'Barbaric' prison inspiration for murderer turned writer
One of New Zealand's most infamous murderers still draws on vivid memories of her time in Mt Eden Prison in her reinvented life as an international crime writer.
Anne Perry - born Juliet Hulme - has not returned to New Zealand since her incarceration ended in 1959, but has now told her story to Kiwi professor Joanna Drayton in The Search for Anne Perry, published today.
Though light on details of the murder she and friend Pauline Parker committed when they were just 15 and 16, the book reveals that memories of the "barbaric" Mt Eden, and the hangings carried out while she was there, have played a big part in Perry's fiction.
"She could bring an X factor to it because she had been there," Drayton said yesterday.
The murder that inspired the Peter Jackson movie Heavenly Creatures transfixed what Drayton calls the "reconstructed innocence" of postwar New Zealand.
On June 22, 1954, the two friends, who were so close that their parents feared they were having an affair, killed Parker's mother, Honora Rieper, in Victoria Park, Christchurch.
"I don't think in a way Christchurch has ever quite forgiven them for doing it," Drayton said. "It's kind of our story, and I think Peter Jackson in a way really made it even more our story."
Hulme's release from Mt Eden was not known until after she left the country, her destination kept secret from all but a few senior Justice Department officers.
She was told to pick a new first name - something ordinary, nothing that would draw attention.
She reluctantly chose Anne, and was instructed to take her grandmother's maiden surname Stewart until she eventually took the name of her stepfather, Bill Perry.
Anne Perry was created, and Juliet Hulme disappeared.
"In many ways I was a 12-year-old, and yet I had seen things that I hope most people will never see," Perry, who now lives in northeast Scotland, told Drayton.
"I have lived with being demonised for so long that it is part of what I expect to be found."
She says Mt Eden was considered so ‘barbaric that it was almost shut a few years before she was put there.
"Anne had heard the sounds of people being executed at Mt Eden Prison. While she was there, five men were hanged," Drayton writes.
Parker, who is now thought to live in Scotland's Orkney Islands, was placed in the more sedate Arohata Prison in Tawa.
"That teenage grievance is something that she has held on to," Drayton writes. "That has been her weight to bear."
The book tells how something in Perry's life died along with her own mother, Marion, later in life.
Drayton said she could not see Perry - who has written about 70 crime thrillers - returning to New Zealand, unless she knew people could let go of Juliet Hulme "and embrace Anne Perry".
She admitted that, as she got to know Perry, she liked her.
"She is a human being. She is not a statistic or a crime book, she is a human being. If you're looking for more mystery than is in the book, then I think you're looking for what's not there."
The Dominion Post