Sunday, April 4, 2010

An inside look at a woman with murder firmly in mind

A snippet on TV this week about a documentary being screened as part of the World Cinema Showcase (currently being run in some of New Zealand's major cities) caught my eye due to its intriguing crime fiction-related content.

Many of you will have heard of Anne Perry, the reclusive bestselling author of dozens of acclaimed historical mysteries, including continuing series featuring Victorian policeman Thomas Pitt, and another 1800s-set series featuring Inspector Monk. She is truly prolific - having written more than 50 novels (and many short stories) since her debut THE CATER STREET HANGMAN (the first of 23 Thomas Pitt novels) was published in 1979.

On her website, Perry mentions how she was quite far through her life by the time her first book was published (she had turned 40 the year before), and had done several things before she became a published novelist - clerical work, retail selling, fashion, air stewardess, ship and shore stewardess, limousine dispatcher and insurance underwriter. However she (unsurprisingly) completely ignores the biggest thing from her entire pre-writing life: she and her best friend brutally bludgeoned to death the friend's mother when they were 15 year olds in 1950s New Zealand.

Perry (who went by her real name of Juliet Hulme back then - see pic from the time to the left) was herself only saved from the hangman due to her age at the time of the vicious crime, which involved both girls battering Honora Rieper to death on a garden path on 22 June 1954 - a sustained attack of more than 40 blows, including with a brick wrapped in a stocking. Perry/Hulme and her partner in crime Pauline Parker served five years in prison.

You can read more about the crime, which was highlighted in Peter Jackson's exceptional movie Heavenly Creatures (which starred Kate Winslet in her breakthrough film role, as Hulme/Perry), here. The reclusive Perry was in fact only 'outed' as Hulme due to publicity surrounding the critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated film.

Now there is a new documentary, Anne Perry: Interiors (filmmaker: Dana Linkiewicz), looking at Perry's reclusive life, her almost single-minded dedication to writing, and her tiny band of close friends and devoted supporters that she surrounds herself with, living in otherwise rural isolation near the small Scottish village of Portmahomack. The documentary, which was made with Perry's co-operation (intriguing in itself, as she is fiercely private and publicity shy, apart from the occasional attendance at books events), is currently screening in New Zealand as part of the World Cinema Showcase.

Unfortunately I didn't find out about it until it had finished showing in Auckland, but there are still screenings in Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin in the coming month:
  • Wellington: Sunday 4 April (11:30am) and Saturday 10 April (11:15am) at the Paramount Theatre
  • Christchurch: Sunday 18 April (11:15am), Monday 19 April (6:30pm), Tuesday 20 April (2:15pm) at the Rialto Theatre
  • Dunedin: Sunday 25 April (11:30am) and Monday 26 April (6:15pm) at the Regent Theatre
I read a few of Perry's William Pitt books while I was travelling through South America in 2007/2008 - they were reasonably available in the English-language book exchanges at various hostels, bars/cafes etc. I enjoyed the books I read, and think she is a good crime writer; particularly good at capturing the Victorian setting. I was well aware of her story at the time, so it wasn't a matter of me finding out later that an author I liked was a murderer themselves. Her history certainly makes her an interesting person as well, and the documentary will go some (if slightly slanted) way to revealing a little more about her to her readers.
I was going to post more on the topic of Perry and the documentary, and her past (which she seemingly does her best to ignore - which is of course pretty understandable), but then this morning I found a pretty good recent article on the Stuff website, here, which covered some of the same things.
Her situation certainly raises some interesting questions that go beyond crime fiction. How long should someone have to be reminded of, and pay for, the mistakes of their past? Is 50 years long enough? Can you ever redeem yourself from a truly horrific act? Do the answers depend on how you deal with it or address it (ie should the fact someone tries to minimise or self-rationalise their bad choices and responsibility affect how we think about them)?
I'm not even sure how I feel about some of these broader issues myself. It got me thinking - if in ten years time, we found out that one of our favourite crime writers of the past decade or more was actually one of the teenage killers of James Bulger (who were likewise released from prison and have gone into hiding/exile with new identities), would that change how we felt about them? Their writing? Is Perry's crime far enough in the past that we can forgive that, but the Bulger one is still too close, too raw?
Apologies for the wandering post - I'm just in one of those philosophical moods today. I would love your thoughts and comments on any of these issues, or anything at all about Perry, her books, and the documentary.


