a 1957 book written by Tom Gurr, the Crown Prosecutor referred to the pair as “dirty-minded little girls” in front of the jury. Moreover, the prosecution pointed out how intensely devoted Hulme and Parker had been to each other — even claiming that the teens had often slept in the same bed.
A damning diary entry
The trial continued. Both the prosecution and the defense wanted to establish whether or not the girls were sane. And to that end, some passages from Parker’s diary were recited in court. “Why could not mother die?” read one excerpt. “Dozens, thousands of people are dying. Why not mother – and father too?”
Separated at last
So, on August 28, 1954, Hulme and Parker were found guilty of murder after just over two hours of jury deliberation. Owing to the girls’ ages, though, they were spared the death penalty. Instead, 16-year-old Parker was sent to Wellington on the North Island, where she became an inmate at an institution called Arohata Borstal. The 15-year-old Hulme was imprisoned at the infamous Mount Eden facility in Auckland. They were each sentenced to five years.
"They put me on physical labor until I passed out"
According to Hulme, she was the only minor at Mount Eden and was subjected to unpleasant living conditions. “It was cold, [and] there were rats, canvas sheets, and calico underwear,” she told The Guardian in 2003. “I had to wash out my sanitary towels by hand, and they put me on physical labor until I passed out.”
Escaping their pasts
But despite the conditions at Mount Eden, Hulme survived — even claiming to have repented during her time in prison. In November 1959, both girls were released from their respective jails, each having served less than six years behind bars. They went on to take new names. Hulme adopted the surname of her mother’s new partner, becoming Anne Perry; Parker started afresh as Hilary Nathan.
They went their separate ways
Interestingly, though, some sources have claimed that there was a particular caveat to Hulme and Parker’s release. It’s been said they were instructed to never contact each other again — although some have expressed doubt over the truth of this claim. But regardless of whether or not the girls’ estrangement was a legal requirement, it appears as though they made no attempt to reunite in the years that followed their dreadful crime.
A new life
Instead, Hulme – now Perry – left the country immediately after her release and joined her family in Italy. From there, the woman made her way to England, where she spent some time working as a stewardess. It’s believed that Perry also lived in the United States at some point, where she reportedly became a member of the Mormon faith.
A crime writer with a criminal past
Perry then settled in Portmahomack, a remote fishing village in northern Scotland. And in 1979 she published her first novel, finally realizing the dream that she and Parker had once shared. Perry became a respected historical crime writer, in fact – although her true identity remained hidden from her readers.
An award-winning career
Under her new name, Perry has written a number of successful books that mostly fall within the genres of detective fiction and historical mysteries. She has created two popular recurring characters, including William Monk – a private investigator who suffers from amnesia. And in 2001 she even picked up the prestigious Edgar Award for her short story “Heroes.”
The partner in crime
Parker settled in Auckland after leaving prison under the new identity of Nathan. But unlike her partner in crime, it seems, Nathan’s release had been subject to certain conditions, and she wasn’t initially allowed to leave New Zealand. When the ban reportedly expired in 1965, though, she fled the country. The woman apparently made her way to southern England before settling in the Orkney Islands, a remote archipelago off the coast of Scotland.
Against all the odds, then, Perry and Nathan seemed to use their new identities to successfully disappear — or so they may have thought. Because in 1994, everything changed. In that year, director Peter Jackson was set to release Heavenly Creatures, a drama based on the events of Honora’s murder in Christchurch 40 years previously.
Her secret identity revealed
Starring an up-and-coming Kate Winslet as Hulme and New Zealand's Melanie Lynskey as Parker, Heavenly Creatures takes its name from a line in one of Parker’s real childhood poems. And the movie was not only a critical success, but it also brought the gruesome story of the teenage murderers into the sphere of public attention once more. In fact, before the picture had even hit theaters, a journalist had managed to track down Perry and expose her identity to the world.
“It seemed so unfair”
“It seemed so unfair,” Perry told The Guardian of the reveal. “Everything I had worked to achieve as a decent member of society was threatened. Once again, my life was being interpreted by someone else. It had happened in court when, as a minor, I wasn’t allowed to speak, and I heard all these lies being told. And now there was a film, but nobody had bothered to talk to me.”
Murder out of obligation
Heavenly Creatures seems to imply that the characters of Hulme and Parker are engaged in a romantic relationship. And yet Perry has always adamantly denied that there was ever a sexual element to their encounters — although she has admitted that the pair were intensely close. In fact, Perry has even claimed that she helped Parker to commit the murder out of a sense of obligation.
“I felt that I had a debt to repay”
“I felt that I had a debt to repay,” Perry explained to The Guardian. “Pauline was the only one who had written to me when I was in hospital, and she threatened to kill herself if I didn’t help. She was vomiting after every meal and losing weight all the time. I am now sure she was bulimic. I really believed she would take her own life, and I couldn’t face it.”
The end of her story
Anne Perry died on April 10, 2023. She had suffered a heart attack four months before this and had never been able to fully recover. She was 84 years old. It won't be the last people will hear from the writer, though, as her final book will be published in September 2023. But most people were still fascinated by her past — much to Perry's consternation, it seems.
“Do you have any idea how unbearably painful this is for me?” she is reported to have said to one writer who wanted to retell her story. Yet Perry has rarely definitely condemned her actions in public. “In a sense, it’s not a matter — at the end — of judging,” she said in a documentary about her. “I did this much good and that much bad. Which is the greater?”
“It’s who you are when time’s up that matters”
“It’s in the end, 'Who am I?'" she went on. "Am I somebody that can be trusted? Am I someone that is compassionate, gentle, patient, strong...? If you’re that kind of person — if you’ve done something bad in the past, you’ve obviously changed.” She ended, “It’s who you are when time’s up that matters.”
A sad conclusion
Even today, then, the story of Honora Parker’s murder – and the tale of the two teenage girls who committed it – continues to cast a dark shadow over New Zealand. And while Nathan may have tried her best to fade into obscurity, it seems unlikely that Hulme and Perry will be forgotten any time soon.