So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder that Shocked the World, by Peter Graham (Awa Press, Wellington, 2011), 341 pp., $42.00.
Even now, my sister and I, who grew up in Christchurch in the 1950s and 1960s, have an ambiguous attitude towards Victoria Park, high on the hills above the city. It was the scene of happy family picnics, and the views to sea and alps were glorious, but there was also a hint of menace and fear. ‘That’s the path,’ we would whisper to each other as we looked over the low stone wall not far from the tea kiosk. ‘That’s where they did it.’
Everyone knew about the terrible murder that had occurred in this lovely place on 22 June 1954, only a few months before I was born. Teenagers Juliet Hulme and her friend Pauline Parker battered the latter’s mother, Honorah, to death. The case riveted media and shocked readers far beyond New Zealand.
The three had gone to the park for afternoon tea about 2.30. By three o’clock they had left for a walk that led down a steep slope near the caretaker’s house. Half an hour later the two girls, spattered with blood, ran into the kiosk screaming that Nora, as she was called, was ‘terribly hurt’, that she was dead. Once the caretaker and his assistant found the appallingly damaged body – head smashed, eyes closed and bulging, hair matted with blood – and saw a half-brick nearby covered with blood and hair lying only centimetres away, it did not take long for the girls’ claim of an accident to be dismissed. The machinery of police, doctors and lawyers wound into action and Hulme and Parker were arrested.