This weekend I'm off to the Surrey International Writer's Conference in metropolitan Vancouver, British Columbia. One of the scheduled guests of the conference is British mystery novelist Anne Perry, the pen name of Juliet Hulme, who with her best friend Pauline Parker, conspired to and murdered Pauline's mother in 1954 in New Zealand. Both Hulme (Perry) and Parker went to prison, Hulme for 5 years, and Parker for 10. One of the conditions of release is that Hulme and Parker never have contact with each other for the remainder of their lives. A condition which clearly would be unconstitutional in the United States, but this was New Zealand.
Hulme returned to the British Isles and faded into obscurity. But then, in 1979, Anne Perry began publishing a series of Victorian novels which quickly became quite successful. Fifteen years later, when Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh revived interest in the original case with their film Heavenly Creatures, the whereabouts of Juliet Hulme were traced back to Scotland, and it was revealed that the very successful novelist Anne Perry was, in fact, the girl in question.
Attitudes toward crimes such as Anne Perry's (Juliet Hulme's) are different in America than in the rest of the Western world. An apt comparison would be if Caryl Ann Fugate had gone on to be a successful novelist under a pen-name and was exposed well into her career. I'm pretty sure that would have ended it. While I have human compassion toward Anne Perry (she has repented, she has paid her debt to society, she has not profited from her notoriety, and she has shown remorse), will I be able to be in the same room with her and not think, "there sits a murderer?" Doubtful.
Remember what happened to Michael Skakel? His crime of murdering Martha Moxley also happened when he was 15 years of age. (Not exactly a parallel because Skakel evaded justice for so long). But that resulted in a life sentence. All I'm saying is that in America, we have less tolerance for mitigating factors such as youth than other nations do. It recently took the Supreme Court to rule that offenders younger than 18 could no longer be put to death. The youngest person ever put to death in the United States was 10 years old (and that happened *after* World War II). When the Europeans got rid of all their fundamentalist Christians in the 1700s the whole lot of them moved over here.
Nevertheless, Perry is more of a magnet for criticism because she is famous and successful. Had she lived out the rest of her life in obscurity, people wouldn't be so up in arms. But because she had the temerity to discover and nurture her own talent she is now an object of fierce debate. The debate would not exist if she hadn't become somewhat famous in her own right. And that in itself is hypocrisy. However, I myself am a guilt monger regardless of status.
Much of my fiction is fueled by guilt over past bad acts, so I find this particular story endlessly fascinating.