USA Today, 09-23-1994

Anne Perry forced to relive her own murder story
By Deirdre Donahue

USA Today, 09-23-1994, pp 07.

When mystery writer Anne Perry was 15 years old, she committed murder. She and her friend, Pauline, killed Pauline's mother with half a brick in a Christchurch, New Zealand, park. Perry served 5 1/2 years in an adult women's prison. After her release, she left New Zealand and has never returned. Pauline also served her term and was released. Now living in Scotland, Perry has fashioned a new life and a successful career. Her two Victorian-era detective series - one stars Inspector Pitt and his wife, Charlotte, the other William Monk - have sold more than 3 million copies in the USA. The paperback edition of A Sudden, Fearful Death is No. 39 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list. Her new hardcover, The Sins of the Wolf, is in stores. Although family and close friends knew about Perry's past, it was never known to the general public, including her agent and her U.S. publisher. All that changed recently. An upcoming New Zealand film, Heavenly Creatures, to be released in late November in the USA, deals with the 1954 case. A New Zealand reporter uncovered Perry's previous identity as Juliet Hulme. "It was an absolute, unqualified nightmare," says Perry, 55, from her home in Scotland. She was most fearful that this publicity would kill her 82-year-old mother, who lives in the same small, isolated village. "I had to call all the people I care about. That was absolutely bloody." Ironically, the biggest surprise for Perry has been the kindness of her neighbors in the tiny town of Portmahomack. "There's been not one unpleasant experience," she says. And the many supportive letters she has received are from readers and booksellers, particularly in the USA, where her popularity is greatest. "This has been a great testament to the general kindness of people," she says. Perry insists she does not remember specifics of the actual crime. The motivation behind the murder involved both Perry's lengthy illnesses and her friend Pauline's threat to kill herself. Plagued from childhood with chest problems - pneumonia and bronchitis in particular - Perry was born in London but for health reasons was sent to live in New Zealand with another family; her own eventually joined her. She became very close to Pauline, who wrote to Perry religiously after Perry was put in a sanitarium. With her parents in the throes of divorce, Perry was about to leave New Zealand for England with her father and her little brother. Her father offered to take Pauline as well, but Pauline's mother said no. It was then that the two girls decided to kill the mother. "I was afraid (Pauline) would die if she didn't come with us," Perry says. "I had a dramatic turn of the mind. It was pretty stupid and very wrong but I did not want to let down the one friend who had stood by me." While Perry makes no excuses for herself, she does point out she was on a medicine that was eventually taken off the market because of its "judgment-altering qualities." Perry has had no contact with Pauline for four decades, and says she won't write a book about the murder because it would invade Pauline's privacy. "I wish her well." The case prompted a media feeding frenzy in New Zealand, Perry says. She remains bitter about the publicity which she describes as "very salacious." During the trial, the prosecution suggested that the girls were more than just friends. In conversation, it becomes apparent that Perry is a woman of deep faith. At 26, while living in California, she became a Mormon convert. She told the church about her past. Perry insists she does not feel sorry for herself. While she was held for 5 1/2 years in what she describes as "the toughest facility they have," she notes that it was in prison that she recovered her health. "Maybe I just outgrew all that illness." And it was in prison that she says she got down on her knees and truly regretted what she had done. But she doesn't want to dwell on the past. "I don't think being sorry is beating your breast all the time. It's (deciding) from then on to live the very best life you know how. And making jolly sure you forgive others. Never hold a grudge and never leap to judgment yourself." Now that her past is public knowledge, Perry says she would consider speaking to teen-age criminals. "What I would like to say is, please, never give up - the rest of your life can be wonderful. . . . You can't alter yesterday but tomorrow is yours." The move to mysteries Anne Perry did not begin writing murder mysteries because of her past - she started because they were the only books she could get published. For 12 years, Perry wrote historical novels about a variety of times and places that no one would publish. Her first book to be accepted was The Cater Street Hangman, which launched the fictional careers of Police Inspector Thomas Pitt and his high society wife, Charlotte. Her other series involves William Monk, who solves crimes but cannot solve the mystery of his own amnesia - and past. In her new hardcover, The Sins of the Wolf (Fawcett, $21.50), Perry writes about a young nurse named Hester Latterly being held in a prison for a murder she did not commit. In Newgate (prison), Hester swung from moods of hard-fought-for hope, down to engulfing despair, and up the long incline back to hope again. The boredom and the sense of helplessness were the worst afflictions. "I drew on my own memory of what (prison) was like . . . the feelings of helplessness and fear," Perry says.

Copyright 1994, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.