*A 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 and graphic.

Mary Bell

 Mary Bell's mugshot

MARY BELL: 10-YEAR OLD SERIAL KILLER

“Are 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 there.

In fact, Brian lay dead between the blocks.  Mary wanted Pat to discover her dead brother because she wanted to see her reaction.

The 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.

Among 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.”

The 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.

Mary Bell was standing in front of Brian’s house when his coffin was brought out.   She stood there laughing and rubbing her hands.

The 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.

The police wasted no time in picking Mary up.

In the end, she refused to budge and they had to let her go.

The cops picked Mary up again, under intense questioning; she made a statement implicating Norma as the murderer of Brian Howe.

Both girls were incarcerated at the Newcastle West End police station.  Their upcoming trial would horrify and fascinate a nation.

With 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.

Even 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.

The 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.

Ten days later, Martin Brown was killed.

Martin 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.

The 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 distraught woman.”

After 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.

Martin’s 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.

Mary celebrated her eleventh birthday by trying to strangle Norma’s younger sister.   Norma’s father came out and intervened.

The 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.’

That 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.

Later 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.”

The 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.’

Police also suspected Mary in a few other killings but they lacked evidence.

Mary 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.

During 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.’

If 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.”

Mary Bell and Norma Bell were brought to trial for the murder of Martin Brown and Brian Howe on December 5th, 1968.

Observers 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 sympathy.

Norma 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.

The 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.

Mary 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 for Life.”

Because 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.

Mary’s 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.

By 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.

Mary’s 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.

Betty 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.

When 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.”

Mary 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.

After 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.

Mary 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.

Mary 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.

What made Mary Bell a killer?  We can only speculate but her childhood was a nightmare of abandonment and drug overdoses.

Betty 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.

As 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.

In 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.

Overdoses, particularly for a developing child can cause serious brain damage.  A common trait among violent offenders.

Perhaps 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.

When Mary Bell published a book (Cries Unheard) in 1998 recounting her crimes, it ignited a firestorm over criminals profiting from their deeds.

With 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.”

Whether 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.

Mary and her daughter currently live in England.

Mary ignites controversy over book

 Mary Bell today in England

Source: Shirley Lynn Scott (Crime Library)

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