story of a 13-year
old “male” serial killer is also featured on this site. This story,
detailing the crimes of a 10-year old “female” serial killer is just as disturbing
Mary Bell's mugshot
BELL: 10-YEAR OLD SERIAL KILLER
you looking for your brother, Brian?” asked Mary Bell. Brian’s sister
Pat was worried about the missing toddler who should have been home hours ago.
Mary and her best friend Pat Bell (no relation) told Pat, he might be playing
behind the blocks over there, or between them. Pat said, he never goes
fact, Brian lay dead between the blocks. Mary wanted Pat to discover her
dead brother because she wanted to see her reaction.
police found Brian’s body later that evening. He had been strangled as
a pair of broken scissors lay near by. Brian also had puncture marks on his
thighs, his belly had been signed “M” with a razor blade and his genitals had
been partially skinned.
the children who stood out as suspects were 10-year old Mary Bell and 13-year
old Norma Bell. Mary was evasive and acted strange and Norma seemed excited
about the murder. And someone overheard Mary making the comment, “Brian had
no mother, so he won’t be missed.”
investigation eventually centered on Mary. She knew about the scissors
which was confidential evidence, it had become clear that Mary, Norma or both
had seen Brian die.
Bell was standing in front of Brian’s house when his coffin was brought out. She stood there laughing and rubbing her hands.
police questioned Norma, she finally admitted that Mary had killed Brian and
brought her to see his body at the blocks. She added, Mary said she squeezed
his neck until he stopped breathing.
police wasted no time in picking Mary up.
the end, she refused to budge and they had to let her go.
cops picked Mary up again, under intense questioning; she made a statement implicating
Norma as the murderer of Brian Howe.
girls were incarcerated at the Newcastle West End police station. Their
upcoming trial would horrify and fascinate a nation.
both girls in custody, the investigators now looked at the mysterious death
of Martin Brown as a homicide. In fact, Mary’s behavior after Martin’s
death was so flagrant, it was a wonder she hadn’t been apprehended sooner.
before Martin’s death, other children were being hurt by 10-year old Mary.
On May 11, 1968, a three-year old boy was found behind some empty sheds near
a pub, bleeding from the head. The boy was a cousin of Mary’s. Mary would
later admit to pushing him over a ledge.
following day, three girls who were playing were attacked by Mary with Norma
nearby. One of the girls said Mary put her hands around my neck and squeezed
hard, after I fell to the ground, Mary took her hands off my neck and put her
hands around Susan’s neck.
days later, Martin Brown was killed.
was discovered lying on the floor of a boarded up house. One of the boys noticed
Mary and Norma coming towards the house. It was later determined that
Mary brought Norma to show her that she had killed Martin.
girls then went to find Martin’s aunt to tell her that there had been an accident;
there was blood everywhere. “I’ll show you where he is, said Mary to the
his funeral, Mary and Norma would turn up at Martin’s aunt house. They
would ask her, ‘Do you miss Martin?’ and ‘Do you cry for him’ and ‘Does June
miss him,’ and they were always grinning. Martin’s aunt told them to get
out and not to come back.
mother; June Brown was also bothered by the girls. After hearing a knock, June
opened the door to find Mary standing there. Mary smiled and asked to
see Martin although she knew he was dead. Mary grinned and said, I want to see
him in his coffin. June slammed the door in her face.
celebrated her eleventh birthday by trying to strangle Norma’s younger sister. Norma’s father came out and intervened.
next day, teachers at a Nursery arrived to find the school ransacked.
School supplies were strewn about and cleaning materials had been splattered
on the floor but the most disturbing discovery was a scribbled not left behind.
The note read ‘I murder so that I may come back.’
same day, Mary drew a picture in her notebook of a child in the same pose as
that in which Martin Brown had been found.
that day, she had a fight with Norma, she kicked her in the eye and screamed,
‘I am a murderer!” She pointed in the direction of the house where Martin Brown’s
body was found. She shouted, “That house over there, that’s where I killed.”
first night in their small jail cells, the girls were restless and Mary was
overheard telling a guard, ‘Murder isn’t that bad, we all die sometime anyway.’
also suspected Mary in a few other killings but they lacked evidence.
who was a chronic bed wetter was terrified of going to sleep; for fear that
she might mess up her bed. At home, Mary’s mother severely humiliated
her whenever she wet the bed, rubbing her daughter’s face in the urine and hanging
the mattress outside for the entire neighborhood to see.
the course of her incarceration, the women guards go to know Mary better.
Mary told one guard, ‘I like hurting little things that can’t fight back.’
Mary told another guard, ‘I would like to be nurse because I can stick needled
into people. I like hurting people.’
Mary’s parents were somehow responsible for young Mary’s behavior, she would
not talk about it. Her father, Billy Bell had lived with the family but
the children (Mary and her younger sister and brother) were instructed to always
call him “uncle” so that their mother could collect government assistance. Billy
Bell was a thief and the mother Betty Bell was a prostitute who was often out
of town on “business.”
