It’s June 1954 in Christchurch, New Zealand, and best friends Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker are facing the unthinkable. Juliet’s parents are embroiled in a divorce, and as a result the obsessively close pair have been threatened with a permanent separation from each other. So, in order to stay together, the teenagers decide to commit a terrible crime – one that continues to haunt the nation to this day.
Juliet came into the world on October 28, 1938, in London, England, to Hilda and Dr. Henry Hulme – the latter being a physicist who would go on to help create the hydrogen bomb. Then, six years after Juliet was born, her parents had another child whom they named Jonathan. After their son’s birth, however, Juliet became seriously ill.
Apparently, the young girl began to suffer from both bronchitis and pneumonia. At one point, she became so ill, in fact, that a medic was reportedly prepared to sign a death certificate for her. Then, at eight years old, Juliet was sent thousands of miles across the world to live in the Bahamas with people she didn’t know.
Juliet’s parents, it seems, had hoped that hotter climates may be of benefit to their daughter’s health. And so, just a few months after arriving in the Bahamas, she was sent away again – this time to the Bay of Islands, a subtropical area in New Zealand. Finally, when Juliet was 13 years old, her father found a job as a clergyman at Canterbury University College on the country’s South Island, and the teen was duly reunited with her family.
Meanwhile, a girl named Pauline Parker had been growing up in a very different world. She was born on May 26, 1938, in Christchurch, New Zealand, to working-class couple Honora and Herbert Parker. And although her parents had lived in the same house, it later emerged that they had not been married – presumably a somewhat scandalous domestic arrangement for the time.
Yet even at this stage, Pauline had something in common with Juliet: she had been seriously ill as a child, too. In particular, Pauline had apparently suffered from osteomyelitis – an infectious condition that affects the bones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, when Juliet and Pauline encountered each other as students at Christchurch Girls’ High School, they formed a connection owing to their similar experiences. In fact, it’s believed that the pair both expressed rather idealized views of their past health problems.
At high school, meanwhile, neither Juliet nor Pauline were able to partake in sports activities due to their respective childhood illnesses. Instead, then, they focused on their shared appreciation for books. The girls occupied themselves by writing, for instance, while Pauline even informed her parents that she was working on an opera.
What’s more, as the duo’s friendship developed, they allegedly invented a rich fantasy realm complete with their own interpretation of heaven that they called The Fourth World. Juliet and Pauline apparently went as far as to believe that their bond had allowed them to attain a type of divine enlightenment. More worryingly still, though, the pair also believed that on occasion they were actually able to visit The Fourth World.
And their aberrant behavior wasn’t going unnoticed. You see, according to reports, both Juliet and Pauline’s parents suspected that there was something unusual about their children’s friendship. Pauline’s mother, for her part, had even taken her daughter to see a medical professional about what she perceived to be an unhealthy obsession between the two. But despite the intensity of the teens’ bond, there appears to be little evidence that the relationship was ever romantic.
Then, when Juliet was 14 years old, her health took another turn for the worse. And as a result, the teen was kept for several months in a medical facility while her parents traveled to London alone. Rather than driving Juliet and Pauline apart, however, it seems that the experience merely brought the two girls closer together. According to Juliet, Pauline kept in touch with her every single day, in fact.
Meanwhile, after Juliet was discharged from hospital, she returned to live with her parents in their large Christchurch home once more. Their family life would be shattered, though, when the girl apparently walked in on her mother in bed with another man on one occasion. And so, with divorce on the cards, Dr. Hulme decided to leave New Zealand and return to England to continue his research.
It seems, too, that Dr. Hulme had at first intended to leave Juliet in Christchurch with her mother. Yet before he could depart, he made a disturbing discovery about his daughter and her friend Pauline. Apparently, the girls had apparently been plotting an escape to America, where they hoped that they could make money from their novels.
Horrified by Juliet and Pauline’s scheme – and seemingly disturbed by their intense relationship – Dr. Hulme changed his mind about leaving his daughter behind. Instead, he planned to send the girl to South Africa, where she and her brother would stay with a relative. But Juliet’s response to said idea was simple: she demanded that Pauline accompany her.
