Wednesday, February 22, 2012

So Brilliantly Clever - Peter Graham Awa Press $42.00

"On June 22, 1954, in the depth of a southern winter, teenage friends Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker went for a walk in a park with Pauline's mother. Half an hour later the girls returned alone. Honorah Parker lay in a sea of blood on a lonely track. She had been savagely murdered. In this mesmerising book, lawyer and true crime writer Peter Graham tells the whole story for the first time, giving a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial, dramatic revelations about the fate of Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker after their release from prison and their strange lives today, and a penetrating insight into the crime using modern psychology."

Nearly 60 years after the fact, former lawyer Peter Graham dissects New Zealand’s fascination with the Parker-Hulme murder.

June 22, 1954, Juliet Hulme (15) sneaks a half-brick from her Ilam home into her shoulder bag before heading to the home of close friend Pauline Parker (16). Once there the pair slip the brick in a stocking and hide it in the bag again. They have a ‘pleasant lunch’ with Pauline’s family, before taking the bus with Pauline’s mother, Honorah, up Christchurch’s Port Hills to Victoria Park.
Following afternoon tea at the kiosk, they all walk down a secluded path where the girls bash Honorah to death with the stockinged brick. And she doesn’t die easily, either, taking on over 45 external injuries, 24 blows to the face and head alone. Many cut through to the bone. The constable in charge of the murder investigation described a killing of “animal ferocity”.

Allegedly Pauline had dreamt up the killing two months earlier, and over the week prior to the murder there was an intense period of detailed planning with details such as the removal of a pink stone from a brooch, later used as a decoy immediately before the fatal blows.

Afterwards, the girls feigned shock and horror, sprinting hysterically back to the Victoria Park rooms, claiming Honorah had fallen and repeatedly banged her head.

Even after 57 years, the cool premeditation of this crime remains shocking, disturbing. Author/Lawyer Peter Graham was seven at the time of the murder but the case has held a fascination since 1972. This was especially so when he worked as a young barrister for Brian McClelland, who was junior counsel for Juliet Hulme. McClelland often remembered the August 1954 Parker-Hulme trial plus there were also the accounts from Peter Mahon, junior to crown prosecutor Alan Brown.

Graham's account is 30 years late, he reckons – due in part to the distraction of a stint as a legal professional in Hong Kong. But now back in Canterbury, the book has finally been completed. The book’s title – So Brilliantly Clever – is from Pauline’s description of herself and Juliet in an entry in her 1954 diary. This is a pretty inclusive account of the whole affair, with the backgrounds of the two families, the strange, delusional fantasy world of the two girls, the trial and the aftermath, right up to the present-day, including the ‘new’ identities of the two women: successful crime writer Anne Perry (Juliet) and the reclusive Hilary Nathan (Pauline) both released later and exiled in the UK.

Many may feel their knowledge is satiated by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh’s Heavenly Creatures – but there’s always more. The only other non-fiction account was written. Julie Glamuzina and Alison Laurie’s 1991 book, Parker & Hulme: A Lesbian View which picks up on the lurid reporting of the case at the time and the intense focus on the girls’ apparently homosexual relationship. Their book offers a sympathetic perspective, arguing that family tensions in the two girls’ lives, including Honorah’s efforts to stop what she saw as an unhealthy relationship and the Hulmes’ marriage dissolving, had become explosive.

Graham, on the other hand dismisses the ¬Glamuzina-Laurie retelling as ‘ideologically straitjacketed’. He’s convinced the field is still wide open for a book that told the full “fascinating story”. The book draws on the transcript of the murder trial, the police transcript of Pauline’s 1954 diary, the papers of close family friend Nancy Sutherland – including letters written by Juliet in Mt Eden Prison – interviews with contemporaries, and newspaper reports and publications. Graham says he was also greatly assisted by interview notes loaned by Michelanne Forster, who for her 1991 play Daughters of Heaven had spoken to McClelland, the Hulmes’ housekeeper and other associates of the family who had since died. Juliet’s diary, unfortunately, is long gone. On the night of the murder her mother, Hilda, ordered it be destroyed by the family’s gardener before the police found it, after seeing it contained “dreadfully incriminating” material.

Despite everyone else’s obsession with their sexual relationship, Graham believes this is largely irrelevant to their decision to murder Honarah. Nor does he consider them both they were insane. The 1954 jury rejected the defense of insanity. And so, too, he argues, would any modern-day jury. Whilst Pauline’s diary, he adds, offers startling insights into the interior of their “weird little minds” a legal defense of insanity still required proof that they “suffered from a disease of the mind, and that as a result of that disease they didn’t know either the nature or the quality of the act, or that the act was wrong”.

“It didn’t help [their case] that they said, ‘Yes, of course we knew it was wrong.’ And Juliet said, ‘You’d have to be a moron not to know that.’ I think they were suffering from fairly serious personality disorders, but I don’t think they were insane legally or medically.”

The expert witness, a psychiatrist, for the prosecution remarked that the girls had wanted to be found insane because that would get them an earlier release from prison, despite the usual understanding that but people who were insane always insisted they were sane – not the other was around.

A mix of ill health and the experiences of the Blitz created parental separation anxiety for Juliet and the often strained relations and economic woes of the Parkers (who had gentlemen borders around the impressionable you 145 year old) all provide ripe picking s for speculation. Ad d to this their intense and exclusive relationship and the heavy diet of poetry, fantasy writing, violent movies and grandiose delusions and you’ve got plenty of evidence for and deluded grand scheme that set them apart from others. By the end of 1953 they were inseparable, with Pauline infatuated with the sophistication of the Hulme household and spending ever more time at their Ilam homestead. In her diary, she wrote of how sad it was for everyone else that “they cannot appreciate our genius”.

