Mary Bell: The Eleven-Year-Old Serial Killer


In 1968, a mere 10-year-old Mary Bell from Newcastle, England took the life of her initial victim, a toddler named Martin Brown, aged four, leaving behind eerie messages of confession for his relatives.

A couple of months after, Bell tragically ended the life of a three-year-old, Brian Howe, leaving his body mutilated. Additionally, Bell made attempts to end the lives of multiple children and, through her letters, expressed her desire to continue her murderous spree.

Her reign of terror ended when law enforcement intervened swiftly. Despite committing these heinous acts at an incredibly tender age, Mary Bell was freed from incarceration at the age of 23 after fulfilling a 12-year term for her two brutal acts.

Since then, she has lived without confinement. Such is the chilling tale of Mary Bell. Born on May 26, 1957, Mary Bell came into the world as the daughter of Betty McCrickett, a teenage prostitute.

Reportedly, upon seeing her baby, she demanded the doctors to “remove that child from my sight.” From that point on, things deteriorated. Often, McCrickett would embark on so-called “business” ventures to Glasgow.

Yet, her absences felt like relief periods for young Mary, who endured both mental and physical torment whenever her mother was around. An incident where McCrickett attempted to hand Mary over to a lady desperate to adopt was thwarted by McCrickett’s sister, who intervened and brought Mary back.

There were also mysterious accidents involving Mary, like her fall from a window and a seemingly unintentional overdose on sedatives. While some believe these incidents were Betty’s attempts to free herself from parental duties, others speculate it could be a manifestation of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, with Betty seeking attention through her child’s mishaps.

Mary Bell later claimed that from as young as four, her mother involved her in prostitution — though no family member has confirmed this. They were, however, aware of a traumatic event where Mary witnessed her five-year-old companion being fatally struck by a bus.

Considering her turbulent past, family members weren’t shocked that by the age of 10, Mary Bell displayed signs of being an aloof, cunning child, always teetering towards aggression. But many things remained hidden from them.

Prior to her inaugural murder, Mary’s behavior was notably odd. On May 11, 1968, while playing, a three-year-old boy suffered severe injuries after plummeting from an air-raid shelter’s top. His guardians assumed it was just a mishap.

The next day, three distressed mothers informed the police that Mary had tried to choke their daughters. After a brief questioning and a warning from the police, the matter was dropped without any legal action.

However, on May 25, a day before her eleventh birthday, Mary asphyxiated Martin Brown, a four-year-old, in a deserted residence in Scotswood, England.

After leaving the site, she came back with a companion, Norma Bell (unrelated), only to discover that a pair of local boys, who had been playing nearby, had already stumbled across the corpse.

The investigation puzzled the officers. Apart from minor traces of blood and saliva on Martin’s face, there was no evident violent act. An empty painkiller container near Martin was the only other clue, leading them to speculate an accidental overdose as the cause of death.

A few days post Martin’s death, Mary unexpectedly showed up at the Browns’ residence, requesting to view Martin. After his mother gently reminded her of Martin’s passing, Mary chillingly stated her awareness and expressed a desire to view his corpse.

Disturbed, Martin’s mother forcefully closed the door. Soon after, Mary and Norma illicitly entered a nursery, leaving scribbled messages admitting to Martin Brown’s murder and a warning of future killings.

Dismissing these notes as a sinister joke, the nursery responded by installing an alarm system, hoping to deter further intrusions. Days later, the duo, Mary and Norma, were spotted near the nursery.

However, since they were merely hanging around when law enforcement showed up, they faced no consequences. During this period, Mary was confessing to her schoolmates about her role in Martin Brown’s demise.

But given her notorious reputation for exaggeration and deception, none believed her. This skepticism persisted until yet another boy’s lifeless body was discovered.

On July 31, just two months post the initial homicide, Mary Bell, accompanied by her accomplice Norma, ended the life of three-year-old Brian Howe through asphyxiation.

What was more harrowing was that Bell used scissors to disfigure the boy’s body, marking his thighs and causing grievous harm to his genitalia. When Brian’s sibling initiated a search for him, both Mary and Norma stepped forward to assist. As they combed the vicinity, Mary indicated towards the cement blocks that concealed Brian’s remains.

However, with Norma dismissing the possibility of finding him there, the search shifted elsewhere.

Once Brian’s lifeless form was eventually discovered, dread swept the community: another young boy had been killed. Authorities then began interviewing neighborhood kids in hopes of unearthing any evidence pointing toward a perpetrator.

The subsequent coroner’s findings sent shockwaves through the investigators. As the temperature of Brian’s blood dropped, an unexpected mark became visible on his torso: an “M” carved out using a razor blade.

An even more unsettling revelation was the mild force behind the attack, hinting at the possibility of the culprit being a minor. During their police interactions, neither Mary nor Norma excelled in keeping their curiosity in check.

Norma exhibited overt enthusiasm, while Mary became notably deflective, particularly when confronted about being seen with Brian on the day he met his tragic end. On Brian’s funeral day, Mary was noticed near his residence, and her reaction to the sight of his casket was a chilling mix of laughter and animated hand gestures.

Subsequent police interactions led Mary to concoct a tale about witnessing an eight-year-old boy assaulting Brian on the fatal day with a pair of fractured scissors. This falsehood proved to be Mary’s undoing.

The detail about using scissors to disfigure Brian was confidential, known solely to the investigative team and the actual culprit. Upon persistent grilling, both Norma and Mary crumbled. While Norma chose to cooperate, revealing Mary’s involvement, Mary accepted being present at the crime scene but attempted to shift the blame onto Norma.

Eventually, a trial was scheduled for both. The prosecuting attorney postulated that Mary’s motive revolved around the sheer thrill derived from the act of killing. British media, on the other hand, labeled the young offender as inherently malevolent.

In December, the jury found Mary Bell culpable, although the conviction was manslaughter due to her apparent psychopathic tendencies, making her less accountable. Norma was perceived as having been manipulated and was consequently exonerated.

The presiding judge deemed Mary a peril, especially to children, and imposed a sentence to be served “at Her Majesty’s pleasure,” a term indicating a non-fixed duration.

After 12 years, acknowledging her apparent reform, authorities released Mary in 1980 under stringent probation conditions. A new identity was assigned to shield her from media scrutiny. Yet, she had to relocate multiple times, avoiding relentless media and public attention.

Life took a challenging turn when Mary became a mother in 1984. Her child remained unaware of Mary’s dark past until the age of 14 when a publication unearthed their whereabouts.

They faced intense media scrutiny, necessitating their exit from home draped in sheets for anonymity. Currently, both Mary and her daughter are under protective custody at an undisclosed location. Their anonymity is legally safeguarded.

However, this protection is a point of contention. Martin Brown’s mother, June Richardson, voiced her discontent to the press, stating that the rights of victims aren’t held in the same regard as those of perpetrators.

Presently, Mary Bell remains under the UK government’s protection, with specific court mandates preserving convict identities often informally termed “Mary Bell orders.”