Born in 1957, Mary Bell was the daughter of a prostitute who often left for weeks at a time, leaving Mary with her stepfather or other relatives.
At age 10, she had her first brush with the law: Mary and her friend Norma Bell (age 13, no relation), were questioned when Mary’s 3 year old cousin, John, was found injured, bleeding from the head. The girls both gave the same statement that they had no idea what happened.
The next day, a neighbor called the police and said that Mary or Norma had tried to strangle her daughter, Pauline (age 7), and her 2 friends Cindy and Susan (both age 6).
Norma gave her statement: “Mary put both hands round Cindy’s throat and squeezed. The girl started to go purple. I told Mary to stop, but she wouldn’t. She did this for a while and then she put her hands round Pauline’s throat and she started to go purple as well. Both Pauline and the other girl were crying. Another girl, Susan, came up and Mary did the same to her. Susan had some rock (sweet rock) and Mary took this off her. I said to Mary, ‘There’s be trouble,’ and then Mary asked me if I wanted some rock. I said ‘Yes,’ and had a piece from her. I then ran off and left Mary, I am not friends with her now.”
Mary’s statement was different from Norma’s. "I went behind the shed to play. When I was behind the shed I heard Pauline scream. I came up from behind the shed and saw Pauline running away towards the fence. She was holding her throat and screaming. I asked Norma what happened and she said that Pauline had fallen and hurt her throat on the edge of the sandpit.”
The police informed the Children’s Department but didn’t take any further action.
The Murder of Martin Brown
About 2 weeks later, the body of 4 year old Martin Brown was found in an abandoned house by 3 boys. Police arrived within minutes. Mary took Norma to the crime scene to show her what she had done to Martin, but they were told to leave so they went to Martin’s aunt and told her there was an accident and that Martin was involved. Mary told Martin’s aunt she would take her to the scene. Police found an empty bottle of Aspirin near Martins body, and since there was no indication of foul play Martin’s death was ruled an accident.
Soon, Mary and Norma began harassing Martin’s aunt, asking questions like: “Do you miss Martin?” ”Do you cry for him?” ”Does his mom miss him?” They were always smiling and laughing when they asked and finally she had enough and told the girls to leave and never come back.
Another day Mary went to Martin’s mothers house as asked to see Martin. When she was told Martin was dead, she smiled and said “oh I know he’s dead. I wanted to see him in his coffin.” His mother slammed the door in her face.
A couple days later, it was discovered that a Day Nursery nearby broken into and vandalized. There were 4 notes found and read as follows:
“I murder so THAT I may come back”
“fuch of we murder watch out Fanny and Faggot”
“we did murder Martain brown Fuck of you Bastard”
“You are micey Becurse we murdered Martain Go Brown you Bete Look out THERE are Murders about By FANNYAND and auld Faggot you Srcews”
The police disregarded them, assuming it was a prank, and the facility put in an alarm system.
A few days later the alarm went off. Police arrived and Mary and Norma were caught. They denied having anything to do with the previous break in and police took them home to their parents.
The Murder Of Brian Howe
Around 2 months later, while Mary was at 3 year old Brian Howe’s parents home, Martin Brown’s murder was brought up and Mary said “I know something about Norma that will get her put away. Norma put her hands on a boy’s throat. It was Martin Brown. She pressed and he just dropped.”
A few days later, Brian Howe disappeared. Mary and Norma as well as other locals looking for him, and Mary suggested that Brian might be behind a pile of cement blocks, but his sister said he wouldn’t be back there.
Police came and Brian’s body was found in the very place Mary said to look. It was obvious he had been strangled, had stab wounds on his thighs, his genitals were partly skinned, and clumps of his hair were cut off. An ‘M’ had been carved on his stomach and they was a broken pair of scissors next to him.
The next day all the neighborhood children were questioned, including Mary and Norma. They both admitted to have spent that day together, but their statements didn’t match up and they changed their story twice. Mary claimed that she had seen an 8 year old boy playing with Brian. She said she saw him hit Brian for no reason and said he was playing with a pair of silver coloured scissors that had something wrong with them. No indication of scissors being found near the body was made public, no one knew outside of the police about the scissors.
The Chief Inspector on the case stated, “By the night of Friday, August 2 we had pretty well eliminated everybody except for Mary and Norma Bell, it had to be them or one of them.”
When a detective went to question Norma about the inconsistencies of her statement, she broke down and told him that Mary had taken her to Martin’s body and said “I squeezed his neck and pushed up his lungs. That’s how you kill them. Keep your nose dry and don’t tell anybody.”
The Chief Inspector then took Norma to the blocks and Norma reached under and pulled out a tiny Gillette razor blade. They took Norma to the police station and had her write a formal statement.
Mary Bell Is Taken Down
Around midnight, detectives woke Mary Bell and brought down to the station for questioning, but she stuck to her story. Without proof, they let her go.
At Brian’s funeral, witnesses saw Mary laughing and later that day police brought Mary back in. She finally agreed to give a statement and claimed that Norma killed Brian. “Norma started to feel up and down his neck. She squeezed it hard, you could tell it was hard because her fingertips were going white. Brian was struggling, and I was pulling her shoulders, but she went mad… His face was all white and bluey, and his eyes were open… Norma covered him and I said, ‘Norma, I’ve got nothing to do with this. I should tell on you but I’ll not.”
On Thursday, December 5, 1968, Mary and Norma were put on trial for the murders of Martin Brown and Brian Howe. They continued to put the blame on each other, but Norma’s story was much more believable.
The jury found Mary guilty of Manslaughter on Martin Brown and Brian Howe. Norma was cleared of any charges. Mary was sentenced to detention for life, but if at any time psychiatrists thought Mary was no longer a danger to others she could be released. In 1980, at the age of 23, Mary was finally released and eventually was granted lifelong anonymity.