Heavenly Creatures – Rieper, Herbert Detlev (NZ)

Herbert Detlev Rieper was born on October 22, 1894 in Strahan, Tasmania to Katie Thurza Stubbings and Claude Detlev Rieper, a shop assistant of German origin. He came to New Zealand in 1910, at the age of sixteen. At the outbreak of World War I, Herbert Rieper enlisted in the Army and was eventually stationed in Cairo, Egypt.

While stationed in Cairo, Herbert Rieper met and married Louise McArthur (n‚e Mackrie) in 1915, when he was 21 and she was 34. Louise Rieper had been born in India of English parentage and had been married previously. By the standards and conventions of the day, Louise Rieper sounds to have been an independent, unconventional woman and, perhaps, something of an adventurer. The couple returned to New Zealand at the end of the War, settling in Napier on the Hawke’s Bay, on the eastern shore of the North Island.

The Riepers’ first child was born in Napier in 1919 when Herbert was 25 and Louise was 37. They moved to Raetihi in 1922 and their second was born there in 1924, when Herbert was 29 and Louise was 43. Herbert was working as a bookkeeper when he met Honora Parker in Raetihi, around 1928. He was probably about 35 when he left his family and took up with Honora. Louise was about 47 at the time and their children were about 10 and 6. Honora was about 20. However, Herbert Rieper testified in the trial that these things happened two years later; Herbert probably calculated at some point before the trial that Honora was under the age of majority (21) when they took up together, so came to claim they had been together for 23 years, not 25, as he had previously said in interviews. Note the symmetry in age differences; Louise was to Herbert as Herbert was to Honora. For more on Raetihi, see below.

Herbert and Louise Rieper were never divorced, which was the reason why he and Honora Parker were never married. Herbert Rieper apparently paid some maintenance to his first family but had little contact with them. By 1936, Herbert Rieper and Honora Parker had moved to Christchurch. The fact that Herbert and Louise Rieper were never divorced is probably the reason why the house at 31 Gloucester St was put in Honora Parker’s name; this would ensure that Honora and her children would retain the house if Herbert were to die.

Glamuzina and Laurie describe Herbert Rieper as a quiet, polite and dapper little man. In 1954, Herbert Rieper was the manager of Dennis Brothers’ fish shop on Hereford St in Christchurch. He was 61 years old, so would have been close to retirement under better economic circumstances. Perhaps Herbert Rieper’s impending retirement and the loss of income that would come with it was one of the financial pressures on the Rieper household which drove Honora to take in boarders. Perhaps the family wanted to pay off the house before Herbert retired. Money worries were obviously an extremely important factor in the equation, contributing greatly to the atmosphere in the Rieper home. I tend to think that they were more prominent and important than has been emphasized in treatments to date.

The public was, obviously and justifiably, extremely sympathetic to Herbert Rieper after the murder of his wife, and all people associated with the case appear to have been extremely reluctant to offer any criticism of him. This has continued in the discussion and analysis of the case since then, including, to a large degree, Glamuzina and Laurie’s book. However, and no matter how much he may have loved them, it seems apparent to me from his statements and his testimony that Herbert Rieper probably had very little to do with the actual rearing of his children or with disciplining them. He may not have been an ‘absent’ parent, but he was probably very much of the ‘hands-off’ variety, preferring to leave such things to his wife. For example, Medlicott was obviously frustrated by the extremely vague and limited information about Pauline’s medical history which he could glean from Herbert Rieper (see 7.8.1). Herbert Rieper’s sketchy information to Medlicott about his daughter, conisting mostly of information about how she helped him with his hobbies and bare-bones facts about her illness, should be contrasted with Hilda Hulme’s detailed information to Medlicott about her daughter.

