I read a couple of newspaper articles earlier this year about the extraordinary murder in New Zealand in 1954 of Honorah Parker (or Rieper as she had been known before it was discovered she was not married to her partner Herbert Rieper) by her 16 year old daughter Pauline and her school friend Juliet Hulme. I decided that I wanted to know more. Searching online I found the book Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham and, after waiting months for it to arrive, I settled down to read it in April.
The story is a fascinating one. Matricide is still relatively rare, and particularly by two teenage girls. The book traces the two families, separated by class in a a stultifying 1950s New Zealand. Juliet’s father Henry is a nuclear physicist and war hero, stuck in a Christchurch College backwater for a part of his career that turned out to be a blip and a disaster for him and all concerned. Juliet’s mother Hilda meanwhile was involved in setting up a marriage guidance service, whilst having an affair with Bill Perry, who later became her husband. Juliet herself spent long periods of her childhood ill and away from her aloof parents, and, as the book points out, there are clearly some attachment issues here between mother and daughter.
Pauline’s family were far below Juliet’s on the social scale and their fall from grace is explored. But there seems no strong reason why Pauline grew to hate her mother Honorah Parker so much that she ended up, with Juliet, killing her. Yes they rowed, but what teenager doesn’t go through periods of resenting their parents’ control over their lives?
The murder and its aftermath are described, along with the girls’ confessions and lack of remorse. It was a crime committed so that the girls could stay together, but ended in them separated in separate prisons. It is frustrating not to know how they coped with that in the initial weeks and months of their sentences, as, by the time they were released, they showed no desire to see each other again, despite the intensity of their relationship that led to the murder.
The book ends by exploring what happened next to the girls. Remarkably one became the successful crime author Anne Perry, and more remarkably still, both Pauline and Juliet ended up living in Scotland, only a hundred miles apart.