Mary Bell is not a name that most know, though her case is a terrifying one. The events of 1968 have passed away from the public consciousness for a large part, but they should never be forgotten. Why? Because the tragic murders of two boys by another child should never be something that we gloss over as consigned to the history books.
Though there are conflicting reports about her early childhood, it’s clear that there was something not quite right with Mary Bell. That was never manifested more clearly than when she strangled two boys to death, one after the other, in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Mary Bell is still alive today, and this case could not be more relevant when talking about child protection and the formation of early psychology. By learning more about her case and her motivations, we can perhaps have a chance at preventing more murderous cases in the future.
Going deep into the Mary Bell case is only advised for those who are made of strong stuff, as the details may well turn your stomach. To hear about what this young girl did, all for no ostensible reason, will chill you right to your core. We’re about to take you through the most chilling aspects of this case, from the crimes themselves through to the trial and what happened afterwards. Brace yourself – you might just start having nightmares tonight, especially if you’re a parent of a young child yourself. Mary Bell is perhaps the youngest girl ever to be described, with good reason, as a monster.
15. She Was So Young
When Mary Bell killed her first victim, she was just 10 years old. It was the day before her 11th birthday. She was still only 11 when she killed her second victim. It’s unthinkable that such a young child could be capable of such violence. She was old enough to know right from wrong, and to know beyond a doubt that it was not right to take someone’s life. But she did it all the same. When we think of psychopaths or sociopaths becoming murderers, we usually picture an adult male. Mary Bell is proof beyond doubt that a murder can be committed by anyone, even someone that you least expect. Mary may actually have been a little more sophisticated than her age suggested, especially since she had been subjected to somewhat of a rough upbringing – which can force children to grow up early. She was also more aware of adult experiences than she should have been at that age.
14. She Targeted Innocent Toddlers
When you are a child with a desire to kill, who can you attack? Anyone older will be far too powerful, easily able to fight back and even turn weapons back on you. No, if she wanted to be successful, Mary had to target younger children. Her first victim was 4-year-old Martin Brown, who she trapped in a derelict house before strangling him. Her second murder was of 3-year-old Brian Howe, this time with the help of a friend. Norma Joyce Bell, not a relation but only a friend, was roped in to help lure the boy away and strangle him. Though Norma was later acquitted and found to be an unwilling accomplice, Mary took the full responsibility of both crimes. The toddlers that she targeted had no hope of fighting against her, and had done nothing to merit their untimely deaths. The sad truth is that they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
13. She Served Just 12 Years
Even after something as horrific as the strangulation of two small boys, a girl of Mary’s age could not be sentenced in the same way that an adult was. She was given an indeterminate sentence by the judge so that her case could be assessed based on evidence as she grew older. In the end, she only served 12 years in prison for the two murders. This meant that she managed to get out of jail when she was 23 years old. Some might say that there was no justice in her being able to get back to life as a young woman, while her two young victims never had a chance. But the psychiatric evaluation suggested that she was well enough to be reintegrated into society, without any risk of her offending again. So far, at least, that has held true: Mary Bell has never been arrested in the time since she was released from her murder sentence.
12. Her Mother Wanted Her Dead
Although there is no surviving proof, independent accounts from members of Mary’s family paint an awful picture of her childhood. While she was just a baby, her own mother apparently wanted her dead. Suspicions fell on her when Mary was said to have fallen from a window, with many believing that she had been pushed. On another occasion Mary consumed sleeping pills, which her mother said happened by accident. Contrary to this, a witness actually saw Betty Bell giving the pills to her daughter and calling them sweets. If Betty was determined to kill her daughter from a young age, these might not have been the only attempts that Mary endured. With a feeling that even your own mother didn’t want you around, it could be easy to see where Mary picked up her violent urges. Her murders could be seen as an attempt to take control – to kill others before she could be killed.