  1. Craig - You raise such an interesting set of questions! Are there acts that one can't be forgiven? If anything can eventually be forgiven, how long does it take? If nothing can be forgiven, what are the consequences? I'd have to ponder that one quite a while to attempt an answer, but I do appreciate your making me think...

  2. Hmmmm...big issues indeed. I think each case would have to be taken on its own merits...I like to believe that people are capable of redemption and would hate to think that a lone act (although a horrific one) at 15 means that person has lost forever their chance at a 'normal life'. But it's easy to be forgiving when you're not directly involved and I know I would possibly (probably) feel differently if I was the murdered woman's sister or friend or another daughter so I think it's impossible to give an absolute answer to your philosophical thoughts.

    My only remotely similar real life experience was when at 17 I learned that the grandfather of my childhood best friend (we lived 3 houses apart and from the time we were about 4 years old were in and out of each other's houses on a daily basis and her grandfather lived with her family all the time I knew them) had been a guard at Majdanek concentration camp during WWII. The reason his secret came out was because consideration was being given to prosecuting him for war crimes though in the end this never went ahead as there was no evidence of his direct involvement in particular incidents. All the time I had known him he was a typical grandfatherly type person who I adored (both my own grandfathers died before I was born so he was the closest thing I had to one) but, at least initially, I felt differently about him when I learned what he had been part of. At 17 I was particularly unforgiving as teenagers have a habit of being and over the next couple of years I did lots of reading about the camps and I tried to understand but I never felt quite the same way about him again. My friend, who learned his secret at the same time as I did, was even more shocked and I don't think has ever forgiven him - though he's been dead for 20 years now. His son (my friend's dad) was completely the opposite and kept saying that we had to base our behaviour towards the grandfather on our own experiences. I wonder now if it was easier for my friend's dad because he was older when he learned of his father's past - I know at my age now I'm not as strident nor do I see the world in as black/white a way as I did at 17.

    Sorry for blathering on your blog Craig.

  3. On the whole I judge the merit of a book on its content alone, not that of the writer, but if you know something like this about a writer, it may be extremely difficult to ignore it when you read her books.

    On the other hand, I cannot help feeling that if two young girls kill the mother of one of them, there may be a reason. Either something the mother has done to her daughter, or one or both of the girls may have suffered from a mental disease.

  4. I think it's reasonably well accepted that both girls were a little deranged Dorte - they were definitely off in their own fantasy world which was quite divorced from reality. The 'reason' for the crime seems to be the fear of the two of them being split up. Of course there's always a difference between having such a fervent fantasy world and being a kid somewhat divorced from reality, and the legal standard of insanity, but that's a whole 'nother discussion...

  5. I think you have to ask yourself this - would the victim be happy that their killer had moved on and become a money making prolific author? Would they be happy knowing their killer had a fanbase, and that readers were happy to forgive their crimes in order to be entertained by their writing? Snapping and killing somebody is one thing - but when premeditation is involved, or hitting somebody 40 times with a brick, or laying them on train tracks - no, if my favorite author had done that to anybody I'd never read them again. Maybe I'd reconsider if they were donating all of their royalties to charity... that would show some remorse...

  6. I didn't know about her past when I started reading her novels and, surprisingly only found out last year even though I'm a huge movie buff and Kate Winslet fan. I am somehow able to read her books, I have "The Whitechapel conspiracy" in front of me as I post this, now knowing her past. It doesn't even enter my thoughts while reading. I think I had fallen for Thomas and Charlotte too hard to care now. I think if I had known before I may have avoided them. When you mentioned Jamie Bulger I felt a real revulsion and it makes me question how I can separate the author from the murderer. I don't really know. It's disturbing.

  7. After reading and watching a large amount about Hulme and Parker, my opinion is , that they could have been found, Not Guilty, on the grounds of temporary insanity, or Not Guilty on the grounds of deminished responsibility. Hulme has stated, she came to repentence, whilst in Mt Eden Prison.
    Mankind looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.
    Exactly the same thing happened with Pauline Parker. She helps children, and prays every day.
    Repentence came many years ago.
    I think as human beings, we should be happy about people, who have really changed their lives around and are doing well.
    Carl Rosel

  8. Anne is one of the most caring, gentle people I know, she has paid the price for a moment of folly a hundred times over.

