Anne Perry, the British best-selling writer of more than 120 mystery novels and short stories, lived the kind of life one of her own fictional characters could have lived. As a teen, 25 years before publishing her first book, she committed murder.

Perry, who died on April 10 at age 84, was convicted of the crime in 1954, when she was 15 years old. Then known by her birth name Juliet Hulme, she and her then-best friend Pauline Parker beat Parker’s mother to death in New Zealand, sending her to prison for five years.

Perry’s role in the killing did not become publicly known until the release of the film Heavenly Creatures (1994), which depicted the crime and starred Kate Winslet as Perry. She had already been working as a writer for 15 years by that point, and the movie’s release brought her an entirely new level of infamy.

“Why can’t I be judged for who I am now, not what I was then?” she said to The Guardian in 2003. “I had to give up my past—the hardest thing imaginable—and begin life in my new identity as Anne Perry, knowing even a tiny slip could unravel everything.”

An Obsessive Friendship

Perry, who was born Juliet Hulme on May 26, 1938, met Parker during their teenage years in New Zealand. Hulme had immigrated there from London in 1948, and her father worked as a rector at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

Hulme, 15, and Parker, 16, attended Christchurch Girls’ High School and developed a friendship so close that it eventually became obsessive. They invented an elaborate fantasy life together, writing plays, books, and stories set in their secret world, and even invented their own private religion and version of utopia known as The Fourth World.

By 1954, Hulme’s parents were in the process of separating and planned to send her to South Africa to live with relatives. Hulme and Parker did not want to separate, and they planned for Parker to go to South Africa as well, so they could later go to Hollywood or New York City together to publish their writings.

But Parker did not believe her mother, Honorah Rieper, would allow her to go, so the two decided to kill the 45-year-old. Hulme later said she felt she owed it to Parker to participate in the murder, because Parker had supported her when she was hospitalized due to an illness.

“I felt I had a debt to repay,” Hulme said. “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.… I really believed she would take her life, and I couldn’t face it.”

The Murder

a black and white photo of two teenage girls wearing coats and walking out of a stone building, with two older women walking behind out of a door behind them
Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, later known as Anne Perry, leave a Christchurch Magistrate’s court after a preliminary hearing on murder charges in July 1954.
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The murder took place on June 22, 1954, when the two girls took a walk with Rieper in Christchurch’s Victoria Park. Hulme dropped a decorative stone so Rieper would bend down to pick it up, after which Parker struck her on the head with a brick wrapped in a stocking. The girls took turns repeatedly striking her, hitting her more than 20 times in total.

After the murder, Hulme and Parker fled to a tea shop where they had been eating earlier, covered in blood. They claimed Rieper had fallen down and hit her head. However, police found the murder weapon nearby shortly after investigating, and their story about the death quickly fell apart.

Following their arrests, Parker and Hulme stood trial in Christchurch. A sensational affair, the trial drew speculation that the two teens were insane and also involved in a romantic relationship, something both have denied.

They were found guilty on August 28, 1954, and were sentenced to prison, because they were too young to be considered for the death penalty. Both served five years and were released separately from each other. They never made contact with each other again, according to The New Zealand Herald.

Hulme later said going to prison was “the best thing that could have happened” because it forced her to come to terms with what she did and repent. “That is how I survived my time while others cracked up,” she said. “I seemed to be the only one saying, ‘I am guilty, and I am where I should be.’”

Success as a Novelist

anne perry, wearing a blue suit jacket and white shirt, sitting and resting her chin on her right hand
Anne Perry, pictured in 2001
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Upon release, Parker was given a new identity as Hilary Nathan. Hulme, adopting the pen name Anne Perry, published her first novel, The Cater Hangman, in 1979. She went on to become a successful and prolific mystery novelist, selling more than 26 million copies.

Her role in Rieper’s killing was not widely known to the public until the 1994 release of Heavenly Creatures, the Peter Jackson–directed drama based upon the murder, with Kate Winslet portraying Hulme and Melanie Lynskey playing Parker.

“It seemed so unfair,” Perry said of the film’s release. “Everything I had worked to achieve as a decent member of society was threatened. And once again my life was being interpreted by someone else.… All I could think of was that my life would fall apart and that it might kill my mother.”

The film—which Perry never watched—did not seem to damage her career, however, as she has published more than six dozen books since Heavenly Creatures was released, according to her website. Many of her books include themes of repentance and forgiveness, something she said she grappled with after the murder.

“It is vital for me to go on exploring moral matters,” Perry told The Guardian. “I wanted to explore what people will do when faced with experiences and inner conflicts that test them to the limit.”

Headshot of Colin McEvoy
Colin McEvoy
Senior News Editor,

Colin McEvoy joined the staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy. He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.