Bell and Norma Bell were brought to trial for the murder of Martin Brown and
Brian Howe on December 5th, 1968.
in the courtroom were “watching Mary with a horrified kind of curiosity.” For such a manipulative and cunning little girl, Mary knew nothing about attracting
was surrounded by a much more sympathetic family. She was the third of
eleven children and reacted to evidence with a more childlike combination of
fear and nervous tears while Mary disdained crying as a sign of weakness.
jury which consisted of five women and seven men, took under four hours to return
a verdict. Norma was thrilled when she was found “not guilty” of manslaughter on both counts.
Bell was found guilty of manslaughter because of diminished responsibility in
both Martin’s and Brian’s death. The judge pronounced a sentence of “Detention
Britain was not used to incarcerating little girls who murdered, the question
of where Mary should be placed sent everyone scrambling. Prison was out
of the question for an eleven-year old. Mental hospitals weren’t equipped to
take her and she was too dangerous for institutions that housed troubled children.
Eventually she would end up in an all boys facility which would cause problems
when puberty hit.
incarceration is fascinating because at some point she apparently reformed when
she was released at age 23, she went on with her life and had a daughter of
her own. She claims to be a completely different person than the psychopathic
child killer she once was.
most accounts, the institution where Mary was housed from 1969 to 1973 was a
comfortable facility headed by James Dixon, a former Navy man. Dixon provided
structure and discipline for Mary and she came to respect him and love him.
Dixon filled the role of a strong father figure. Mary loved Billy
Bell (who was not her biological father but was in her life from the beginning)
but as a thief, he was not an ideal role model. When he was convicted of armed
robbery in 1969, his visits to Mary ended.
mother had been a disciplinarian. As a prostitute with a specialty, she disciplined
her clients with whips and bondage. Betty visited her daughter often but
Mary always appeared disturbed afterwards and acted out aggressively.
Bell also profited from her daughter’s notoriety, selling her story to the tabloids
and encouraged her daughter to write letters and poems that could easily be
peddled to the press.
Mary was transferred from a mostly male atmosphere to a full women’s facility,
she became a rebellious prisoner and was frequently punished. She also
decided to go “butch.” When her mother heard this, she said, “Jesus Christ,
what next? You’re a murderer and now you’re a lesbian.”
went a long way toward persuading the world that she was masculine. She
strutted and acted as if she had stubble on her face. She also rolled
up stockings in the shape of male genitals and put them in her pants. She would
later ask a doctor for a sex change but was denied.
being transferred to a less secure facility in 1977, Mary escaped. She
was picked up along with a fellow escapee by two young men. In her brief
time out, Mary lost her virginity. The guy she slept with later sold his
story to the tabloids and claimed she escaped from jail so she could get pregnant.
was captured and moved to a hostel. A few months before her parole in 1980,
she met a married man who got her pregnant. “He said he was determined
to show me I wasn’t a lesbian,” she said. When she found out she was pregnant,
she got an abortion.
Bell was released on May 14th, 1980. She met a man and fell in love, they
settled in a small town. The probation officer had to inform the local
authorities of her presence, and soon the villagers were marching through the
street with “Murderer Out!” signs.
made Mary Bell a killer? We can only speculate but her childhood was a
nightmare of abandonment and drug overdoses.
was anxious to get rid of her daughter. In 1960, Betty took her to an
adoption agency, giving her to a distraught woman who wasn’t allowed to adopt
as she was moving to Australia. You have her, Betty Bell said, leaving Mary
with the stranger. Her sister Isa had followed Betty and soon found the
woman and got Mary back.
a child, Mary also experienced numerous overdoses administered by her mother. During one incident, she nearly overdosed after taking some pills that
were hidden in a narrow nook. It seemed impossible that the baby could
reach the pills. When Mary was three she and her brother were found eating
“little blue pills” along with candy.
the most serious overdose, Mary swallowed a bunch of iron pills belonging to
her mother. She lost consciousness and her stomach had to be pumped.
particularly for a developing child can cause serious brain damage. A
common trait among violent offenders.
the greatest tragedy, if true, is Betty’s use of Mary during prostitution.
One doctor calls this “one of the worst cases of child sexual abuse I have ever
encountered.” Allegedly, Mary was her mother’s sexual prop. She was allegedly
sold off to johns for hours at a time.
Mary Bell published a book (Cries Unheard) in 1998 recounting her crimes, it
ignited a firestorm over criminals profiting from their deeds.
the renewed media interest in Mary, reporters laid siege on her house. Her teenage
daughter learned for the first time that her mother was the infamous Mary Bell. She said, “Mum, why didn’t you tell me?” You were just a kid, younger
than I am now.”
Mary’s story can prevent the abuse of other children remains to be seen. It’s an extraordinary cautionary tale of a child’s capacity for violence.
and her daughter currently live in England.
Mary Bell today
Shirley Lynn Scott (Crime Library)
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