Most of us who live normal, everyday lives, murder is a striking human behavior, an anomaly that stops us in our tracks. To those of us in the civilized world, murder seems to be completely out of the ordinary, especially when the person committing murder is a child. What causes such a young, untainted mind become the serial killer like Mary Bell.
Mary was only ten years old when she committed her first murder and it wasn't her last. Mary Bell was born to Betty, a 16-year-old prostitute who reportedly told doctors to “take that thing away from me” when she saw her daughter.
In her childhood, Mary Bell was a victim of ongoing abuse in the home, both in the form of neglect and physical violence. Mary’s father, Billy Bell, was likely a career criminal who was often absent from the home, leaving young Mary with whichever relatives or friends would take her for the time being. Her mother, Betty Bell, was not much better and had to make her living and support her family under the crushing weight of poverty by prostituting herself, and she, too was, often absent and alcholic.
The first of the Mary Bell murders occurred on May 25, 1968, the day before her 11th birthday. Four-year-old Martin Brown’s body was found in a vacant house in Scotswood. Although the she strangled the boy, her grip was not strong enough to leave ligature marks, leading to uncertainty about the cause of death. Two days later, Mary and 13-year-old Norma Bell (no relation), broke into and vandalized a nursery. They left notes claiming responsibility for the murder, although police initially dismissed the confession as a prank. On July 31, 1968, she killed again.
Mary and Norma strangled three-year-old Brian Howe, leaving his body on wasteland in the Scotswood area. Before leaving the crime scene, she carved the letter “M” into the boy’s stomach with scissors. She also cut off part of his hair, scratched his legs, and mutilated his penis. The medical examiner suspected the criminal might be a child because relatively little force was used. Eventually they linked Brown’s murder with Howe’s, and police questioned children throughout the area, looking for anyone with clues to Howe’s murder—or anyone who couldn’t substantiate their whereabouts.
After murdering three-year-old Brian Howe, but before the body was discovered, Mary Bell returned to the scene like all too many serial killers do, possibly to relive the experience.
The two were initially brought up on manslaughter charges. Although the charges against Norma Bell were dropped, Mary Bell was sentenced to indefinite detention for her crimes. Mary would spend 12 years in prison for diminished responsibility, considering her young age, and was released at age 23. A few years later, Mary Bell became pregnant and give birth to a child on May 25, 1984, exactly 16 years after she murdered Martin Brown.