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Juvenile delinquency & murder

Parker–Hulme murder

'Our main idea for the day was to moider Mother …'

Imitating American gangster slang, Christchurch teenager Pauline Parker wrote the above diary entry in June 1954. Three days later, she murdered her mother with a stocking-covered brick. Her friend Juliet Hulme helped.

The Parker–Hulme murder shocked the nation and fuelled panic about deteriorating teenage morals. Subsequent teen sex scandals worsened matters. The police reported 'orgies perpetrated in private homes … and in several second-rate Hutt Valley theatres'. The government ordered an inquiry.

Mazengarb report

Lawyer Oswald Mazengarb headed the government inquiry into teenage morality. The 1954 'Mazengarb report' (Report of the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents) went to households nationwide. It blamed 'juvenile delinquency' on factors like working mothers and parental absence – plus American pulp fiction, comics, and movies. Censorship intensified as a result.

Milk-bar murder

Yet the next year, 19-year-old Freddie Foster – the 'milk-bar murderer' – was on the stand in the courtroom. In March 1955, he murdered picture-theatre usher Sharon Skiffington, who had spurned him, in Auckland milk-bar Somervell's. The jury found this 'victim of crime comics' guilty in 7 minutes.

Some convicted murderers had their sentences reduced, but not Foster. He was hung. His lawyer argued that his execution was political – a response to the Mazengarb report.

Jukebox killing

Another 1955 murder, only 4 months after the 'milk-bar' murder and just up the road, inflamed the panic about juvenile delinquency. At Ye Olde Barn, 'jukebox killer' Albert (Paddy) Black stabbed 19-year-old Alan Jacques 'over a girl'.

One newspaper said the murder exposed 'an American-style teenage wasteland …warring juveniles, delinquents, teenage sex, no parental supervision, all-night dives, blaring jukeboxes – even a cult built around the banned books of Mickey Spillane'. Indeed, murder victim Jacques had adopted the name Johnny McBride after one of Spillane's violent heroes.

Like Foster, Black was hung.

Death penalty – a deterrent?

The death penalty had been reintroduced to New Zealand only 5 years earlier, after a spate of murders in the 1940s. Supporters argued that hanging would be a deterrent. Yet 1955 was a demanding year for hangmen, who performed four executions in 5 months, including Freddie Foster's and Paddy Black's.

Poet James K Baxter mocked, 'The hangman keeps our country pure' ('A Rope for Fat Harry').

Read more about the death penalty

Read more about the Parker–Hulme murder


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