The Terrifying Tale of Mary Bell Who Killed Two Before She Was Twelve

You may have read about Mary Bell previously in our previous article but in case you don’t know the full story of this murderer, just a child herself, sit back and discover this sordid and incredibly dark tale.


“Why [can’t I strangle him]? Can it kill him?”

By aged twelve, Mary Bell had experienced more than most normal people do in a lifetime. Her mother, who was a prostitute, had allegedly attempted to kill her on several occasions (claiming she “accidentally” consumed sleeping pills or fell out the window). The very same mother had also subjected her to sexual abuse at the hands of men she knew.

Growing up, she was told never under any circumstances to refer to her father as “dad”. Instead she was to call him “uncle” so that her mother could continue claiming government assistance. After Bell’s arrest, a detective who visited her home described it as a having “no feeling of a home, just a shell”.

It is therefore unsurprising that Bell was a dark child, with even darker fantasies. She liked to inflict pain, once claiming that she liked “hurting little things that can’t [couldn’t] fight back”. At nursery school, a teacher witnessed Bell squeezing her hands around the neck of another child. When reprimanded, she questioned why she couldn’t do this. This wasn’t the only case of her exhibiting violent behaviour at school.

It is clear that these outbursts foreshadowed what was to come…


“I am a murderer!”

Four year-old Martin Brown was last seen alive at 15:15 on the 25th May 1968. Just fifteen minutes later he was found dead by a group of boys in a derelict house, with blood and saliva trickling down his little face.

As the boys alerted construction workers of their finding, they noticed Mary Bell and her friend Norma Bell (no relation) walking towards the house — Bell wanted to show her friend what she had done. After being told to go away, Mary ran to find Martin’s aunt to bring her to the body.

The forensic evidence didn’t suggest any foul play or violence — surprisingly, there were no strangulation marks on his body and the empty bottle of aspirin found at the scene suggested he may have consumed these accidentally. Martin Brown’s death was ruled as an accident without The Criminal Investigation Department even being called in.

Mary Bell’s behaviour after this incident was by any standard peculiar, to say the least. She would constantly pester his family with questions about if they missed him and once even asked to see Martin dead in his coffin.


The nursery vandalisation

Just a couple of days after Martin Brown’s murder, teachers at a local nursery school walked in to find it ransacked. The floor was strewn with handwritten notes — these were all claiming to have been written by the murderers of little Martin.

At the time, police considered the incident and the notes to be a sick joke but it would later come to light that both Bells had done it all “for a giggle”.


“Brian Howe had no mother, so he won’t be missed.”

Brian Howe was just three years-old when he met his death at the hands of Mary Bell, with Norma serving as her accomplice. The young boy was strangled to death in an industrial wasteland. After the murder, Mary actually returned to Brian’s body to further mutilate it: she carved an “M” onto his stomach, punctured his thighs with a pair of scissors and wounded his genital area.

When Brian’s sister was searching for the missing toddler, Mary even offered her help, and insisted she check the location where his body lay in order to shock her.

This time, the police investigation did narrow in on Bell as they were fuelled by her suspicious behaviour and changing witness accounts. A key break came when Mary described – in precise detail – a pair of scissors that were found at the crime scene (and used to mutilate the body). Based on this, police determined that either Mary, Norma or both had witnessed Brian’s death.

Finally, it was a statement by Norma where she admitted the Mary had killed the little boy that led to her eventual arrest.


“Murder isn’t that bad, we all die sometime anyway.”

During questioning, Bell remained calm, collected and aloof. At one stage, she refused to make anymore statements, claiming she had made enough and that Norma was a liar.

Eventually, she admitted being present when Brian died. However, she told police that Norma had strangled him. Nevertheless, alongside the forensic evidence and her bizarre behaviour, police saw through her lies and Mary was charged with the murder of Brian Howe, and, subsequently, Martin Brown.

Mary Bell underwent psychological evaluation and was determined as being possibly psychopathic. She remained relatively unresponsive during evaluation, omitting details about her past abuse which may have earned her a more sympathetic analysis. Psychologist Dr. Orton said that he had “never met one [a psychopathic child] like Mary: as intelligent, as manipulative, or as dangerous”.

The trial of Mary Bell and Norma Bell lasted nine days, during which time Mary did little to garner sympathy from those in the courtroom and the watching world. After the presentation of evidence, which included handwriting analysis from the school vandalisation and damning testimony from Norma, Mary was convicted of manslaughter by way of diminished responsibility and sentenced to twelve years imprisonment.

Twelve was the same number of years she’d been alive.

Mary Bell was released from prison in 1980 and was granted anonymity, which afforded her the opportunity to start her life again. Rumour has it that she became a grandmother in 2009.

Your turn: Do you think Mary Bell should have received a harsher sentence for her crimes? We know what we think but we’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.



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