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Anne Perry, crime writer with a murderous past, dead at 84

NEW YORK (AP) — Anne Perry, the best-selling crime novelist known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk detective series and for her own murderous past that inspired the movie “Heavenly Creatures,” has died at age 84.

Perry died Monday in Los Angeles from complications of a stroke and several heart attacks, according to her literary agent in North America, Donald Maass.

Perry published more than 100 books, often set in Victorian England, with notable works including the novels “Death of a Stranger,” “Buckingham Palace Gardens” and one scheduled for September, “The Traitor Among Us.” She sold millions of copies and received some of the top honors for crime writing, among them an Edgar Award for the short story “Heroes” and an Agatha Award for lifetime achievement.

But another story, one of lasting notoriety, came from her own life.

Born Juliet Hulme, she was a London native whose diagnosis for tuberculosis led her family to seek a warmer climate, eventually settling in New Zealand. In school, she formed an intense friendship with classmate Pauline Parker. But in her mid-teens, in 1954, her parents were divorcing and she was told she would be moving to South Africa.

The two girls were devastated: In their despair, they plotted against Parker’s mother, Honore Parker, who had refused to let Pauline join Juliet in South Africa. The girls conspired to go on a picnic with Honore, reached an isolated place in a Christchurch park and murdered her, beating her repeatedly with a rock.

Because they were minors, the girls were spared the death penalty and instead each served five years in prison. Perry would later explain she felt obligated to help her friend, whom she feared might take her own life.

“She threatened to kill herself if I didn’t help,” Perry told The Guardian in 2003. “She was vomiting after every meal and losing weight all the time. I am sure now she was bulimic. I really believed she would take her life and I couldn’t face it.”

Director Peter Jackson, a New Zealand native, would draw upon the murder for “Heavenly Creatures,” a 1994 release that starred Kate Winslet as Juliet and Melanie Lynskey as Pauline.

Perry would later call prison “the best thing that ever happened” to her, a time for her to confront and acknowledge her actions. She renamed herself Anne Perry, moved to Scotland, joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and worked various jobs, including retail sales and as a flight attendant, before fulfilling a longtime dream and becoming a published writer.

Her first novel, “The Cater Street Hangman,” came out in 1979 and unveiled the husband-and-wife detective team of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt.

Years later, Perry began her Monk books with “The Face of a Stranger,” featuring the memory-impaired sleuth William Monk.

“I began the Monk series in order to explore a different, darker character, and to raise questions about responsibility, particularly that of a person for acts he cannot remember,” she wrote on her website. “How much of a person’s identity is bound up in memory? All our reactions, decisions, etc. spring from what we know, have experienced. We are in so many ways the sum of all we have been!”

Survivors include a brother, Jonathan Hulme.