What does it cost to take another person’s life? Probably, a lot of nerves, detailed preparation, impulses, or even external or internal influence; the list could go on and on. For Mary Bell, one of the youngest serial killers in England’s criminal history, one may begin to ask if it was something she learned or something she was born with that made killing a necessity.
Mary Bell was 10 years old when she committed her first murder and it wasn’t her last. She strangulated two male toddlers to death in 1968. What could have caused a preteen child to commit such a horrendous act? Follow us as we explore this and other facts on the life and crimes of Mary Bell.
The Beginning And Early Life of the Child Killer, Mary Bell
Mary Flora Bell began her life as an innocent victimized child, in Scotswood, Newcastle, England. Her experiences of violence began from the moment of her birth; pain and death became her companions from that instant. She was born on May 26th 1957, to a 17-year-old prostitute named Betty (née McCrickett).
Her biological father is unknown but she believed for most of her life that Billy Bell, a habitual criminal her mother married when she was a baby, was her father. Apart from the fact that she was born into abject poverty, her mother also didn’t want her.
By the time she was 4 years old, she was eventually turned in by her mother to prostitution and had several brushes with death. Besides the mental and physical abuse her mother subjected her to, Betty allegedly tried to kill Mary on several occasions. Moreover, Betty was rarely at home to take care of her daughter as she was often away on business trips to Glasgow. Rather than being saddened by her mother’s long absences from home, the little girl would have seemingly seen those as periods of respite from pain and misery.
With all that had happened to her in her young life, it wasn’t surprising to many, especially relatives, that little Mary became a strange child by the time she was 10.
A combination of her criminal father and a sex worker and alcoholic mother was, after all, a recipe for disaster, with violence not far fetched. With this, Mary Bell became withdrawn and manipulative, always hovering on the edge of violence, which she would become a perpetrator of soon. One thing was certain, her hard upbringing prepared her and contributed to the horrific events to come, which unfortunately no one was prepared for.
The Crimes of Mary and Norma Bell
Early on in her life, Mary Bell had witnessed her five-year-old friend run over and killed by a bus. One would have thought that that one incident would put her far away from death lane not to talk of conceiving the idea of taking another’s life. But no, it might have helped to ingrain her with the fascination of it.
Mary Bell soon found another friend in 13-year old Norma Bell (no relation). Norma became her accomplice and they collaborated to carry out the pair of horrendous crimes as well as other mischiefs such as breaking into and vandalizing a nursery school.
Her First Murder
A day before Mary’s 11th birthday, on May 25, 1968, she brutally strangled four-year-old Martin Brown. Martin’s body was found, with blood and saliva on his face in an abandoned house in Scotswood. Apart from the fluids on his face, there were no obvious signs of violence. However, lying beside his body was an empty bottle of painkillers. The police were mystified but ruled his death as an accident on the assumption that the boy had swallowed the pills. One thing they didn’t know, however, was that Martin’s killer was a few years older than him, and had perpetrated the act alone.
Though Mary Bell left notes taking responsibility for Brown’s death and promising to kill again during the nursery school vandalism, police assumed her notes – the actual confessions from an 11-year-old cold-blooded killer – to be a morbid prank. Just like most serial killers who have left notes or sent letters to police, so did Mary Bell too. She also told her classmates that she killed the 4-year-old but nobody took her, a liar and a show-off, seriously until she struck again.
The Killing of Brian Howe
Having got a taste of blood and blinded by the “success” of her first killing, she had no intention of stopping. Two months after, she struck again, picking 3-year-old Brian Howe as her victim. This time, her friend Norma complemented her efforts.
On the 31st of July 1968, Mary and Norma lured little Brian to “the wastelands” in the Scotswood area, where they strangled him. However, Mary went one step further to do what most serial killers such as Ted Bundy did – she revisited the scene. With a pair of scissors, she mutilated Brian’s body and also etched the letter “M” on his chest.
The Aftermath of Mary Bell’s Crimes
After Howe’s mutilated body was discovered, the Scotswood neighborhood was thrown into grief and confusion with the death of two boys just months apart. Both girls were acting strangely and were consequently taken in for interviews with the police. They did a poor job of disguising their interest in the investigation, telling wildly different stories.
When Mary sensed that the police were closing in on her, she made up a story about an 8-year-old boy who she claimed was violent with Brian on the day of his death. That did not entice the police as they quickly ruled it out. On the day of Brian’s burial, Mary Bell was spotted by investigators lurking outside his house; she even laughed as they lowered his coffin into the earth.
Norma would eventually give in to her conscience and tell the police how she watched Mary take Howe’s life. They were brought up on manslaughter charges initially but Norma was acquited while Mary was sentenced to indefinite detention for her crimes, in December 1968.
In 1980, at the age of 23, she was released from prison after serving twelve years for her crimes. Since then, she has lived under a series of pseudonyms as per a court order which protects her identity. The order has also been extended to her daughter which she bore on the sixteenth anniversary of her first murder, on May 25, 1984, and her granddaughter who was born in January 2009.