As Jackson’s film shows (in his later award winning animation sequence) Pauline began constructing a cast of violent fictional characters in her writing. During Juliet’s time at the sanatorium for tuberculosis the pair maintained prolific correspondence, writing to each other as “Charles” and “Lance”, around whom they wove a bloodthirsty narrative about the fantasy empires of Borovnia and Volumnia, where “vengeful murder, suicide, rape, seduction and betrayal were daily occurrences”, They talked of becoming prostitutes, cooked up plans to go to Hollywood, took to shoplifting and plotted to blackmail Hilda Hulme and her lover, Bill Perry, who were conducting an affair under Henry’s nose. By early 1954, Henry Hulme’s career as rector was on the rocks and he was forced to resign. At the same time, the Hulmes’ marriage was disintegrating (ironic as Hilda was a high-profile Marriage Guidance Councilor). It was decided Henry would return to England and Juliet would be sent to an aunt in South Africa until her health improved. In the book, Graham depicts the girls’ behavior as increasingly manic and their relationship more sexually intense as the time approached for Juliet and Henry Hulme’s departure from Christchurch.

The plan to “moider mother” was hatched in the context of duplicity and deceit. Hilda actively encouraged Pauline to think she could accompany Juliet to South Africa and then on to England, whilst Henry told Pauline he would write to her mother asking permission go for her to go overseas with them.

Of course what was really going on was that Henry was playing both ends against the middle, stringing people along with false hopes and promises. He knew Honorah would never agree to her daughter leaving the country.”

Pauline Parker

And as a result, Honorah ended up being the sole obstacle to the girls being together, at least in their eyes. Pauline was confident her mother would never consent to her leaving the country. If Honorah could be eliminated, she would have a better chance of getting her way with her father. By June 19 the murder plan was confirmed. On eve of the murder – Pauline wrote: “Mother has fallen in with everything beautifully and the happy event is to take place tomorrow afternoon. So next time I write in this diary mother will be dead. How odd, yet how pleasing.” And upon waking she diarised that she was …“very excited and ‘the night before Christmas-ish’ last night. I did not have pleasant dreams though.”

The defense case argued that the girls were suffering from paranoia and folie à deux, a condition of self imposed entrapment. The insanity implications in their argument all failed. The jury only took 2 hours, 12 minutes to decide on a ‘Guilty’ verdict. The girls were sentenced to prison for an indefinite term “at Her Majesty’s pleasure” and five-and-a-half years later (Juliet at Mt Eden, Pauline at Arohata) they were released. Juliet received a new passport and identity. There was no formal condition of their release that they did not communicate with each other, although it seems they never did meet again. On that we are not and probably never will be truly certain.

So what happens next? The trail gets murky. But 4 decades later, it was discovered that Juliet was the highly successful Scottish crime writer Anne Perry. She’d taken up Mormonism at age 26 while living in California. Pauline changed her name by deed poll to Hilary Nathan. After release she tried, unsuccessfully, to become a nun, she studied at the Library School in Wellington and got a job at the University of Auckland library. Many years later she was found living as a reclusive in Kent, in a house decorated with dream-like murals depicting Pauline and Juliet-like characters, which she is thought to have painted. More recently she moved to Orkney, Scotland.

Perry did give interviews about her life as Juliet Hulme. She wept for the first three months in Mt Eden Prison and repented her crime over and over, according to writers at her door. But by Graham's account the imprisoned Juliet was still as conceited and egotistical as before and quotes revealing letters written to her mother’s friend Nancy Sutherland, in which she boasted about how many pages of poetry she had read, her love of Italian language and culture, and other frivolous stuff, but not anything related to the murder. If Graham differs to others on this point, the evidence seems a bit flimsy.

He writes : “Psychopathic traits are closely related to narcissism, and doctors often refer to the ‘narcissist-psychopath type.” Psychopaths are often charming and convincing liars, and in some cases violent behavior is likely to be premeditated rather than impulsive.” This seems a little clichéd’ to be honest and quite obvious. But then again, could these two girls have simply been just pure evil, connected and spurred on by a friendship and common threads.

“I have suggested that you do see this internal struggle going on within Pauline – she has a dark side and a good side. In her later life, she ended up headmistress of a special needs school for children, teaching kids how to ride. Even looking back on her diary, there were days when she was out with her pony, giving the kids rides and absolutely loving it … I would say she has lived a life of repentance. She has become very religious and goes to mass twice a day. Mind you, Juliet has become a Mormon.”

Whereas Hilary Nathan has never been interviewed, Anne Perry has done several interviews, and allowed a documentary team into her home in 2007 to film her daily life as a writer. In the film, she claimed she had felt trapped into helping Pauline kill her mother because she was afraid her friend would commit suicide otherwise. Perry’s proposition that she had been merely an accessory, motivated by loyalty to a friend whose own life was in danger, doesn’t wash with Graham. “It’s all fake,” he says.

Similarly, he debunks Perry’s claims that she had been under the influence of mind-altering TB drugs, and that the girls had been prevented from giving evidence at the trial – in truth, the defense could not risk putting them in the witness stand because their arrogance and condescension would have alienated the jury.

Graham argues that Anne Perry, consciously or unconsciously, appears to have reworked the raw facts in her imagination to such degree that what is left is clearly a gauzy fabrication, a piece of fiction. It turns out Perry refused to speak to Graham, she wrote back to him saying: “I’m sorry you feel the need to drag up this tragedy.” It seems she may have got wind of an investigator that could cut through the BS, perhaps. Consequently she doesn’t want the exposure.

1 comment:

  1. Reading an article Perry wrote about her house, it's apparent she really likes to brag and has a very high opinion of herself, much as Parker's writings portrayed the pair. You might be interested in searching for "pauline parker mural" to see a mural she painted decades after the murder: