By John Stringer.
One of the more famous murders in the world, about which many books, articles, and films have been made, is the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder in Christchurch. Peter Graham’s excellent 2011 book So Brilliantly Clever and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (which ‘discovered’ Kate Winslet before she went on to do Titanic) both cover it.
I’m interested, because I live there, know all the places involved, and my mother may have been at the Port Hills sanatorium at the same time as one of the killers, Juliet Hulme. One of my friends was certainly at school with the killers and my sisters went to the same school as both. The parents of Parker lived in my neighbourhood.
Bert Rieper (killer 1)’s father had a fish n chip shop and fishmongers in Sydenham. My twin sister had several Fish n Chip shops on that side of town and her ex-husband, a fishmongers in Sydenham. Until the Feb 22, 2011 earthquake, we lived just over the spur from the murder scene. This is my patch.
This killing is stranger than fiction. A book of the event was actually turned down by a publisher because it was so far-fetched, until it was pointed out it really happened.
I say “World Murder” because this event spanned several nations, incl: NZ, Australia, South Africa, the UK, America, the Bahamas. It’s world famous due to Jackson’s movie; and has a dedicated cyberspace following of numerous websites and blogs covering all the details, people, and speculations over the case.
Two teenage girls in a lesbian relationship enwrapped in a fantasy world of their own creation, with massive superiority complexes, brutally murdered one of their mothers in conservative post-war Christchurch. But there the twists and turns did not end, and the saga has continued until the present day, almost 60 years later. One of the killers went on to be a hugely successful UK murder-mystery writer. Some of her fictional killings and characters resemble the events of her own real crime. Creepy.
The killing is perhaps best known to modern inquirers as the 1994 Heavenly Creatures murder in which Kate Winslet found stardom. It was Jackson’s first serious, and ‘proper’, movie (in my opinion).
A bizarre aspect of the murder was that almost all the protagonists changed their names.
- Pauline Parker (killer 1), known as Yvonne, knew herself as Pauline Rieper and only learned her real name after her arrest. Can you imagine if she was convicted as a grim Rieper? She changed her name to Hilary Nathan after she was released.
- The victim, Honorah Rieper was never actually married to her husband, Bill Rieper, so her real name was Parker. Her daughter Pauline was therefore arraigned under her mother’s revealed maiden name “Parker” not Rieper. Bert Rieper and his office colleague Honorah had run away together from the North Is. and lived a secret ‘married’ life in Christchurch.
- Juliet Hulme (killer 2) changed her name to Anne Perry (among others) after she was released.
- Her mother Hilda Hulme changed her name immediately after the conviction to that of her adulterous lover, Bill Perry, ironically Juliet Hulme’s later assumed name.
- The girls had various fantasy names, including “De-borah,” many of which were masculine, such as “Paul.” They also lived within a complex code system of names and aliases attributed to various “saints,” basically teenage girl movie star heroes and literary figures. Both girls were clever and good writers.
There are some other interesting facts in the case:
- Justice Mahon of the AirNZ Antarctic Erebus Inquiry was a legal junior in the trial.
- The chief prosecutor Alan Brown had a mental breakdown during the trial and went mad. He was often in tears in the court.
- Both of Juliet Hulme’s parents (killer 2) [Hilda and Henry] immediately fled New Zealand, one before the trial was over, the other immediately afterward, abandoning Hulme to Mt Eden in New Zealand. She had a life of continual abandonment by her parents, often in different countries.
- Hulme’s father, Dr Henry Hulme, was a disaster as Rector of Canterbury University College, despite his intelligence. A brilliant physicist, he was a very bright academic who worked on the Manhatten Project developing the nuclear bomb. He also knew Ernest Lord Rutherford (who incidentally got married in my Papanui church). He went on to have a bright career but remained socially odd throughout his life.
- Henry fled with their young son, Jonty Hulme, who eventually ended up living in Scotland in the insular community clustered around Anne Perry’s successful publishing career (that is (Juliet Hulme). Hilda Hulme/Perry (now in her 80s) Juliet/Anne’s mother is also part of this group. Weird.
- Rudy Gopas painted Hilda Hulme’s portrait but also painted a second secret portrait that showed her as he really saw her (calculating, selfish, cold, conniving).
The main point I want to make, is the psychopathic brutality and utter callousness of the killing of Honorah Rieper/Parker on that day in 1954, which was messy, extremely bloody, slow and unpleasant, and not really conveyed in the Jackson movie. I will turn to that aspect in Pt. 2.
John Stringer, Christchurch, New Zealand.