Bizarrely, some reports have documented that Juliet’s mother, Hilda, consented to this rather strange arrangement. Honora, on the other hand, is said to have refused to let Pauline go. But neither parent could have guessed the terrifying lengths that their daughters would go in order to remain together. Yes, the girls had begun plotting a terrible solution to their predicament.
And on the afternoon of June 22, 1954, Juliet and Pauline put their sinister scheme into motion. The teens, accompanied by Honora, set out for a walk in Victoria Park in the hills above the city of Christchurch. And just as the girls had planned, Juliet – carrying a stash of decorative pebbles hidden in her pocket – rushed ahead of the others.
Once Juliet had run far enough along the path, however, she dropped the stones on the ground. Then, when the others had caught up, Honora leant down to scoop up one of the colorful rocks. And it’s believed that while the woman was distracted, Pauline pulled out a stocking-wrapped brick from her pocket.
At this point, the teens’ plan kicked into action. The story goes that Pauline hit her mother squarely around the head using the makeshift weapon. And when Honora fell to the ground as a result, her daughter apparently continued to rain down blows. Next, Juliet is thought to have returned to Pauline’s side and aided her friend in the vicious assault.
Once their gruesome task was complete, meanwhile, Juliet and Pauline sprinted the short distance back to the park’s kiosk. There they found the owner, Agnes Ritchie, on duty. And while still covered in Honora’s blood, the friends began to gasp out a fabricated tale. According to the pair’s initial accounts, Pauline’s mother had stumbled over a log and taken a blow to the head when she fell.
When Ritchie’s husband, Kenneth, subsequently went to investigate, he discovered Honora’s lifeless body beneath a tree and a brick that had been discarded nearby. Ritchie reportedly also heard the girls giggling as they cleaned the blood off their hands at a nearby sink. The authorities subsequently arrived, and police officers took Juliet and Pauline into their custody.
Then, just a few weeks after that fateful day, there came an announcement that would send shockwaves through New Zealand and the rest of the world: Juliet and Pauline were to stand trial for Honora’s murder. And as the proceedings began, the teenagers found themselves at the center of a media circus – the likes of which Christchurch had arguably never seen before.
During the trial, much was made of the obsessively close nature of Juliet and Pauline’s relationship. According to Famous Australasian Crimes, a 1957 book written by Tom Gurr, for instance, the Crown Prosecutor referred to the pair as “dirty-minded little girls” in front of the jury. Moreover, the prosecution pointed out how intensely devoted Juliet and Pauline had been to each other – even claiming that the teens had often slept in the same bed.
But although Juliet and Pauline had confessed, the trial nevertheless continued. That’s because both the prosecution and the defense wanted to establish whether or not the girls were sane. And to that end, some passages from Pauline’s diary were recited in court. “Why could not mother die?” read one excerpt. “Dozens, thousands of people are dying. Why not mother – and father too?”
So, on August 28, 1954, Juliet and Pauline were found guilty of murder after just over two hours of jury deliberation. Owing to the girls’ ages, though, they were spared the death penalty. Instead, 16-year-old Pauline was sent to Wellington on the North Island, where she became an inmate at an institution called Arohata Borstal. The 15-year-old Juliet, on the other hand, was imprisoned at the infamous Mount Eden facility in Auckland.
According to Juliet, she was the only minor at Mount Eden and was subjected to unpleasant living conditions. “It was cold, [and] there were rats, canvas sheets and calico underwear,” she told The Guardian in 2003. “I had to wash out my sanitary towels by hand, and they put me on physical labor until I passed out.”
But despite the conditions at Mount Eden, Juliet survived – even claiming to have repented during her time in prison. And in November 1959, both girls were released from their respective jails, each having served less than six years behind bars. Presumably keen to escape their pasts, they went on to take new names. Juliet adopted the surname of her mother’s new partner, becoming Anne Perry; Pauline started afresh as Hilary Nathan.
Interestingly, though, some sources have claimed that there was a particular caveat to Juliet and Pauline’s release. Specifically, it’s been said, they were instructed to never contact each other again – although further outlets have expressed doubt over the truth of this claim. But regardless of whether or not the girls’ estrangement was a legal requirement, it appears as though they made no attempt to reunite in the years that followed their dreadful crime.
