NZ Woman's Weekly

Whatever happened to Pauline Parker?
by Chris Cooke

NZ Woman's Weekly

After serving time for the savage murder of Pauline's mother, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme vanished and their new identities became New Zealand’s best kept secret. Now, 42 years after that brutal crime, the Weekly has uncovered Pauline's rural haven in England. In a world exclusive, we talk to Pauline's sister, Wendy, about the woman whose crime shocked a nation.

Pauline: sad and reclusive

As a young teenager, Pauline Parker and her inseparable friend, Juliet Hulme, lured Pauline's mother to a secluded Christchurch park. There, in a frenzied attack, Pauline Parker (15) and Juliet Hulme (15) took turns clubbing Honora Parker (45) to death, using a brick inside a stocking. Now, 42 years after that brutal crime, NZ Woman's Weekly has found Pauline Parker living under the name of Hilary Nathan in a quiet, rural village in the south-east of England. She leads the life of a recluse and, in a village where everyone's business is know, no one knows of Hilary's secret past.

The savage murder of the Christchurch mother is no less chilling today than when the New Zealand public first read of it back in June of 1954. The sensational murder trial divided the nation. Were the teenagers lesbians and "precocious and dirty minded girls", as the prosecution painted them, or were they insane, as the defence argued. Or, possibly the most disturbing scenario of all, were they just two, relatively normal teenage girls?

After the trial, the young girls served separate five-year prison sentences and, on their release, established new lives. Juliet Hulme's secret identity as crime novelist Anne Perry was discovered in 1994. A remorseful Perry said she had blocked out the events of the actual killing but could recall how she became involved –she helped Pauline kill her mother because she believed, if she didn't, she would have committed suicide. But the mystery of what happened to Pauline was still unsolved –until now.

Like Perry, parker chose Great Britain to start her new life. She was discovered by reporter, Chris Cooke, who became interested in finding her after seeing the interviews with Anne Perry. In a methodical search, Cooke tracked Pauline to Britain. Now, aged 58, she is know as Hilary Nathan, a name she took after her release from prison. Living in the village of Hoo, just out of the historic city of Rochester in Kent, she runs a riding school for children. She declined to speak with us directly but her sister Wendy told us about Hilary's new life.

Wendy, just eleven months older than Hilary, says they were very close as children and were often mistaken as twins. Wendy says Hilary failed in a bid to become a nun but, now, "she is a nun in her way. She's living in solitude. She's deeply religious. She leads a very unusual existence. She hasn't got a TV or a radio, so would never have heard what Anne Perry had to say and she wouldn't care."

Hilary hasn't seen, and doesn't want to see, the movie, Heavenly Creatures, based on the Parker-Hulme murder. "She doesn't have any contact with the outside world –she's a reclusive, really. She's a devout Roman Catholic and spends much of her time in prayer."

After she was released, Hilary studied towards a BA at the University of Auckland, graduating in 1964. She then spent a year in Wellington at the New Zealand Library School. Colleagues at library school described her as mysterious and secretive, making sure she was absent on the day of the class photo. A close friend, who had no idea who she was, said there was something from her past she kept well-hidden.

It's not clear why she chose the name Hilary Nathan but it's likely, as a devout Catholic, she picked it for its biblical significance. The Bible tells the story of David, the King of Israel, who committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba. He had her husband murdered by placing him in the front row of a battle, then instructing the army to pull back. Nathan was a prophet sent by God to make David face up to his guilt. A Catholic priest said a person who chose the name Nathan would be indicating they had repented of their sins.

"She has led a good life and is very remorseful for what she's done, says Wendy. "She committed the most terrible crime and has spent 40 years repaying it by keeping away from people and doing her own little thing." Hilary travelled to Britain in 1965, where she has been living ever since. She worked for a library in London but eventually gave the profession away. Now, her sister says "she's a much more contented person because she has achieved the lifestyle she always wanted to". That lifestyle is a dream she had as a child –to own a place in the country and have a stable of horse. She always loved horses and owned one as a child.

