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Parker and Hulme


Tea-shop proprietor Agnes Ritchie was shocked when two bloodstained teenage girls ran screaming into her kiosk in Victoria Park. Her husband Kenneth was even more shocked when he went where they told him, and found a woman’s body, badly beaten about the head.

It was June 22, 1954, and violent death was rare in conservative Christchurch. The girls’ story, that the mother of one of them, Honora Parker, had fallen and repeatedly banged her head, soon fell apart; her injuries were too horrific. A bloodied half-brick and a lisle stocking were found nearby and quickly established as the murder weapon. Pauline Parker’s diary was found immediately by the police and detailed their plans for the crime: Pauline (16) and later Juliet Hulme (15) were charged with murder.

But what had prompted Pauline and Juliet to kill Pauline’s mother one fine winter afternoon in a popular hillside recreation area? The question has prompted a novel ("Obsession" by Tom Gurr), chapters, usually lurid, in several anthologies of murder cases, a lesbian analysis ("Parker and Hulme - a Lesbian View" by Julie Glamuzina and Alison J. Laurie), and a popular feature film (Heavenly Creatures directed by Peter Jackson).

The case brought together several disturbing elements - females who stepped outside the expected gender role by becoming perpetrators rather than victims of a violent crime, and the frightening prospect of young girl delinquents as killers.

Other entries in Pauline’s diary suggested a sexual relationship between the girls, and this helped to establish the crime as one linking the twin spectres of lesbianism and murder.

The class-difference between the girls was an important element of the trial, though not referred to in modern terms. Juliet was the elder child of Hilda Hulme, a vice-president of the Marriage Guidance Council, and Dr Henry Hulme, rector of Canterbury University College, while Pauline’s father, Herbert Rieper, ran a fish-shop, and was legally married to another woman. (Honora and Herbert had lived together for 23 years and the whole family including Pauline were known as Rieper until the trial.). Pauline was the second of three daughters. (A firstborn son had died as a baby, and the third daughter had Down’s Syndrome.)

The two elements of Pauline’s diary on which attention has focussed since selected entries were presented at the trial are the gangster-movie tone in which they planned the killing ("moider") and the sexual relations between the girls. A passage about the girls re-enacting lovemaking between famous (heterosexual) couples was a particular favourite of the tabloids. (It reappeared in a New Zealand women’s magazine in 1997.)

There is no doubt the girls found solace in each being an outsider. (Juliet’s family was atypical for its day, Hilda’s lover Walter Perry - a former marriage guidance client - living in the house with them while they preserved a mask of respectability. Pauline’s household was crowded with family and boarders; privacy was an issue.) Their friendship was correspondingly passionate and mutual, but whether it can be called lesbian as we now understand the term is a matter of opinion. It was certainly depicted as lesbian in the courtroom by both the prosecution and the defence, and entered New Zealand mythology on homosexuality as a cautionary tale with which to warn women, and especially young girls, of the possible consequences of such "unnatural" relationships.

Both girls did a good deal of creative writing both separately and together, which the defence tried to use as a proof of their insanity. In particular, defence psychiatrist Dr Reginald Medlicott fastened on an unusual entry where Pauline wrote that they had had a visionary experience together on Good Friday, 1953, at Port Levy, in which they found "the key to the fourth world" where they would go when they died. Their dreams of writing novels and going together to Hollywood to become stars were all portrayed as madness by Dr Medlicott - ironically so in the light of Juliet’s later career as a famous crime novelist.

Soon after Juliet found her mother in bed with Perry, the Hulme household collapsed. Dr Hulme was asked to resign as rector and the Hulmes decided to divorce. Juliet was to be sent to South Africa to stay with an aunt while her brother Jonathan went with his father to England. The Reipers were relieved that the girls were to be separated, but Pauline wrote in her diary that Hilda Hulme encouraged her to believe that she could go with them to England. The impending separation was presented by both defence and prosecution as the motive for the killing. The book "Parker & Hulme: a Lesbian View" explores other possibilities.

The trial was a cause celebre, crowds packing every session. The defence conceded the fact of the killing, but attempted to prove the girls "mad"; the prosecution that they were just "bad". Dr Medlicott diagnosed chronic delusional insanity - paranoia. Local psychiatrist Dr Maurice Bevan-Brown was to publish a paper (without ever having seen the girls) diagnosing "Pathological Character Trait". ("Homosexuality in late adolescence is always a sign of emotional immaturity," he wrote.) Dr Kenneth Stallworthy for the prosecution disputed that homosexuality and paranoia were closely related.

In the event, both prosecution and defence agreed that the girls failed the 19th century M’Naghten test for legal insanity - they knew the nature and quality of their act: "they knew what they were doing and they knew that it was wrong."

It took the jury less than three hours to find both girls guilty of murder. Since they were under 18, they could not be sentenced to death, so they were imprisoned "during Her Majesty’s pleasure." Juliet served her time in the women’s section at the nineteenth century Auckland prison of Mt Eden, Pauline mainly at Arohata Women’s prison near Wellington. Juliet’s physical conditions were the more uncomfortable, and she was the only child in Mt Eden. Pauline had the company of other young offenders. Because of the high profile of the case and partly because of Juliet’s social class, both girls were given excellent educational opportunities in prison.

They were released separately after five years, and apparently never saw each other again. Juliet immediately went overseas, converting to Mormonism and eventually settling in Scotland, where she made a new identity (which she has recently disclosed) as a successful author of Victorian murder mysteries, Anne Perry. Pauline remained on probation in New Zealand, not leaving the country until 1965. She attended Auckland University, mixed in the Auckland lesbian community and told at least one lover about her past. (According to a "shock horror" article in a NZ women’s magazine, she now lives as a recluse in a small English village.)

The real significance of the case in New Zealand is the negative attitudes it created about lesbians, especially for teenage girls, for many years afterward (closely parallel to the effect of the Wilde trials on men). Throughout New Zealand, but especially in Christchurch, the mythic link between "lesbian" and "killer" had been re-affirmed. This affected not only heterosexuals but also young lesbians’ attitude toward themselves, creating the fear that any hostility they might feel towards their mothers was their own share of the Parker-Hulme "pathology". Any girl who seemed more than usually attracted to a friend was likely to fill her parents with fear. Others, however, were beneficially alerted by the case to the existence of other lesbians.

 Written by Hugh Young and Alison J. Laurie .


Go back to Chronology Part 1. 

"Parker & Hulme: a Lesbian View" by Julie Glamuzina and Alison J. Laurie, New Women’s Press, Auckland, 1991, ISBN 0 908652 54 2.

 The US edition, published by Firebrand in 1995, has an additional introduction by film critic B. Ruby Rich, firmly placing Peter Jackson’s and Fran Walsh’s imaginative and fictionalised Heavenly Creatures in the "lethal lesbians" film genre along with "Sister, My Sister" and "Fun":

"Heavenly Creatures returned [the folie a deux explanation] to the screen as central narrative and character base, undamaged by decades of psychoanalytic and legal scepticism. ... Jackson’s abandonment of all identification with his characters at the fateful moment of murder is decisive, for he invariably takes his audience with him." is a "Heavenly Creatures" fanclub website. is a biography of Anne Perry, with interview material, that acknowledges but does not discuss the events above.


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