Remembrance: Parker-Hulme Murder, 22 June 1954

I am writing a little of this up in the morning before the death. I felt very excited and 'night before Christmas-ish' last night. I did not have pleasant dreams though. - Pauline Parker's diary entry, 22 June 1954

It was 65 years ago when Christchurch was shocked by Honora Rieper (Parker)'s brutal death at Victoria Park on 22 June 1954. An even greater shock was the discovery that her death wasn't an accident; she had been murdered by her own daughter, Pauline Parker (age 16), and her best friend, Juliet Hulme (age 15).

The girls met at Christchurch Girls' High School after Juliet emigrated to New Zealand with her family in 1948. They became fast friends, which in time grew into a fiercely co-dependent and obsessive relationship (this was argued to be a case of folie à deux 'shared insanity' during the trial). Pauline and Juliet would spent huge amounts of time together writing stories, acting out plays, and were convinced that they were geniuses who would go to New York to become famous actresses and authors.

When Juliet's parents, Hilda and Dr. Henry Hulme (then Rector of Canterbury College) told the girls they were divorcing, and would be taking Juliet and her little brother to live with their father in South Africa, both became desperate to stay together. Entries in Pauline's diary show how they hatched a plan to "moider mother", as Pauline's mother Honora (along with Juliet's parents) had refused to let Pauline go to South Africa with Juliet. According to Pauline, Honora was "one of the main obstacles in my path."

This was the lead up to "The Happy Event", as Pauline described it in her diary; on an outing to Victoria Park Pauline and Juliet beat Honora to death with a brick in a stocking. She was struck over 20 times and had more than 45 injuries to her head and face. 

The Parker-Hulme murder has become a well-known piece of Christchurch history, in part because of the violence of the crime, the age of the girls, and that it is a rare case of matricide, but also through later representations in popular media. The six-day trial itself was a spectacle, making the front page of national and international newspapers throughout.

It was irrefutable that the girls had killed Pauline's mother, so the Defence's argument relied heavily on trying to prove their insanity. Two of the expert witness argued, unsuccessfully, that Pauline and Juliet were suffering from paranoid insanity, citing their extreme narcissism, delusions of grandeur, and alleged homosexuality as proof, among other things. Their haughty and remorseless bearings during the trial didn't count in their favour either.

The other two expert witnesses however, turned to Pauline's condemning diary to prove that personalities and narcissism aside, both girls knew exactly what they were doing, and that it was wrong. Between Pauline's entry on 29 April that "The last fate I wish to meet is one in a Borstal. I am trying to think up some way…I do not want to go to too much trouble but I want it to appear either a natural or an accidental death", and Juliet's statement that "You'd have to be a absolute moron not to know murder was against the law", there was no doubt that they were not legally insane. Instead, Crown Prosecutor Brown summed up a widely held opinion that "These girls are not incurably insane. They are incurably bad." They were then convicted for murder and sent to separate prisons at Her Majesty's Pleasure, as they couldn't receive the death penalty because of their age. Her Majesty's Pleasure is normally 25 years, but turned out to only be five and a half years each in this instance. 

This infamous Christchurch murder continues to hold fascinating for kiwis especially. I think there's lots of reasons for this, one being, as mentioned before, the unique situation. It's not common for two teenagers to commit brutal matricide, especially in a place like Christchurch. The other big thing is that it brought up big concerns at the time about a 'moral crisis'; the idea that there must be something abhorrently wrong about Pauline and Juliet, otherwise they would have had to admit that any 'normal' teenager under the right circumstances was capable of murder. 

One of the other big reasons this particular local crime has held public interest for so long was the release of Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures in 1994, a film about the Parker-Hulme murder that was met with critical acclaim. Moreover, in that same year, it was discovered that the bestselling murder mystery writer Anne Perry is none other than Juliet Hulme. Yup. The infamous teen murderess went on to become a famous murder mystery writer. I find that the real irony here is that in this way, Juliet got exactly what she'd always wanted; she became a famous writer, and she was shown in a successful film, even if it was Kate Winslet playing her likeness.  

Pauline also managed to achieve one of her dreams; she'd always wanted to own horses and now lives in Scotland running a riding school. However, Pauline leads a much more reclusive lifestyle than her former best friend. 

So Brilliantly Clever

There are loads of great resources out there for those of you who, like me, have a fascination with local history and/or true crime. Perhaps one of the best books I've read so far about the Parker-Hulme murder is Peter Graham's So Brilliantly Clever. It gives a great description of how things happened, both on 22 June and all the lead-up, and Graham has a great, easy to read writing style (I also recommend his book on the Timaru Poisonings). A NZ Herald article written when the book was coming out is also an intriguing read. All of the contemporary newspapers articles as well as later coverage also make for very interesting reads, and help give greater understanding of opinions towards Pauline and Juliet back in the '50s, and how they're viewed now.

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