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Anne Perry: A Tale of Two Girls, Murder, and Heavenly Creatures

Figure 1: Left: Anne Perry (Peter Jolly/Shutterstock) 

Figure 2: Center: Winslet and Lynskey as Juliet and Pauline in Heavenly Creatures. 

Figure 3: Right: Juliet and Pauline during their murder trial

On April 10th, 2023, the literacy world lost a renowned author named Anne Perry (1938-2023) at age 84. Her many stories, ranging from fantasy, crime, to historical detective, have captivated audiences for decades and sold over 26 million copies. After news broke of Perry’s passing, her dark past came back to haunt her once again. You see…Anne Perry was not only best known for her crime stories, but also the grizzly murder that she and her friend committed as teenagers that shocked the nation of New Zealand. This case was so notorious, it became the subject of one of Peter Jackson’s first major films before he would direct the critically acclaimed The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This film was also the feature film debut for its two young leading actresses who would go on to have acclaimed acting careers: Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey. What happened to Anne Perry as a teenager that was brought to light by the 1994 psychological drama Heavenly Creatures?

Before becoming an acclaimed author, Anne Perry was originally known as Juliet Hulme, the daughter of Hilda Hulme and renowned British scientist, Dr. Henry Rainsford Hulme. After World War II, the Hulme family moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, where Dr. Hulme got a job at Canterbury University College. Juliet was enrolled at Christchurch Girls’ High School, where she befriends Pauline Rieper, the daughter of Herbert and Honorah Rieper. The girls bonded over their illnesses they suffered with as children, creating an intense friendship.

Juliet and Pauline were very imaginative; they dreamed of becoming actresses and writing stories for films, books, and plays. Eventually, the girls invented their own personal religion, with its own morality, and celebrities they admired (including opera singer Mario Lanza) were viewed as saints (Rivy). Sparking the creation of a parallel dimension called “The Fourth World,” filled with fantastical kingdoms including Borovnia and various characters the girls imagined. They dub themselves “Heavenly Creatures” because they can access this imaginative world. They gave themselves new names; Juliet became Deborah, while Pauline became Gina. Their obsession with their fantasies made them extremely codependent and began to encompass their everyday lives, concerning their parents. The parents believed the girls were in a sexual relationship (which both girls denied later in life). 

After Juliet’s parents separated, they decided that Juliet would leave New Zealand with her father and bring her to live with her aunt in South Africa. The girls were desperate to stay together and tried to convince their families to both go to South Africa. However, Pauline’s parents would not allow it. Believing that the only person standing in their way of staying together was Pauline’s mother, Honorah, the girls began to consider murdering her in April 1954 (Furneaux). 

On June 22nd, 1954, the girls and Honorah visited Victoria Park to have tea together and go for a walk. While on a remote path, Juliet dropped a pink stone to catch Honora’s attention. While Honorah was reaching down to look at the stone, Pauline took out her homemade weapon, consisting of half of a brick stuffed into a stalking, and started to hit her mother. Both girls brutally bludgeoned her to death and ran back to the tea house screaming for help, claiming Honorah fell and got hurt. Police were called and noticed that Honorah’s injuries were not consistent with a slip and fall as the girls claimed, causing their story to unravel quickly. Later that same day, police found enough evidence, including Pauline’s diary entries, to arrest Pauline, while Juliet was arrested the next day (Furneaux). 

While incarcerated, it was later discovered that Pauline’s parents were not legally married, and as a result, Pauline and her mother were addressed by Honorah’s maiden name, Parker. Juliet and Pauline pleaded not guilty due to reasons of insanity and claimed that their status as “Heavenly Creatures” exempted them from normal rules of the law (Cappello). The defense claimed the girls were expressing symptoms of Folie A Deux (French for “Madness of Two”) and that their fantasies had warped their sense of reality. Both girls were convicted of murder, but they were ineligible for the death penalty due to them being 15 and 16 years old at the time and only served five years in prison. After serving their time, they were under the condition to never come into contact with each other again (Furneaux). As the girls established new lives separately, their whereabouts ran cold until this case came back into the international spotlight four decades later.  

Screenwriter Dame Fran Walsh was interested in the Parker-Hulme case since she was a child and suggested to her long time partner, filmmaker Peter Jackson, to adapt it as a film. 16-year-old Melanie Linskey earned the role of Pauline due to her striking resemblance at the time of the crime, while a 19-year-old Kate Winslet was chosen out of 175 girls due to the intensity she brought as Juliet. Actual excerpts from Pauline’s diary were used for the voice-over narrations. The newly created visual effects studio, Weta Digital, brought The Fourth World to life. Heavenly Creatures was released in 1994 with critical acclaim for its production, Winslet and Lynskey’s performances, and Jackson’s directing, earning the film the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The film gave the case more international attention (Zander). 

After the film was released, many people wondered, “What happened to the girls after the murder?” Journalist Lin Ferguson was inspired to track Juliet down. Learning that she went by a new name and became a writer, Ferguson began checking the birth dates until she discovered the shocking revelation: convicted teenage murderer Juliet Hulme is now the successful author Anne Perry! The discovery of a convicted murderer who changed her identity to have a successful career as a writer captivated the world. Who better to write a fascinating murder story than an actual murderer? While Juliet achieved the fame she had always wanted, Pauline lived a much quieter life. She moved to England and settled near Kent under a new name and expressed regret for what she had done to her mother (Rivy).

Many people believe that one’s life is over after committing a heinous crime like murder. However, Anne Perry became a significant exception to that. Even if one tries to forget any terrible thing they did as a child or teenager, they will eventually be harshly reminded. No matter how much Anne Perry attempted to escape her dark past and distance herself, eventually, the world would know her secret. The Parker-Hulme case stood out from many true crime cases due to the fact that teenage girls committing murder are rare in a country with a low crime rate. This case will also be immortalized for jump-starting careers of an acclaimed filmmaker and two revered actresses, in addition to the impact it had on journalism, psychology, and crime cases (Donaldson). 

Works Cited

Cappello, Nile 25 Years Later, Reconsidering the Fallout from Heavenly Creatures Crime Reads November 15, 2019

Donaldson, Kayleigh Heavenly Creatures and the Parker-Hulme Murder Case SYFY October 12, 2020

Furneaux, Rupert Famous Criminal Cases V2. London: Wingate, 1955. P.32-49

Rivy, Lyon The Sinister Story Of Pauline Parker And Juliet Hulme, The Best Friends Who Committed One Of New Zealand’s Most Infamous Murders All That Is Interesting  June 27, 2023

What happened to the teenage girls involved in NZ's shocking Parker-Hulme murder case from 1954? Now To Love, July 9, 2019

Zander, Bianca Heavenly Creatures NZ On Screen November 7, 2013


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