Wendy was just 17 years old when her sister murdered her mother. "I had to decide if I would hate her for the rest of my life because she took my mother away from me. It was the worst thing that could ever have happened to me. "Because we'd been so close growing up, I wrote to her and said, "I can't believe what's happened. I don't want to accept this." Hilary wrote back and said, "It just all got out of hand. I don't know what happened and I just want to keep in touch with you." Over the years, Wendy and Hilary have written regularly and she sends money for her nephews and pieces in New Zealand. Wendy chose not to confront her about what happened and they never talked about until 10 years ago. "She says she was an extremist. When things went against her, Hilary went overboard the other way. She did this right from when she was a little girl."

Although Pauline Parker's defence said she was insane at the time, Wendy says her sister understood what she was doing and intended to kill her mother. "But, looking back, she said it was something that grew and grew out of all proportion." Wendy believes Hilary didn't fully understand the finality of death. "After it happened, she was very sorry about it. It took her about five years to realise what she had done." Hilary has never spoken to her sister about the brutal way in which she took her mother's life. "Well, it was absolutely overboard, wasn't it? The story is they met; they were ill-fated and they went overboard and committed a dreadful crime they have paid for their whole lives."

Wendy believes her sister has never contacted Anne Perry although they both live in Great Britain. She says suggestions Pauline and Juliet were lesbians is rubbish and believes they were not the monstrous, evil girls they were portrayed as. "We were so close growing up –as little girls we were like twins," says Wendy. "I loved her and she still loves me. I accept what happened in our lives was an absolute mistake." Wendy is happy her sister has found contentment in her new life but feels she has suffered by choosing to stay in New Zealand. "There are a thousand people out there who will look and say, "Oh, you know who she is, don't you?" I have to live with that and I'm very sensitive to it."

How I found Pauline

Hilary Nathan was shocked when I knocked on her door and asked her if we could talk about the events of 1954. "I've never had another name –I'm sorry, you've got the wrong person," was her reaction when asked about her past as Pauline Parker. Her initial reluctance was no surprise, considering she had hidden her past for more than 40 years. She declined to talk but her close sister Wendy, back in New Zealand, gave us details of her life. She said Hilary was not like Anne Perry and had no interest in giving an interview. She told us Pauline was prepared for New Zealanders to learn of her new life and, now she had told her story, wanted to be left alone to continue her quiet existence.

I became fascinated by the case after seeing Peter Jackson's 1994 movie, Heavenly Creatures. Like many journalists I began investigating what become of Pauline Parker after Juliet Hulme was revealed to be murder mystery writer, Anne Perry. There was considerable sympathy for Pauline and a strong reaction to Perry's suggestion that she only took part because feared Pauline would commit suicide. Former schoolmates remembered Juliet Hulme as a girl who didn't do anything she didn't want to. The international media camped outside two Catholic bookshops in Auckland after rumours Pauline was working there after a failed bid to become a nun. All the while, she was on the other side of the world, running a riding school.

I gave the search away but decided to have another look at the case after watching the movie for a second time, earlier this year. I did more research into the facts of the case, including reading through the transcripts of the trial. The more I read, and the more people I spoke to, the more I felt that there was so much about the two girls that was, well…so normal. Seeing that Anne Perry was such a highly respected person in her community made it all the more intriguing for me. The girls were highly intelligent and shared so many dreams together, I felt sure Pauline's life would be similar to Anne's. That turned out to be right. Both women are devout Christians living in small, rural villages and have chosen not to marry.

They still share a love of books. In the village of Hoo, one of the few people who knew Hilary Nathan was the librarian who said she spent many hours there reading. They have each fulfilled their childhood dreams –Anne Perry, to be a published writer and Hilary Nathan, to own a stable in the country. Yet, in many ways, they couldn't be more different. Perry's elegance and London accent contrast heavily with Hilary: a wiry, fit figure, decked in moleskins and gumboots with a broad rural accent. It's a beautiful part of England Hilary has chosen to lead her eccentric life, surrounded by her horses and the children she searches. Whatever her past, it's obvious she has an affectionate relationship with them.