    1. I find it ironic, (and I mean this with no disrespect, really) but that someone who knows her posts as anonymous so that the comment goes into the ether and might as well not have been posted. Don't be afraid to show your support or anything ;)

  9. Moment of folly? Hmmm. Running across a football field naked on a bet, or fleeing from a restaurant without paying, might qualify as a moment of folly. But I don't think the brutal murder of a human being does.

  10. 'Hulme has stated, she came to repentence, whilst in Mt Eden Prison.' But how did this coming to repentance manifest itself? What did she do? Cry a bit? Admit she’d murdered someone? Promise to compensate the family she’d helped destroy? Apologize to the surviving Rieper family? Hulme lied in her first statement to the police. She’s a professional liar by trade; she constantly reinvents the past to make herself less culpable. Every interview she gives she says something different about why she murdered Honora Reiper.

    And yet, here are 4 contradictory excuses given by the murderer for her actions:

    Juliet Hulme on why she committed murder: "I mean certainly we [Pauline and I] were good friends, but it [the murder] was a debt of honour. It wasn't the great 'I can't live without you' business that these idiotic movie makers are making it out to be... All I can say is that it was violent, and quick..."

    Juliet Hulme on why she committed murder: “I was frightened of her [Pauline Parker], in the fact that I thought she really would take her life. It is stupid but I felt absolutely trapped… I knew it was wrong and I knew I would have to pay for it and I knew it was stupid but I was terrified that she really would take her life and that it would have been my fault.”

    Juliet Hulme on why she committed murder: “Pauline was suffering from bulimia and Pauline was threatening to kill herself and I honestly believed that if I didn’t help her kill her mother then Pauline would kill herself and that would be on my conscience’.”

    Juliet Hulme on why she committed murder: ‘I helped someone [Pauline Parker] kill another person… It was within a space of… We were about to leave the country. I felt I had not time to find a better solution. She told me that if I left, she would take her own life and I believed her.’

    Juliet Hulme on why she committed murder: “I thought we would be able to frighten Mrs Rieper with the brick and she would give her consent for Pauline and I to stay together. After the first blows were struck I knew it was necessary for us to kill her.”

    Based on these conflicting and contradictory excuses, nothing Juliet Hulme has said, does say, or will say can ever be trusted.

    Just exactly how did she ‘come to repentance’? And how do you know she did? Did she tell you? Were you there? Do you have real proof? If not, it’s just hearsay. Gossip. Hulme has done nothing to show remorse or repentance.

    Repentance is a change of thought to correct a wrong and to gain forgiveness from the person who is wronged, and a determination and a resolution to live a more responsible and humane life. It includes an admission of guilt; a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong; to attempt to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.

    You say she ‘came to repentance’, but Juliet Hulme has not tried to correct a wrong; has not gained (nor ever tried to gain) forgiveness from the person(s) she wronged; has made no promise not to repeat the offense; has not made any attempt to make restitution for the wrong; nor tried in any way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.

    I see no proof or evidence in Hulme’s actions to back up any idea that she ever ‘came to repentance’. The millionaire writer’s deliberate decision to ignore the surviving Rieper family’s financial struggles and debts (which she caused) and to instead pay out half a million pounds to have her garden re-landscaped is an act that is cruel beyond belief… and then to give permission to have the article/interview about her having her garden re-landscaped reprinted in New Zealand is a calculated insult.

    ‘Came to repentance’. I don’t believe it for a second!

    1. a 15 year old has an unfinished brain; they are able to commit crimes that to an adult of 71, myself, is unthinkable, or to Anne Perry as she is now.

      She is not that person now, and was that person only briefly. This moral sea change often happens in the life of many who committed unthinkable acts at a young age. Why do you quote the words of a 15 year old, 58 years later? I would not want my idiotic sayings at 15 repeated back to me now. Thank goodness I have forgotten a lot of it.

      As I recall, Perry had also been kept in a sanitarium due to health issues, and the woman's daughter was her only friend or human connection. Correct me someone, if this is not correct?