11. She Was Forced Into Adult Work
Even more shocking is the claim from Mary herself. Her mother was well known as a prostitute, and she would often be away in Glasgow on what she called “business” – nothing more than meeting clients for her adult work. Betty specialized in bondage, and it has been claimed by Mary that her mother actually used her as a prop in her adult work from the age of 4. She herself was subject to abuse, both at the hands of the Johns and of her own mother. She claims it is this abuse which stirred up feelings of violence in her, and also led to her not being able to understand things on a real level. For example, she was once quoted as saying that a cat “doesn’t feel” rough handling when she picked one up by the neck. This implies that she didn’t understand the harm she was causing to others, or perhaps did not connect with it on an emotional level.
10. She Claimed Ownership Of Crimes
On the 26th of May, a date which sat between the two murders, Norma and Mary were playing together at Norma’s home. At that time, Norma’s father caught Mary trying to choke his daughter. He slapped her and sent her home, but the two girls met up again later. Then they headed for a local nursery school and vandalized it. They wrote notes claiming ownership of the one murder Mary had already committed. They read “Fuch of, we murder, watch out, Fanny and Faggot”, and “We did murder Martain brown, f**kof you B*****d”. Their juvenile spelling and use of foul language indicated more than anything that they were children, something which the police were quick to catch on to. At this time they thought Martin had died accidentally, as Mary’s small hands left no marks on his neck, and there was an empty bottle of pills near his body. As a result, they dismissed the vandalism as a prank. Little did they know that a child was exactly who they were looking for.
9. She Returned To Mutilate A Corpse – Warning: Graphic Content
After the murder of Brian Howe, Mary was not content to leave it at just a strangulation death. She returned to the body later, wanting to try something new. She first carved an ‘N’ into his stomach with a razor, presumably to indicate Norma. Interestingly, this was later changed into an ‘M’ by what is described as a different hand – perhaps Norma’s own. She then used scissors to cut some of the toddler’s hair, and to scratch his legs. Finally, she used the scissors to mutilate his penis – perhaps the strongest sign yet of her own abuse at the hands of her mother and her clients. It has never been totally clear what happened and in what order, though the general conclusion was that Mary was responsible for all of the violence. Norma was not able to provide a clear enough testimony, and what she did say was contradicted by Mary’s statement.
8. She Led His Sister To The Body
In a sick twist, Mary also tried to lead Brian’s sister to be the one to discover his body. Pat Howe was looking for Brian after he had gone missing, and Mary and Norma offered to help her search. They led Pat on a merry dance through the neighbourhood, approaching the area where he was dead. Mary pointed to some large concrete blocks, behind which Brian’s body was hidden, and suggested that Brian might be over there. Norma was quick to say that Brian never approached the construction materials, turning Pat away. Norma later said that Mary led her over there “because she wanted Pat Howe to have a shock.” Thankfully, Pat went home instead. It was a small mercy that it was the police, not a family member, who discovered his body in the location later that night. But this was just one clue which led the police to discovering the identity of his killer, too.
7. She Appeared At The Funeral
Mary visited both of the funerals of the little boys, taking glee in seeing the misery that she had created. Before Martin’s funeral, Mary made multiple visits to family members of the dead boy, asking morbid questions. June Brown, the boy’s mother, recounts: “Mary smiled and asked to see Martin. I said, ‘No, pet, Martin is dead.’ She turned round and said, ‘Oh, I know he’s dead. I wanted to see him in his coffin,’ and she was still grinning.” Detective Dobson, who later arrested her, describes what he saw at Brian’s funeral: “Mary Bell was standing in front of the Howe’s house when the coffin was brought out. I was, of course, watching her. And it was when I saw her there that I knew I did not dare risk another day. She stood there, laughing. Laughing and rubbing her hands. I thought, ‘My God, I’ve got to bring her in, she’ll do another one.'”