Their dark friendship

Pauline and Juliet came from two very different family backgrounds in a city where social classes were quite distinct. Juliet Hulme, born in Britain, was the daughter of the university rector, Dr Henry Hulme, living in a large and stately house. By contrast, Pauline's inner city home doubled as a boarding house, run by her mother, while her father managed a fish shop.

Pauline and Juliet met in their first year at Christchurch Girls High School. Both girls were highly intelligent and in the top class for their year. A former student from the same class remembered Pauline as "a moody, scowling type of girl but a strong character. She insisted on being called Paul. She was a tomboy, with dumpy, boyish looks and curly black hair that was shorter than the other girls."

She recalls Juliet "as a fish out of water but not in a humble way". She said Juliet was anti-authoritarian and once corrected a French teacher in class. "She had a very posh English accent and would hold her head high as she walked. I was with a group of girls clowning around in a locker room and she came up to us and said, 'Oh, you are all so very mid-Victorian'." The girls struck up an intimate friendship and Pauline spent increasingly more time at the Hulme's home, often staying weekends and school holidays.

The girls each chose new names - Pauline was Gina and Juliet, Deborah. Together, they created a rich fantasy world of their own, developing their increasing urge to write. They had their own fictional characters and, at night, would dress up and sneak out, acting them out until the small hours of the morning. Juliet's mother, Hilda Hulme, said during the trial her daughter had entered so completely into the characters it was difficult to make contact with her as Juliet.

The girls formed a strong bond that began to cause their parents concern. Pauline wrote of a bicycle ride in the country where they stopped in some bush, took off their outer clothes and ran through the bushes, ecstatically. They became conceited and arrogant, believing they were geniuses. Later, they decided it was something else that set them apart from the common masses. Pauline wrote, "We have an extra part of our brain which can appreciate the 4th World but, meanwhile, on two days a year, we may use the key to look into that beautiful world…"

As their relationship began to intensify, so did their writing. By the time they murdered Honora Parker, they completed six books between them, as well as plays, poetry and an opera. Spending more and more time together, their fictional family became entangled in escapades of highway robberies, bedroom scenes and violent death. Suddenly, the girls were torn apart when Juliet fell ill with tuberculosis, spending three months in a sanatorium. The two friends wrote continuously, each as characters in their stories. Apart, Pauline begun sneaking out at night to meet boys much older than herself. She was caught by her father in with one –an university student called Nicholas who boarding at their home.

As Juliet's time in the sanatorium came to an end, Nicholas was pushed aside. Pauline's entry on 28 October, 1953 (Juliet's birthday), read, "I told Nicholas I was no longer very much in love with him." Obsessed with their writing and their fantasy worlds of Volumnia and Borovnia, the girls built a temple where they held night-time ceremonies to honour their "Saints" - singers and actors they had chosen who represented their ideals. They gave them names like HE, HIM and IT. Their favourite, HE, was singer Mario Lanza.

The girls decided on a fantastic plan to go to New York where they would find a publisher for their books and then go on to Hollywood to turn them into movies. Pauline visited shipping companies inquiring about fares. In the months leading up to the murder, the girls spent more and more time with each other, taking baths together and even sleeping together in Juliet's bed. Pauline wrote, just after Juliet returned from the sanatorium, "It was wonderful returning with Juliet… it was as if she had never been away.. I believe I could fall in love with Juliet."

Pauline's relationship with her mother, already rocky after the affair with Nicholas, began to deteriorate further. Concerned at the intensity of the relationship, Pauline's mother asked Dr Hulme to visit to discuss how they could break it up. The pair sought a medical opinion and the doctor said he believed the relationship was homosexual –but it was a stage the girls would grow out of. Then came the devastating news: Juliet's father, Dr Henry Hulme, announced he was separating from Juliet's mother and taking Juliet and her brother Jonathan to South Africa. Pauline and Juliet clung to their belief if Pauline could overcome her parent' opposition, they could still remain together.