    2. "An unfinished brain" and spending time in a sanatorium for TB doesn't explain Anne Perry/Juliet Hulme once took an active part in a planned murder. If you don't want to read quotes from the trial or read other people's opinions on the case, then why bother to comment at all? Just because Anne Perry made a successful life writing stories about gruesome murders and now give talks on remorse and repentance in interviews doesn't mean we cannot question or refrain from doubting her version.

    3. Ms. Hulme/Perry felt more regret at being "outed" than in the horrific crime she committed. The obscenity of her reaction is surpassed only by the grotesqueness of her 60-year ongoing choice to ignore the impact her crime had on the Rieper family, manifested by the material benefits conferred on her by that choice (i.e., a half-million pound garden).

  11. It is probably safe to say that none of us know exactly what was in those girls' hearts then, or now.

    In my experience, adult expectations/manipulation/pressure are key factors in the behaviour of children and adolescents.

    I would be very interested in reading an analysis of how those two girls were being raised, why they needed to cling to each other so fiercely, why they acted with such an extreme manifestation, and how the people who were the adults in their lives reconciled themselves to the outcome and/or supported their children emotionally after the murder.

    Nothing I have read here or elsewhere addresses these topics.

  12. If you'll notice, she has lived her life in a prison of her own making. I see that as the guilt she lives with every day of her life. I'm sure she replays the killing every night she closes her eyes to sleep. I'll bet rest/sleep don't come easy. I don't see her life as anything to envy.

    Adolescent brain development is an interesting thing. Read the paper. Kids at that age are capable of many unspeakable deeds.

  13. Amazing how some people go on talking about remorse on behalf of convicted killers. You don't know what Anne Perry really thinks or feels. She's smart enough to realize that speaks on remorse is what people wish to hear. Of course she says she's sorry, but what does it got to do with you? Would you also defend other killers or criminals out there with a small argument that saying sorry is enough for what they have done? Is her crime less unspeakable of than any other killer out there? It is still amazing to see that people are supportive of her and believes everything she says.

  14. I just came upon this blog....mostly because I was reading one of Anne's books and suspected she was also the author of "The Christmas Journey," that I thought was an awful book. Found out that, indeed, she is. But I like the book I am reading now: "The Shifting Tide."
    Would like to know more about this murder...very strange. Also, I am LDS and was surprised that she is also. To become a member of our church, one must be absolved of wondering about her repentance, her state of mind at the time, etc.

  15. A number of people seem to be enjoying wishful thinking about why a teen murders. Do we excuse the seriousness of this sort of crime today because someone has an "unfinished brain?" No, we demand that they be tried as an adult. I am very disillusioned, as I tend to evaluate an author partially by values that come through in the writing. Anne Perry has not, in fact, "paid" for her crime. But since she has served the time alotted her, I would feel much better if she would be public about what she did and give some sign that she realizes that she played God with someone else's life. I too will try to put aside what I now know of her, since I enjoy the books so much, but it will be difficult and it takes some of the joy away from reading her work.

  16. Juliet Hulme/Anne Perry's murderous act is as heinous as that of the James Bulger murder at any point in time. I took a look at her Biography page on her website and she never even remotely refers to her conviction.
    Is that the act of someone who has repented? It would not appear so. I can never bring myself to ever purchase any of her books, regardless of how talented she is. If one is given to me for free, then I may condescend to read it. Until then I will never voluntarily put a penny in her pocket. I cannot separate the act of this woman from anything that she produces. Those who speak of forgiveness, and the underdeveloped brain of a fifteen year old-the age that she was at the time of her crime, should consider this. If the best book that you ever read in your life was written by a rapist or a child molester, would you separate the work from the author? Would you run to the bookstore to purchase books written by that victimizer, knowing that you are putting money into his/her bank account? When you were an adolescent, or pre-adolescent, could you have lured someone you know well to an area of your choosing and bash that person's head in with a brick more than forty times? If your answer to any of those questions is yes, then you are probably responding from a prison cell computer. What Anne Perry/Juliet Hulme did was no different, on a moral level, than the act of a pedophile or a rapist. Her actions cannot be blamed on the fact that she was still a child.
    James Bulger's murderer, Jon Venables, committed serious crimes well into adulthood, despite the fact that he was believed to have been rehabilitated since he had committed his crime as a result of his "underdeveloped" brain.
    Anne Perry murdered because it is in her to be a murderer. Her experiences have taught her that it is not in her best interest to repeat such an act and so she has not done so, as far as we know. That does not make her a reformed person. It makes her a mature,calculating person, and one that I'd rather not come into contact with at any point in time.

