Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham

 

Publication Date: January 5, 2016

 

In 1954, Juliet Hulme and her friend, Pauline Parker, killed Pauline’s mother. The crime, committed by two teenage girls who lived rich fantasy lives and simply did not want to be separated when Juliet would be sent to South Africa, rocked Auckland, New Zealand. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century chronicles the crime, trial and Peter Jackson film that led to the hunting down of the two long released convicts.

 

 

It seems a widely known fact that English author, Anne Perry, was born Juliet Hulme and spent five years in prison after she and Pauline Parker were convicted of killing Pauline’s mother. Given the first name when released from prison and returned to England, she took her stepfather’s last name. A secret for many years, the release of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures brought the crime back to the public eye and interest in tracking down the now elderly teen killers.

In Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, Graham lays out in minute detail the connection between the girls, their crime, the trial and what happened after with an in depth psychological analysis of what essentially seemed a thrill kill. Where Graham is quite through in the 384 page work, he could have used a good editor. The trial portion of the piece is retold in excruciating detail showing witnesses debating if the crime was motivated by a sexual relationship. We get it, people at the time thought they were lesbians but in the grand scheme, did it matter? They had an oddly dependent relationship whether it was sexual or is not the point. The narrative at the point of the trial is weighty and, frankly, boring. What is interesting is the lasting affects the trial seems to have had on the ancillary players. Graham doesn’t celebrate the more salacious facts of the case merely presenting what experts said on the stand and representing the disbelief of some of the litigators. They both had somewhat isolated childhoods during which time they were chronically ill and both seem to have been somewhat less of a priority for the people who were supposed to value them most. More is known about Juliet – the now Anne Perry – so it does seem that the focus of the piece is the now famous author.

What is clear from Graham’s telling is that real story will never be known unless one of the two key players decides to open up about the day they decided to kill Pauline’s mother. Perry has spoken about the crime even appearing on an episode of the UK chat show Tricia but really has only gone into already known facts. She is exceptionally gracious to herself in that she seems to have no remorse and when asked if she thinks about the victim, she says that she doesn’t because she didn’t really know her. There’s a vanity in ending of life and not thinking of the victim as inconsequential. One would hope that Miss. Perry is simply poorly spoken though she is shown to be sharply intelligent and have a way with words. Parker, from what I’ve read is a recluse. That their relationship was so dependent and the mother was killed allegedly because they would be separated it’s rather surprising that both of them said that they hadn’t be in contact since their release. I audibly gasped upon reading that Anne Perry, an author I’ve read but never looked into her life, was one of the teens. That she writes crime fiction makes me wish that I remembered the motivation of her fictional killers to perhaps look through fiction to fact, but that’s never a sure thing. Most of the non-fiction work flowed well. As mentioned, the courtroom play by play got a little weighty and I will admit to putting the book down multiple times during the course of the narrative. At it’s base, even if one didn’t grow up to be a famous author, is fascinating. I’ve read in other reviews that some readers were thrown off by the overtly English formality to the writing but, to be fair, I did not notice. Perhaps because I do read a lot of books by English author or, perhaps, because I’ve now lived in Canada for 19 years.

If you’re into true crime, Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century is a great, well researched and well presented read.

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Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter

Publication Date: March 1, 2018

Belle Gunness was a serial killer who operated between 1884 and 1908. She killed at least 14 people (including her own adopted daughter) but possibly as many as 40. Detected in 1908, she apparently died in a house fire with her remaining three adopted children and though a man went to trial for the arson and murder, not everyone was convinced.

Let me say right from the start, Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time. Not a generally well known serial killer today, Belle Gunness was a Norewegian-American who operated out of La Porte, Indiana. Her victims appear to have been exclusively her fellow Norwegian immigrants. She’d advertised in the Norwegian papers located in Chicago for a handyman and then would operate a love scam quite a lot like we see today online. She’d build a rapport telling her prospect that she was a wealthy widow and he could marry her if he had enough money and they would live happily together. He would be instructed to liquidate assets and tell no one of his plans. When he arrived, he’d meet a nasty fate and anyone inquiring would be told that the person had simply moved on….often having returned to Norway. Once the crimes were discovered and Gunness was presumed dead, the public feeding frenzy for information and the spike to La Porte of macabre tourism was fascinating as was the purple prose of he media leading in some cases to wild speculation and outright fallacies.


Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness features Kindle in Motion which allows for animated graphics (which can be turned off) and the animated images really annoyed me at first. When on a page with text, it took a moment to refocus on the story. A picture of an empty room fills with trunks. We get it, Gunness killed a lot of people. Once the story started rolling in earnest, must admit, I didn’t notice the animations except when they featured slideshows of historic pictures of the excavation of the Gunness farm and that aspect was kind of cool as was seeing known pictures of the victims as they appeared in the narrative instead of having to turn to the center of the book. This was just that kind of story. There were simply a lot of people to keep track of and the visuals helped greatly.

The story of Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness follows not only the crimes of Belle Gunness but also her former handyman Ray Lamphere who was accused of having killed her and her children by arson. Schechter is a consummate professional in the liner presentation of fact. For the most part, the story is chronological though thoroughly conferred. In retrospect, I’m surprised to not have seen a book about this particular serial killer before as there was simply so much information that the 336 pages left nothing out and kept rolling right up to the surprising end.

 Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness is a tough book to recommend for holiday reading. Its not light or forthy but it’s so interesting that if you have time off, it would be well spent with cocoa, a fireplace an this amazingly well written true crime read. Pick it up today. Trust me. This may be my top recommendation of the year and at $4.95 for the US Kindle copy, how can you lose?

Read an excerpt and buy Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechteron

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About Harold Schechter
For more information about Harold Schechter, you can connect with his profile on Goodreads .

Death in the Queen City: Clara Ford on Trial, 1895 by Patrick Brode

Publication Date: June 24, 2005

 

Death in the Queen City: Clara Ford on Trial, 1895 by Patrick BrodeDeath in the Queen City: Clara Ford on Trail, 1895 by Patrick Brode is the story of Frank Westwood who was gunned down in front of his home that he shares with his parents in Parkdale, Ontario, on October 6, 1894. The 18-year-old lingers three days before dying and the police have few leads. A single tip leads the police to Clara Ford, a 33-year-old seamstress of mixed race. Clara claims that she killed Frank, but did so because he had attempted to sexually assault her. In a highly sensational case that stands as a intimate look into Victorian Toronto, would Clara be convicted or would an admitted killer go free?

 

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Never Tell by Alafair Burke

Publication Date: June 19, 2012

 

Never Tell by Alafair BurkeIn Never Tell by Alafair Burke, N.Y.P.D. Homicide Detective Ellie Hatcher, and her partner J.J. Rogan are called to the scene of what appears to be a suicide. A sixteen-year-old with an eating disorder slashes her wrists in the bathtub and even leaves a suicide note. When the wealthy parents of the deceased use their money and connections to bring an investigation, Ellie soon realizes that there’s more to this case than meets the eye.

 

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A Killing in Iowa: A Daughter’s Story of Love and Murder by Rachel Corbett

Publication Date: November 14, 2011

 

A Killing in Iowa: A Daughter’s Story of Love and Murder by Rachel CorbettIn A Killing in Iowa: A Daughter’s Story of Love and Murder by Rachel Corbett, the author tells the story of growing up and knowing that her mother’s ex-boyfriend had killed himself, but not knowing the full details of his death. When she finds out that his death was the suicide part of a murder/suicide, she launches a quest to find out more about the crime and why this man she considered a father would have done such a thing.

 

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