The Crime Writer Whose Life Began as a Teen Murderer

Anne Perry’s biographer gives a glimpse into the psyche of the author and the complicated past she never fully escaped

The Crime Writer Whose Life Began as a Teen Murderer
Illustration by Joanna Andreasson for New Lines Magazine

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Parker-Hulme murder, a crime that shocked New Zealand in 1954 and became a household phrase. It is also the 30th anniversary of the release of the homegrown film “Heavenly Creatures” that started the careers of New Zealanders Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who went on to make “The Lord of the Rings.” “Heavenly Creatures,” based on the murder, was nominated for best original screenplay at the 1995 Academy Awards. In some respects, the Parker-Hulme killing was a cinematic gift for a good storyteller.

Its components included matricide: in this case the murder of a mother by her young daughter; teenagers: the quintessential age of riot and misrule; rumors of a lesbian love affair; and the 1950s: a decade in the West when strict conventions, family values and rigid hierarchies of race, culture, class and creed dominated public and private lives.

Take these four ingredients — matricide, teen killers, lesbianism and conservatism in the wake of World War II — and heat them in the crucible of upright, uptight, parochial Christchurch, New Zealand, and you have a box-office sensation. Or at least that’s what Jackson and Walsh, his wife and co-writer, found when they brought these explosive elements together in “Heavenly Creatures.”

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