So Brilliantly Murderous

World famous in Ōtautahi Christchurch

When I first started my post-university working career in Christchurch there was an occasion when the phrase “Parker-Hulme murders” came up at work. In my not-raised-in-Christchurch innocence I must have looked totally bemused as I’d never heard of the notorious murder of Honorah Parker by her teenage daughter Pauline and intimate friend Juliet in Victoria Park on 22 June 1954. I gathered from the subsequent conversation that this was a must-know-all-about-it-story for any form of Christchurch residential credibility.

As author Peter Graham puts it,

“the Parker-Hulme murder was somehow embedded in the soil of Christchurch, as much a part of local history as the pilgrims who, a century earlier, had footed it over the bridle path from Lyttelton, the men in frock coats and top hats, and the women in crinolines, to found the city.”

Fictionalised versions

The lurid appeal of a tale of matricide stretched far beyond the city and was appropriated by writers overseas. In the years following the murder there were Tom Gurr’s 1958 novel Obsession, Beryl Bainbridge’s Harriet Said, written in 1958 and finally published in 1972, and in Christchurch Michelanne Forster’s 1992 play Daughters of Heaven. There have been other dramatic and fictional retellings, most notably Peter Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures starring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, which told the story of the fantasy life and real-life horror of the two teenage murderers to the world. Christchurch City Libraries has maintained a web page with digitised material and information on the murder for many years.

True crime investigations

Despite the notoriety the only published true account of the murder was Parker and Hulme: A Lesbian View by Julie Glazumina and Alison J. Laurie, 1993, which examined the lesbian element. There had not been any in-depth examination of the crime as a whole until the publication of Peter Graham’s book So Brilliantly Clever in 2011, a work Peter had been intending to write since 1975 but had been put on hold for over thirty years while he pursued a career as a barrister in Hong Kong.

On his return to New Zealand Peter wrote his first “true crime” investigation Viles Crimes: the Timaru Poisonings, 2007, which tells the story of Thomas Hall (nephew of the politician Sir John Hall of Hororata), the attempted murder of his wife by poison, and the successful dispatch of his step-father-in-law also by poison.

Catalogue record for So brilliantly cleverSo Brilliantly Clever was the result of many years of research and talks with people close to the murder case, but also looked beyond those sensationalist reports at the time of the trial to the aftermath, and the subsequent lives and careers of Pauline Parker (also known as Pauline Rieper) and Juliet Hulme.

In his introduction to the book, Peter Graham asks the question “What makes one act of murder and its surrounding circumstances fascinating, where another is merely sordid or banal?”

You can learn more about Peter’s own response to this question at Tūranga on Thursday 20 June at 11.00am

Heritage Highlights:

My Search for Teenage Murderers Juliet Hulme and Pauline Rieper, presented by Peter Graham

11am - 12.30pm, Thursday 20 June
Auaha Hīhī/ Spark Place, Ground Floor Tūranga

Registration required for this event: Book online