Mary Bell was an abused child of a prostitute who turned murderer at the age of only 11-years old!
The case of perhaps the most notorious and youngest serial killer ever began when – the body of Martin Brown, a four-year-old boy, was discovered dead in Scotswood, England, on May 24th, 1968, inciting fear and dread throughout the community.
Initially, the public and the authorities mistook his death for just a tragic accident, and no charges were filed. However, a few weeks later, on July 31st, 1968, another terrible murder sparked terror in the neighborhood when the body of three-year-old Brian Howe was discovered, and now police and the public feared they had a serial killer of children on their hands!
People were outraged by the horrible killings. This time there could be no mistake. Brian’s neck had been crushed, his hair was cut off, his legs and genitals had been mutilated, and the letter “M” had been carved into his belly!
The police now began their search for the murderer — where that eventually led no one could have predicted.
The heinous killer could be anyone or anywhere. Police really did not know where to start looking for a monster in their midst. Authorities gathered preliminary information about the region and known criminals. They made other children who may have known or seen something the focus of their investigation and questioned many local kids about the murders. Two of the local girls, Norma Belle and Mary Bell (unrelated), seemed to “act suspiciously.”
Who Was Mary Bell?
Mary had a family with a sordid past. Mary Flora Bell was born in England on May 26th, 1957. She was the daughter of a prostitute, and to this day, her father is still unknown. Mary’s mother, Betty Bell, was only 16 when she gave birth to Mary. At the time of her birth, it was reported that Betty said to doctors, “get that thing away from me.”
A few months after Mary was born, Betty, Mary’s mother, married Billy Bell, a known thief with a criminal history. As a young girl, Mary had a history of behaving violently. She was known to beat her classmates and perform acts of vandalism in Newcastle upon Tyne, the tough town in which she was raised.
Billy Bell was said to have sexually assaulted and abused Mary while Betty was “away” turning tricks. Betty’s own sister witnessed Betty try to give Mary away to a woman who had been unsuccessfully trying to adopt; the sister quickly recovered Mary herself. Mary was also strangely accident-prone; she once “fell” from a window and, on another occasion, “accidentally” overdosed on sleeping pills.
Some attribute the accidents to Betty’s determination to rid herself of an encumbrance, while others see the symptoms of Munchausen syndrome by proxy; Betty longed for the attention, and sympathy her daughter’s accidents brought her.
During her trial for the murders of Brown and Howe, Mary said that her mother had hired her out as a prostitute beginning as young as 4-years-old, but that had never been corroborated. But given the known horrific abuse she was subjected to it, it was no surprise that she had grown as twisted and violent as she had become.
Mary Was Violent and Obsessed With Death
Like many older serial killers, Mary had been violent and obsessed with death at a very young age. However, unlike other notorious serial killers like Jeffry Dahmer or Ted Bundy, Mary did not wait to become an adult to act on her violent impulses – she lured Martin Brown to his death when she was a mere 11-years old!
For weeks before her first murder, Mary Bell had been acting strangely. On May 11th, 1968, Mary had been playing with a three-year-old boy when he was badly injured in a fall from the top of an air-raid shelter; his parents thought it was an accident.
Then on May 25th, the day before she turned 11, Mary Bell strangled four-year-old Martin Brown to death in an abandoned house in Scotswood, England.
As it turned out, Mary was with her friend Norma Jean Belle (no relation) on the evening of her eleventh birthday, May 25th, 1968. The duo planned to set an ambush for Martin Brown, a 4-year-old neighbor’s boy. They lured him in by offering him candies, then took him to an old building nearby, where Mary choked him to death. When the child’s parents failed to see him return, they alerted the police, and the body was discovered the following morning. At first, the case was dropped as an accident since there were no visible traces of an assault on the child’s body.
But Mary began acting very odd after Martin’s body had been discovered. Apparently, Mary Bell showed up at Martin’s home in the days after his death and asked to see him. His mother gently explained to her that Martin was dead, but Mary said she already knew that; she wanted to see his body in the coffin. Martin’s mother slammed the door in her face.
Then, Mary and Norma broke into the nursery school that Martin had attended, leaving notes that they had killed Martin and planned to kill again, but the police thought the kids were just pulling a childish prank and let them go – despite Mary bragging to classmates that she indeed had killed Martin.
A Second Murder
Perhaps driven by the fact that she got away with it or determined to prove to the world that she was not lying about being a killer, Norma and Mary plotted to kill again. This time, 3-year-old Brian Howe was the target. Like Martine, he was lured with the promise of candy and then murdered. But, this time, the baby-faced murders went further, leaving little doubt that this was a sadistic crime and no accident. They etched an “M” on the child’s chest with scissors, cut his hair and genitals, and dumped the body in a field.
After ruling out, “the usual suspects,” police focused their attention on focusing the area child, and in particular, they concentrated on Mary and Norma, who had been acting so strangely after the murders. Under intense questioning, Mary confessed to the two murders providing detectives with details that this time left no doubt she was telling the truth.
She implicated Norma, and the two were arrested. But, Norma was released as an “inactive participant” in the crimes, and Mary, alone, was charged with the brutal crimes – all the more shocking now that it was known that the violent murders were perpetrated by a child!
Conviction and a New Life
The jury agreed that Mary Bell had committed the murders and handed down a guilty verdict in December. Manslaughter, not murder, was the conviction, as court psychiatrists had convinced the jury that Mary Bell showed “classic symptoms of psychopathy” and could not be held fully responsible for her actions.
Mary Bell was condemned to life imprisonment on December 17th, 1968. Mary stayed in prison till 1980, when, after undergoing many psychiatric therapies throughout her imprisonment, she was certified “recovered” under British law
Upon her release, Mary Bell was given a new identity to provide her with a chance at a new life and protect her from tabloid attention. Even still, she was forced to move several times to escape hounding by tabloids, newspapers, and the general public, which somehow always found ways of tracking her down.
Things grew worse for Bell after she had her daughter in 1984. Bell’s daughter didn’t know about her mother’s crimes until she was 14, when a tabloid paper was able to find Bell’s common-law husband and thus track Bell down.
Today, Bell is in protective custody at a secret address. Both she and her daughter remain anonymous and are protected under court order.
Some feel she doesn’t deserve the protection. June Richardson, the mother of Martin Brown, told the media, “It’s all about her and how she has to be protected. As victims, we are not given the same rights as killers.”
Nevertheless, Mary Bell remains protected by the British government today, and court rulings protecting the identities of certain convicts are even unofficially referred to as “Mary Bell orders.”