On 28 April, 1954, Pauline decided to kill her mother –the one person she believed stood in their way. She recorded the idea in her diary. "Anger against mother boiled up inside. Suddenly, a means of ridding myself of this obstacle occurred tome. If she were to die…" The next day, Pauline decided to make her mother's death look like an accident –the last thing she wanted was to go to prison. She wrote in her diary Juliet was "worried but does not disagree violently."

Pauline was allowed to stay at the Hulme's home for two weeks before Juliet's departure. Defence psychiatrist Reginald Medlicott said, during this period, the violence in their writing increased to "a fantastic crescendo". Writing their novels and worshipping their "Saints" in the middle of the night, the girls would return to bed together to act out how they believed each of them made love. These diary entries for June 1954 were used in the trial to show the girls' relationship was homosexual: June 11: "…we acted out how each Saint would make love in bed, only doing the first seven as it was 7.30am by then. We felt very satisfied…" June 13: "We spent a hectic night going through he Saints. It was wonderful! Heavenly! Beautiful! And ours! We felt satisfied indeed. We have now learned the peace of the thing called bliss; the joy of the thing called sin."

Three days before the murder, the girls decided on a plan. Again, Pauline committed it to the diary on her bedside cabinet.

19 June: "…our main idea for the day was to moider Mother. …it's a definite plan we intend to carry out. We have worked it out carefully and are thrilled by the idea. Naturally, we feel a trifle nervous but the pleasure of anticipation is great.

21 June: "Deborah rang and we decided to use a rock in a stocking rather than a sandbag. We discussed the moider. I feel keyed up, as if I were planning a surprise party."

22 June: "The day of the happy event." I am writing a bit of this on the morning of the death. I felt very excited and the-night-before-Christmassy last night. I didn't have pleasant dreams, though.

At 3.30pm that day, Pauline and Juliet carried out their plan. They failed in their attempt to make it look like an accident and clearly, by the number of blows, must have panicked when she didn't die after the first. Eventually, they both made full confessions, leaving their barristers with only one defence: not guilty by reason of insanity. The defence had to show the girls didn't know the nature or quality of the act they were committing or, if they did, they didn't know it was wrong.

Defence psychiatrists argued that the girls were delusional and paranoid - a symptom of their homosexuality. They set out to prove the girls suffered a kind of "communicated insanity" which made them insane in each other's presence. But it was a hopeless case. It was clear form the diary and their confessions the girls knew exactly what they were doing and that it broke the law. After her arrest, Juliet said, "I would have to be a absolute moron not to know murder was against the law."

Giving evidence for the crown, psychiatrist Kenneth Stallworthy dismissed any link between homosexuality and insanity. He believed their sexual encounters were just a normal phase of adolescence. Juliet also denied they had a sexual relationship, saying "How could we? We're both women."

The girls showed no remorse after their arrest and continued to believe they were beyond the laws of common men. A female constable who cared for them during the trial said, "They would act as if they were above all this."

The killing that was shocking, even today's standards, deeply disturbed conservative Christchurch. The arresting officer in the case later committed suicide. His daughter said the murder had deeply upset him. "What really got to him was not only that they were the same age as me but they appeared to be two normal girls."

The Parker-Hulme murder has been analysed and reanalysed ever since. People close to the case say many things about the girls appeared perfectly normal. In isolation, their arrogance and conceit towards adults is not so unusual in a teenager, nor the fact they wrote fantastic, violent stories. And it's not too unusual for children, at some stage in their lives, to wish their parents dead in anger. But when a brutal murder is carried out by an adult and there's a clear motive, the crime can be reconciled or explained and even a lesson learned. Here, it seems, there are no lessons to be learned, just sadness and bafflement.