Look at that face. So sweet, almost cherubic. An innocent child, right? Wrong. Mary Bell murdered two toddlers when she was just ten years old, making her one of the youngest (if not the youngest) serial killers in history and a true psychopath.
Mary Bell lived about 275 miles north of London in the small town of Scotswood. Her mother was a prostitute and her father unnamed, although he was thought to be Billy Bell, a known criminal. Family members would later claim Mary attempted to murder her mother several times as a child. Mary would also say she was a victim of sexual abuse and that her mother forced to her to have sex with men as a young child.
On May 25, 1968, just a day before her eleventh birthday, Mary strangled four-year-old Martin Brown and left his body in a condemned house. He small hands couldn’t squeeze hard enough to leave marks, and the murder went unsolved.
Then, in July, Mary decided she wanted to kill again. She chose three-year old Brian Howe as her victim and enlisted the help of her troubled friend, Norma. The little boy was found in an industrial area, covered with grass and weeds. A pair of scissors lay nearby. There were puncture marks on his thighs, his genitals partially skinned. Clumps of hair were missing. An “M” had been etched onto the boy’s tummy with a razor blade.
Before Brian’s body was discovered by police, Mary and Norma had offered to help the toddler’s older sister Pat search for him, going so far as to take her into the industrial area where his body lay. Mary wanted the sister to find the boy’s body, “because she wanted Pat Howe to have a shock,” Norma later said. Pat insisted he wouldn’t go that far from home and left.
Although she was barely eleven, Mary Bell immediately stood out to investigators, along with her friend Norma. Mary acted aloof while Norma was animated and excited, one authority said, “smiling as if it were a huge joke.”
With investigators honing in on her, Mary’s memory conveniently returned. She told investigator she saw a boy with Brian on the day he died. She claimed he hit the toddler for no reason, and that she had also seen the same boy playing with broken scissors. Even a calculating psychopath makes mistakes: the boy in question had been at the airport the day Brian died, and the scissors had been kept confidential. Mary described the scissors in detail, right down to their silver coloring and broken leg.
The scissors Mary Bell used to mutilate Brian Howe.
On August 7th, Brian Howe was laid to rest.
“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 dare not 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.” – Inspector Dobson.
Dobson questioned Norma before Brian’s funeral. The girl now said Mary told her she had killed Brian and showed her his body. Mary allegedly told Norma “I squeezed his neck and pushed up his lungs, that’s how you kill them.” Norma claimed that when Mary showed her the body, Mary stroked the dead boy’s lips and said she had enjoyed killing him.
Police picked Mary up, and Dobson said that while the child was weary, she kept her wits. Dobson tried a variety of tactics with Mary, hoping to entice the truth out of her.
“I have reason to believe that when you were near the blocks with Norma, a man shouted at some children and you both ran away from where Brian was laying in the grass. This man will probably know you,” Dobson said.
“He would have to have good eyesight.”
“Why would he need good eyesight?” Dobson asked.
“Because he was…clever to see me when I wasn’t there.” Mary then said she was being brainwashed and that she was going home. Dobson refused and forged on. Mary held fast.
“I am making no statements. I have made lots of statements. It’s always me you come for. Norma’s a liar, she always tries to get me into trouble.”
Note written by Mary Bell after the murders, found at a nursery she and Norma broke into.
Ignoring the nagging voice in the back of his head, Dobson allowed Mary to leave. He later brought her back to the station after getting more information from Norma.
Still cool under pressure, Mary finally admitted to being present when Brian died but implicated Norma as the actual murderer. Mary claimed she tried to pull Norma off the little boy, but that Norma screamed at her and kept strangling him. You can read Mary’s full statement here.
When Dobson told Mary she was being charged with the murder of Brian Howe, she reportedly said, “That’s all right with me.”
Once she was incarcerated, stories of Mary’s bizzarre behavior and abuse began to surface. Other children said she was a show off, and they didn’t believe her when she went around claiming she was a murderer.
According to friends and family, Mary had pushed her cousin several feet off a ledge behind some sheds, leaving him bleeding from the head. She also attacked three girls at a daycare, with Norma in tow. One of the girls claimed Mary had squeezed her throat, asking “what happens if you choke someone, do they die?”
Headline during Mary Bell’s trial.
Mary was soon connected to Martin Brown’s murder that had occurred months earlier. The three boys who had found the boys body remembered Mary and Norma squeezing through a broken section of boards to get into the house. Mary had brought Norma to show her the boy’s body.
Because police could find no signs of violence, the cause of death had been left open. But ice-cold Mary and Norma revelled in tormenting the boy’s aunt, asking her if she missed Martin and if she cried for him.
The girls didn’t stop there. June Richardson, Martin’s grieving mother, was also a target.
“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.’ She was still grinning. I was just speechless that such a young child should want to see a dead baby, and I just slammed the door on her.”
June Richardson with a picture of Martin.
At trial, the psychiatrist who had interviewed Mary said she exhibited the classic signs of psychopathy: she showed no remorse and was completely unemotional. Mary Bell was convicted of manslaughter while Norma was found not guilty and placed under psychiatric evaluation.
I have no idea how she only received manslaughter, but I can only assume it was because of her age.
The authorities had no idea what to do with an eleven-year-old murderer, so Mary spent the rest of her juvenile years floating from one institution to another. After the conviction, she continued to make headlines as her heartless and greedy mother sold stories about her to the press. In 1977, Mary escaped from Moore Open Court Prison, where she’d been since her transfer from a young offenders institution.
Mary Bell at 16.
Mary was released from prison in 1980 at the age of twenty-three, serving only twelve years for the murders of two helpless little boys. Even worse, she was granted anonymity, including a new name, to start a new life with her daughter (born in May, 1984). Their location was eventually discovered and the two had to escape the house under the cover of bed sheets. Yet another innocent child had been affected by Mary’s hideous actions, but this time it was her own flesh and blood.
Mary Bell in 1980 after her release.
Mary and her daughter were supposed to lose their anonymity when the child turned 18. But to the heartbreak of the victim’s families, Mary Bell succeeded in having her own anonymity and her daughter’s extended for life.
The Brown and Howe families were devastated. Mary had not only served very little time for the double homicides, but she also made money with an autobiography and would now be able to hide behind her daughter for the rest of her life, effectively negating any accountability.
Bell recently had a grandchild, and the order has been extended to include him.
“A child is a blessing. 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. I will never see a grandchild from my son. I hope when she looks at this baby she realized what my family are missing out on because of what she has done.”
— June Richardson, mother of Martin Brown.
You can find much more of Mary’s story here
In all my research of violent crimes, this has to be the worst. The chilling way Mary spoke of her victims and her utter lack of remorse is astounding. What do you think? Should she have served more time, and should she be allowed anonymity?