  17. Why did they do it.......?

    1. Because they didn't want to be separated. Juliet was going overseas and Pauline's mother who was the murder victim refused Pauline to go with Juliet. They thought killing Pauline's mother was the only solution to their situation.

    To see her take acceptance and ownership of what she did would be the least she deserves for herself and for everyone involved. She cannot say she has come to terms with what she did, or even ask forgiveness until she at least owns it. Fully. Honestly. We all know what she did. There is no reason to hide anymore, in fact, society will not let her. More importantly, for her victim, (and family who were also victimized as a result of her crime), and HERSELF, she cannot be absolved or forgiven or come to terms or begin to heal and neither can they until this happens. It is a stasis, a stagnation that festers.

    Only Look At The Pretty, Sparkly Me... (unless I need more attention). She has placed herself in the public eye, intentionally choosing a career as writer of novels dealing with MURDER. As a convicted murderess, this would (surprise!) tend to garner attention. Especially when such a writer/convict has not been forthcoming. Especially, as well, when such a writer then surreptitiously capitalizes on their past while (feigning) purporting objection and undue distress. C'mon, people, she HAD to know this was coming.

    Anne/Juliet needs to own up. Then, maybe we can at least respect that she isn't a narcissistic sociopath who has trouble telling the truth.

  19. Among the inconsistencies, IN RECENT INTERVIEWS Anne Perry said she 'helped' murder her friend's mother.

    Helping To Butcher?? Holding someone's head while bludgeoning them, (purportedly the girls took turns and, while Pauline Yvonne Rieper/Parker's clothing did have evidence of blood, Anne/Juliet's clothing was reportedly "soaked with blood") This is NOT 'helping' as an accessory to murder, this is MURDER.

    "Is It A Paradox??"Anne/Juliet said she thought her friend would commit suicide, and this was a 'debt of honor', she did not want it on her conscience. So she instead kills the friend's mother. I guess it was fine for that to be on her conscience? And she (callously and incredibly ironically) stated that, when the news came out about her, "I was just so worried.. that it would kill my mother". (Btw her mother is fine and well at 90-some years of age).

    The Baby Aspirin Made Me Do It Defense: She also makes attempts at blaming her actions on drugs she was taking at the time, a common antibiotic and an anti-bacterial still on the market and frequently prescribed. I personally have been prescribed one of the drugs which she claims to be 'mind-altering', streptomycin and can personally attest, it is not. I'm sure any physician will back my word on this. In any case, she had already completed the course of medicine prescribed before the murder even took place.

    Poor Me Syndrome. At one point she talks about how she has been alienated, suffered loss of friends/relationships and her friendships have been put in jeopardy by the 'outing' of her past crimes, (did she think she could live in the limelight and never would anyone ever put two-and-two together - the embarrassment could've been avoided with a little forethought and honest, forthright discussion. Somehow, she is always the victim, not any others who might've been injured due to the association of her lies). In another statement, she contradicts herself, saying, "(spiritual leader in CJCLDS) said I need not to fear losing one single friend and I have not".

    As I said, it isn't only what she did then, but what she continues to do, and in so doing continues to victimize her victim in memory through the justification of her actions, saying, essentially that Honora Parker's death was inconsequential and it only mattered as to how the outcome affected Anne. (Not saying Yvonne isn't culpable), Honora had other children, as well. No sympathy there.
    I could spend all day refuting, but my point is simple: Admit what you did and don't look like a deer in the headlights or do a confused Scooby-Doo. Then people with any intelligent perception might take you more seriously.

    Bonus: You might actually get to do some personal work on yourself. Until then, spare us, yourself and your victims with your feigned remorse. Still so brilliant she can fool them all? Our patience is wilting faster than the "Mummy hit her head on the brick wrapped in the bloody stocking over and over... that just happened to be lying in the wooded trail" defense.