Instead, Juliet – now Anne – left the country immediately after her release and joined her family in Italy. From there, the woman made her way to England, where she spent some time working as a stewardess. It’s believed that Anne also lived in the United States at some point, where she reportedly became a member of the Mormon faith.
Anne then settled in Portmahomack, a remote fishing village in northern Scotland. And in 1979 she published her first novel, finally realizing the dream that she and Pauline had once shared. Anne became somewhat of a respected crime writer, in fact – although her true identity remained hidden from her readers.
Under her new name, Anne has written a number of successful books that mostly fall within the genres of detective fiction and historical mysteries. Additionally, she has created two popular recurring characters, including William Monk – a private investigator who suffers from amnesia. And in 2001 she even picked up the prestigious Edgar Award for her short story “Heroes.”
Pauline, meanwhile, settled in Auckland after leaving prison under the new identity of Hilary. But unlike her partner in crime, it seems, Hilary’s release had been subject to certain conditions, and she wasn’t initially allowed to leave New Zealand. Nevertheless, when said ban expired in 1965, she, too, fled the country. The woman apparently made her way to southern England before settling in the Orkney Islands, a remote archipelago off the coast of Scotland.
Against all the odds, then, Anne and Hilary seemed to have used their new identities to successfully disappear – or so they may have thought. In 1994, you see, everything changed. In that year, director Peter Jackson was set to release Heavenly Creatures, with the drama being based on the events of Honora’s murder in Christchurch 40 years previously.
Starring an up-and-coming Kate Winslet as Juliet and New Zealand actress Melanie Lynskey as Pauline, Heavenly Creatures takes its name from a line in one of Pauline’s real childhood poems. And the movie was not only a critical success, but it also brought the gruesome story of the teenage murderers into the sphere of public attention once more. In fact, before the picture had even hit theaters, a journalist had managed to track down Anne and expose her identity to the world.
“It seemed so unfair,” Anne told The Guardian of the reveal. “Everything I had worked to achieve as a decent member of society was threatened. Once again, my life was being interpreted by someone else. It had happened in court when, as a minor, I wasn’t allowed to speak, and I heard all these lies being told. And now there was a film, but nobody had bothered to talk to me.”
In addition, Heavenly Creatures seems to imply that the characters of Juliet and Pauline are engaged in a romantic relationship. And yet Anne has always adamantly denied that there was ever a sexual element to their encounters – although she has admitted that the pair were intensely close. In fact, Anne has even claimed that she helped Pauline to commit the murder out of a sense of obligation.
“I felt that I had a debt to repay,” Anne explained to The Guardian. “Pauline was the only one who had written to me when I was in hospital, and she threatened to kill herself if I didn’t help. She was vomiting after every meal and losing weight all the time. I am now sure she was bulimic. I really believed she would take her own life, and I couldn’t face it.”
But there may have been yet another factor at play on that fateful day in June 1954. According to Anne, you see, she had been subject to experimental drug treatments during her time in the sanatorium as an adolescent. And she now believes that the substances were mood-altering – perhaps even enough to lead her to commit murder.
Then, in 2011 – some seven years after Juliet and Pauline’s story had made it onto the big screen – crime writer Peter Graham released his own take on the teenagers’ dark act. Entitled So Brilliantly Clever after a phrase in Pauline’s diary, the book charts the background and aftermath of what became one of New Zealand’s most notorious crimes.
“There’s an X factor with murders, and some grab everybody’s attention,” Graham told the The New Zealand Herald in 2011. “[Juliet and Pauline’s case] seems to have all the ingredients to make an interesting story.” And despite the fact that both Anne and Hilary now seem to crave anonymity, Graham nevertheless remains convinced that it was necessary to tell the women’s chilling tale.
“[So Brilliantly Clever is] a book that needed to be written,” Graham explained. “It’s public property, I think; what they did was so horrendous.” However, he was unable to make contact with Pauline for comment. Graham apparently received a swift rebuttal, too, when attempting to secure an interview with Anne. “Do you have any idea how unbearably painful this is for me?” she is reported to have said.
Even today, then, the story of Honora Parker’s murder – and the tale of the two teenage girls who committed it – continues to cast a dark shadow over New Zealand. And while Anne and Hilary may be trying their best to fade into obscurity, it seems unlikely that Juliet and Pauline will be forgotten any time soon.