“I know he’s dead. I wanted to see him in his coffin”
Bell’s name has entered the legal dictionary — a Mary Bell Order forbids publication of any information that could identify a child involved in legal proceedings — and is still a byword for childish wickedness. Mary Flora Bell was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England on 26 May 1957, the illegitimate daughter of Betty Bell, a 17-year-old, mentally disturbed prostitute. On 11 May 1968 Bell, then ten, and her friend Norma Joyce Bell (no kin) were playing with her three-year-old cousin on a disused air raid shelter when he apparently fell and injured himself.
The next day, three six-year-old girls complained after Bell had “squeezed their throats”. On 15 May the police spoke to Mary and Norma Bell. On 25 May two boys found the body of four-year-old Martin George Brown in a derelict house. The next day, Bell tried to strangle Norma Bell and had to be slapped away by Norma’s father. Later that day a nursery was broken into and vandalized. Four notes were found reading, “Fuch of, we murder, watch out, Fanny and Faggot”, “WE did murder Martin Brown, fuckof you Bastard”, “I murder SO that I may come back” and “You are micey Becurse we murdered Martin Go Brown you Bete Look out THERE are Murders about By FANNYAND and auld Faggot you Screws”.
On 30 May Bell knocked on the door of the Brown family home and asked to see Martin. Mrs Brown said, “Martin is dead” to which Bell responded, “Oh I know he’s dead. I wanted to see him in his coffin.” Two months later, on 31 July, three-year-old Brian Howe disappeared. Bell told his sister Pat that he might be playing on some concrete blocks near waste ground. His body was found there at 11.10pm that night. He had been strangled, had cuts on his legs and a hole in his stomach. Twelve hundred local children were questioned and Norma Bell admitted that she had been there when Brian was killed and that Mary Bell had been responsible. Bell claimed that Norma Bell had strangled the toddler.
Scotswood, Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Saturday 25 May 1968
Both girls went on trial on 5 December 1968 but while Norma was childlike, Mary Bell seemed to enjoy herself, parrying questions from barristers. A psychiatrist described her as “intelligent, manipulative, dangerous”. Bell had told a WPC that she wanted to be a nurse so she could stick needles into people, “I like hurting people.” Norma Bell was acquitted but on 17 December Bell was convicted of the “manslaughter due to diminished responsibility” of the two boys. She was sent to the Red Bank Special Unit from February 1969 until November 1973.
She became masculine in appearance, causing her mother to say, “Jesus Christ, what next? You’re a murderer and now you’re a lesbian.” In September 1977 she absconded from Moor Court Open Prison, lost her virginity and was recaptured after three days. She was released on 14 May 1980 and, unbelievably, was given a job in a children’s nursery.