7.9.1 The New York Times, November 13,1994
From New Zealand, Heavenly Murderous Creatures
by Geraldine O'Brien
The New York Times, November 13,1994
On June 24, 1954, in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, two girls, Pauline Yvonne Parker, 16, and Juliet Marion Hulme, 15, were arrested and charged with killing Pauline's mother, Honora Mary Parker, age 45. The bizarre story of how the girls became friends and decided to kill the woman (who was trying to separate them) is told in the film "Heavenly Creatures," directed by Peter Jackson. The movie, which earlier this year's won prizes at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, opens on Wednesday.
According to contemporary newspaper, accounts, the murder was a grisly and unsettling one. Mrs. Parker's body, "badly battered about the head and face," was found on a blood soaked path in a peaceful park. Evidence given during the trial showed she had been struck at least 45 times with a brick wrapped in a stocking.
Her daughter and the daughters best friend were almost immediately singled out as the killers, and the case has remained probably the most celebrated in New Zealand criminal history.
For the New Zealand social historian Steven Eldred-Grigg, the case is "one of those stories in which each new generation discovers new things." Initially in the peaceful and prosperous backwater that was postwar New Zealand, what intrigued was the specter of youth in murderous rebellion, and a salacious undercurrent of what was thought of as lesbian immorality.
In the years after the trial the case was fictionalized in a pulp best seller called "Obsession" and became a staple of numerous crime anthologies. In the 1980's it was turned into a tale of lesbian martyrdom as "Daughters of Heaven," a play that is frequently performed by New Zealand repertory companies. The script for Mr. Jackson's movie version was written by him and Fran Walsh, another New Zealander.
According to Ms. Walsh, there were at least three other proposals for films on the case: a script by English writer Angela Carter; another by the Australian playwright Louis Nowra, and one from Dustin Hoffmas's Punch Productions, which Mr. Jackson was asked to direct.
"Knowing a film definitely would be made on the subject made it easier for us to go ahead," Ms. Walsh said. Since both women around whom the tale centers are still alive-Juliet Hulme in Scotland, where she writes murder mysteries under the name Anne Perry, and Pauline Parker in Auckland, New Zealand-Ms. Walsh had qualms about retelling their story.
"You can't exploit anybody's life and not feel bad about it" she said. "You're exploiting them for what, in the end, has to have entertainment value.
"I've had very intense adolescent friendships," she added. "They were very positive, affectionate and funny, and I understood to a large degree what was so exciting, so magical about the friendship. And through it ended in a killing, the friendship itself is something people would identify with particularly women."
In a sometimes audacious style, "Heavenly Creatures" follows Pauline and juliet (played by Melanie Lynskey, a New Zealand newcomer, and Kate Winslet, an English actress) for the two years leading up to the killing. The film is based on extensive research through newspaper files, interviews with family friends and former schoolmates of the two girls, court records and most important, a diary kept by Pauline Parker in the two years before the murder.
The diary entry for June 21, the day before the murder, is headed "The day of the happy event" "I felt very excited last night and sort of night-before-Christmas but I did not have pleasant dreams...I feel very keyed up as though I were planning a surprise party. The happy event is to take place tomorrow afternoon. So the next time I write in this diary Mother will be dead."
Christchurch has always regarded itself as the most English city outside of England. the city's founding in the 19th century by the offspring of English-gentry was an attempt to recreate a little bit of England in the Southern Hemisphere. there is a River Avon, a cathedral facing the square and English-style architecture in whose shelter the traditions and rituals of upper-middle-class life were (and to some extent still are) maintained.
Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme attended the private Christchurch Girls High School, whose students today still wear a version of the navy and white uniform worn in the film. Between them Pauline and Juliet represented two elements of Christchurch society. Juliet was establishment. Her father was the rector of Christchurch University College. A distinguished British scientist, he had immigrated to New Zealand in 1948 at least partly for the health of his daughter, who suffered chest ailments.
Pauline, whose family lived in a shabby part of town, had also been sickly as a child. Her father managed a fish business; her mother took in boarders to supplement the family income.
The two girls, isolated from normal companionship, found kindred spirits in each other and created a rich fantasy life. They invented a kingdom of Borovnia, in which one character, called Diello, was, said Ms. Walsh, "a murderous teen-age prince who'd kill anyone who was a problem to him." (In the movie, this rich fantasy life is represented with life size Plasticine figures.)
"Pauline clearly longed to escape the shabbiness and domestic work of the boardinghouse her mother ran," said Mr. Eldred-Grigg. "She fantasized about Italian opera singers, literature, rising to the upper class-common enough escape fantasies."
The film ends with the girls being arrested. But an equally compelling film could be made about the trial, at which an all-male jury was asked to decided-since there was virtually no doubt as to who had done the killing given Pauline's diary-whether or not the girls were insane. There was an enormous amount of newspaper coverage of the trial, which the Crown Prosecutor described the accused as "two dirty-minded girls" and added "you may feel for these girls, but pity and sentiment have no part in this."
Just before the murder, he said, Juliet's parents had decided to return to England. A decision that would have resulted in the girls being separated. Pauline wanted to go to England with the Hulmes, but Pauline's mother made it clear she would not be allowed to go. So, the prosecutor claimed, "the girls coldly and calculatingly conspired to kill Mrs. Parker.
According to Juliet's own statement to the prosecutor, "after the first blow was struck I knew it would be necessary for us to kill her." And Pauline's diary entries , which were read in court, said: "April 28-Anger against mother boiling inside me as she is an obstacle in my path. Suddenly plans of ridding myself of the obstacle occur to me. If she was to die."
The jury took 2 hours and 13 minutes to find them guilty. "Neither showed any emotion as the sentence was passed," The Sun-Herald reported. Throughout the trial they had maintained an air of calm, contemptuous detachment.
Five years later on Dec. 4, 1959 Australian newspapers reported that the two young women had been released from prison and given new identities. "neither girl knows where the other is living," said S. T.. Barnett, the Neatherland Secretary of Justice at the time.
The former Ms. Hulme traveled to Sydney and on to Britain, where her family had moved. The former Ms. Parker who converted to Roman Catholicism in prison, has remained anonymous, then according to published records she is living in Auckland and working in a bookshop there.
But the case has not been forgotten. When Mr. Jackson began filming "Heavenly Creatures" he sought cooperation from the Christchurch High School. The principal there, Ms. Walsh, was sent a copy of the script. Ms. Walsh says they were denied permission to shoot at the school.