Kiwi of the Week

Pauline Parker

Born on 26 May 1938, Pauline Parker was the second daughter of Christchurch couple Herbert and Honora Reiper. At the age of five, she was hospitalised with osteomyelitis, a crippling bone marrow infection. Though she survived the painful treatments, she suffered chronic leg pain throughout her youth, which excused her from physical activities at school. She had an interest in art and writing, and showed talent sculpting with clay.

Though the Reipers were not a religious family, Pauline and her older sister Wendy spent some time attending the East Belt Methodist Church, and often went on church-organised outings and holidays. At Christchurch Girls' High School she met Juliet Hulme and formed the friendship that was to radically change the course of both their lives.

Juliet was a few months younger than Pauline, but they were in the same year at school. Born in England, she had been hospitalised with tuberculosis as a child, and had been sent to live in South Africa and the Caribbean in the hopes that the warmer climates would be beneficial to her health. When Juliet was 13, her father Henry was appointed Rector at the University of Canterbury, and the family moved to Christchurch.

Pauline and Juliet soon became inseparable. The two girls fired each others' imaginations and soon created a considerable fantasy world. They would spend hours concocting stories, renamed themselves Gina and Deborah, and made plans for a life of fame and fortune as actresses in America. While both families were initially pleased with the friendship, they soon grew concerned.

When Juliet was once again hospitalised with tuberculosis, the families saw it as an opportunity for the girls to spend some time apart. Their friendship resumed with the same intensity, though, once Juliet was discharged from hospital. Pauline's parents, concerned at the co-dependence of their daughter's relationship with Juliet, took her to see a psychiatrist, who informed them that he suspected the pair of having a homosexual relationship.

It was around this time that Juliet and Pauline discovered that Juliet's mother was having an affair with their lodger, Walter Perry. As Juliet's parents' marriage broke up, the Hulmes decided Juliet would leave New Zealand with her father. Pauline and Juliet were panicked by this decision, and hoped that Pauline could move with them. Both sets of parents flatly refused this suggestion.

According to Pauline's diary, the girls began planning Honora's murder early in June 1954. On 22 June Honora took Pauline and Juliet to Victoria Park. The three had tea in the kiosk and then set out for a walk. A short while later the two girls ran back to the kiosk, covered in blood and screaming for help. The police were called, and Honora's body was found on the path. That night police found Pauline's diary. The next day the teenagers were arrested for murder. The jury rejected the defence assertion that Pauline and Juliet were insane, and on 28 August they were convicted of murder.

Pauline spent around five years in Paparua Prison, near Christchurch. On her release, she studied at Auckland University, and graduated BA in 1964. She then spent a year working as a librarian in Wellington, before moving to England, where she worked at a London librarian for a time before giving up the profession.

Interest in the sensational 1954 murder case was revived after the release of Peter Jackson's Academy Award-nominated film Heavenly creatures (1994). In 1997 a New Zealand journalist tracked Pauline Parker down in a small village in Kent, England. The convicted murderer whose youthful folie-a-deux had captivated the nations imagination was now a devout catholic named Hilary Nathan, who taught children how to ride horses. 

How to cite this page: 'Pauline Parker', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/people/pauline-parker, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 31-Jan-2014

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