6. She Once Escaped Prison… To Lose Her Virginity
Because of her young age, Mary was not normally kept in conventional prisons as we think of them. Rather, she was kept in smaller houses and facilities which were designed to cope with young offenders. She was transferred to a less secure facility in 1977, when she was 20 years old, along with one other inmate. Two young men picked them up, and they later sold their stories to the press. They claimed that one of them had taken Mary’s virginity, and even said that she had escaped with the sole intention of becoming pregnant. Mary, for her part, never spoke about the incident, saying that she could “never understand” why the press were so interested in her. She also became pregnant at age 22, while living in a hostel shortly before her full release, and ended up having an abortion. She said she felt that she had no choice about keeping the baby.
5. She Has A Daughter
Eventually, however, Mary was released. She was then free to pursue what did seem to be a lifelong dream of having a baby of her own. She met a man and became pregnant, giving birth when she was 27. She says that she felt more awareness of her crimes after having her own child. She said, “If there was something wrong with me when I was a child, there wasn’t now. I felt that if they could X-ray me inside, they could see that anything broken had been fixed.” She of course had to fight for the right to keep custody of her child, who was a ward of the court from her birth in 1984 through to 1992. But Mary was determined to keep hold of her daughter, to become a loving mother, and to show once and for all that she had moved on from her murderous past. Shockingly, the daughter did stay with her, and did not even know who her mother was until she was found by the press and forced to change identities again.
4. They Are Anonymous For Life
Speaking of which, Mary Bell is actually subject to a court order which permanently protects her identity. Mary had been given a new name to use and her identity was protected, but her daughter was only safe until she turned 18. In 2003, however, Mary won a High Court battle to extend that anonymity for life. It now covers both of them, and means that no one is allowed to reveal their new identities or to report on them in the press as they are today. This means that Mary Bell could be living anywhere, under any name – and she will look like a normal, responsible wife and mother. She is currently aged 59, and that is just about all we know about her. In the past she lived with her parents, but now even that link is gone, and she could have gone to any part of the UK to live in secrecy.
3. She’s Now A Grandmother
Not only is Mary Bell a mother to her own child – something that boils the blood of the families who lost theirs – but she also became a grandmother in 2009. The 24-year-old woman who is her anonymous daughter gave birth to a child, whose gender has not been revealed. The order that protected them both was extended to include the grandchild, which is why we know about it at all. The mother of Martin Brown had plenty to say on the matter: “She took my blessing and left me with grief for the rest of my life. I hope when she looks at this child she remembers the two she murdered.” She also expressed the sentiment that, while the law was set up to protect those who had committed the crimes, the victims and their families were not afforded the same degree of protection. Right or wrong, Mary was allowed to be around not one but two children after her release.
2. She Profited From Her Crimes
A source of considerable controversy over the case came in 1998, when Gitta Sereny decided she was going to write and release a book about Mary. In fact, Gitta did not do all of the work on her own. In order to detail Mary’s life as much as possible, she actually interviewed her at length and worked out the details together. Mary was paid £50,000 as a result of her collaboration. There was uproar when this was discovered, with some claiming that Mary should be fined the same amount. After all, it should not be legal to allow someone to profit from their crimes after they have been caught and convicted. Still, the complaints were not taken into account, and Mary went ahead with the publication. The book, Cries Unheard, is still available to be purchased, and details the awful childhood Mary suffered as well as the build-up to the murders.
1. She Had A Chilling Reaction To Arrest
When Mary and Norma were arrested, both girls made little sense in their statements and interviews. They gave conflicting reports about what happened, and generally did what you might expect from panicked children – they blamed one another. Eventually, however, the police had built up enough of a picture of events to take action. They charged both girls with murder on the 5th of August 1968. Chillingly, Mary Bell barely reacted to this news at all. She said only, “That’s all right by me.” This helps to explain why many professionals at the time believed that she was psychopathic, and not capable of feeling emotions in the same way as others. Evidence of Mary’s strangely casual and relaxed manner comes in plenty of anecdotes from her early life, trial, and imprisonment. She was called “intelligent, manipulative, and dangerous” by court psychiatrists, and also became a problem inmate, fabricating an accusation against one of her warders that was later dismissed. She also said, “Murder isn’t that bad, we all die sometime anyway,” to one of her guards. This was just one example of a string of chilling statements she has made.