Herbert Rieper testified in the Hearing and Inquest that he himself played a critical role in the events from Easter, 1954, up to Honora’s murder but, by the time of the trial, his name was mostly absent and it was clear that Honora Parker initiated and carried through with many of the actions and decisions concerning Pauline. Unfortunately, this ‘hands off’ approach of his made Herbert a very unreliable witness when it came to details of dates and even the sequence of key events. He said that Honora finally approached Henry Hulme some time after Easter, 1954, determined to secure Henry’s cooperation to break up the friendship of Pauline and Juliet. Around that time, the Riepers learned of Henry Hulme’s plan to take Juliet to South Africa. It isn’t clear what Herbert Rieper learned about the Hulmes’ personal situation at that time. This is a crucial time period in the case, with few entries available from Pauline’s diaries.

Herbert Rieper’s experiences on the day of his wife’s murder were truly heart-wrenching and tragic. He was out of the shop and missed the message that his wife had been “hurt,” so didn’t show up to Victoria Park until after work, two hours after his wife’s death, driven by a colleague. He was the prime suspect, briefly, and was kept in the dark about what had happened to Honora for several hours while being interrogated quite aggressively by police officers at the scene. Officers secured his permission to interrogate his daughter without legal counsel, and to search his house and her room under the same conditions, thereby having him sow the legal seeds of the extraordinary trial. He was obliged to divulge his marital status and that of Honora Parker and the legal status of his children, all dutifully recorded and then reported worldwide the following day. And, the following day, Herbert Rieper was required to identify his wife’s body–which must have been a particularly unpleasant and traumatic experience because of the nature of Honora’s injuries. He held the funeral for his wife the very next day, on Thursday June 24, 1954.

Herbert Rieper was apparently affected greatly by Honora Parker’s murder. He provided rather sketchy background information about Pauline to police and psychiatrists after his daughter’s arrest. He testified at both the inquest and trial, but did not bother to attend the trial after his testimony was over. His testimony was not particularly informative and it is quite painful to read; it must have been unbearable to listen to him give it. Herbert Rieper refused to attend court on the day his daughter was convicted of murder, and stated from his home that he “had nothing to say” at the close of the trial. Reading between the lines, Herbert Rieper became terribly bitter and hostile toward the Hulmes and his daughter.

The trial placed an extreme financial burden on Herbert Rieper. He was still paying legal fees many years later; these were reduced when the legal firm became aware of his hardship.

Herbert Rieper apparently had little to do with his daughter after the murder. He visited Pauline once in prison, but found the process “depressing.” It is doubtful that father and daughter ever reconciled, and there is no record that they had any contact after Pauline’s release on parole. When his daughter was released from prison in 1959, Herbert Rieper was quoted as saying about the sentence served by Pauline and Juliet: “It still doesn’t make up for robbing a person of their life. It was evil between them that did it. Pure evil.”

Herbert Rieper died in Christchurch in 1981, at the age of 92, after a long battle against pneumonia, a disease which figures prominently in this story. His sister died in Christchurch in 1973.

Where is Raetihi and what was it like?

Raetihi is in the North Island, about 39 deg 20 min S, 175 deg 20 min E. Or, if you can find Lake Taupo in the middle of the North Island (biggest lake), then find Wanganui on the coast to the southwest; Raetihi is halfway between them. Nearest town is Ohakune.

Raetihi is in the central North Island, just SW of Mt Ruapehu. Raetihi, and the nearby town of Ohakune are places where skiers on Mt Ruapehu stay overnight. They are also the centre of a large market-gardening district (carrots, potatoes, etc.)

I used to stay in Raetihi with my grandparents every Christmas holidays. It was a very sleepy little town–such a small town that there was just one main street with a few shops. I suspect that its two major ‘industries’ were its dairy factory and the stock sales yard. As a kid, I used to go fishing with my grandfather and have very many happy memories of the area. The trout were GOOD. Absolutely the best breakfast, poached trout… mmmmm…

Raetihi is at the top of the parapara (the local name for a road which connects, ultimately, with Wanganui, on the coast to the SW). It is a very winding road but it is the main connection between Wanganui and the centre of the North Island. I used to get there by bus from Wanganui, or by train from Wellington.

I think Herbert Rieper and Honora Parker probably ended up there by chance. The trip from the King country through to Napier is still pretty rough even today, worse than the trip from Raetihi to Wanganui.

(Source: http://www.adamabrams.com/hc/faq2/Section_3/3.2.9.html)