true crime

"I like hurting people." The chilling words of 11-year-old serial killer, Mary Bell.

Mary Bell did not have the start in life that every child deserves.

She was born in one of the poorest parts of Newcastle in the UK to Betty Bell, a severely disturbed alcoholic who had been sectioned at least once, as reported by the Independent.

Betty worked as a prostitute specialising in BDSM and the first thing she said when baby Mary was placed in her arms was: “Get that thing away from me.”

According to the Independent, Betty completely rejected her daughter and repeatedly tried to kill her by overdosing her on sleeping tablets.

All she had known in her young life was poverty, rejection and violence.

In the weeks running up to her 11th birthday, Mary Bell began to act strangely.

According to Gitta Sereny, author of The Case of Mary Bell, Mary’s three-year-old cousin had been found behind a pub, bleeding from the head. It was initially thought that he had fallen off a ledge, but Mary later admitted to pushing him off.

A few days later she was accused of assaulting a seven-year-old girl in a school sandpit by putting her hands around her throat and attempting to throttle her. The police had been called and Mary had been warned to stay away from the young girl.

Then, on May 25, 1968, four-year-old Martin Brown was found dead in a derelict house by three boys who were looking for scrap wood.

Shortly after police were called, Mary Bell turned up at the scene with her friend Norma Bell (no relation) but was told to go away.

The girls went to find Martin’s aunt to tell her there had been an accident. In the days that followed they quizzed her constantly: “Do you miss Martin? Do you cry for him?”

The days after Martin’s body was discovered, there was a break-in at nearby Woodlands Crescent Day nursery, and police searching the premises made a chilling discovery. There were bizarre notes strewn around the place. One read: Look out, there are murders about. 

Another said: We did murder Martin Brown. F*** off, you b*stard.

Police thought the notes were nothing more than a sick joke.

In the meantime, a pathologist had been unable to establish a cause of death – there were no obvious signs of violence and an empty bottle of aspirin was found nearby – maybe he took those?

Defeated, police simply regarded the case as an unsolved mystery.

That is, until two months later, when three-year-old Brian Howe was found dead on a construction site.

According to author Scott Black who wrote about the case, this time, police were in no doubt there had been a murder. Signs of strangulation were obvious. A pair of scissors were found near the body; there were puncture marks in his thighs and his genitals had been severely damaged.


The letter ‘M’ had been carved into his stomach with a razor blade.

The next day, Mary’s friend Norma went to the police. She told officers that Mary had told her she’d killed Brian and had taken her to see the body.

Mary was arrested and eventually charged with Brian’s murder. She made a statement in which she admitted being there when Brian died, but placed most of the blame on Norma.

Norma Bell was also charged with murder.

Now, police began to look at the mysterious death of Martin Brown as a murder. The cases were linked and another murder charge was laid on the girls.

As reported by Scott Black in True Crime: 12 Notorious Murder stories, while Mary was on remand in prison, a prison guard recalled asking the 11-year-old what she wanted to be when she grew up. Mary replied that she would like to be a nurse so she could stick needles in people.

“I like hurting people,” she said.

The trial of two such young girls captured the attention of the entire horrified nation.

According to Sereny, when Mary Bell took the stand, the atmosphere in the court changed. She wrote: “The public and press galleries were very full, the only day when the atmosphere in the court – unlike other days – was faintly tinged with that morbid fascination one associates with certain types of murder trials.”

Mary was “composed,” the author said. She denied any involvement in the murder of Martin Brown. She said she was there when Brian Howe had died; that she had watched Norma strangle him.

The jury did not believe her. While Norma was acquitted of both crimes, Mary Bell was found guilty of double manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Mary cried. Her family, who had been in the court room, did not comfort her.

Her sentence was for an undetermined amount of time. In the end, she served 12 years in an all-boys facility, the only place deemed suitable for her incarceration. She was released in 1980, age 23, under a new identity.

According to the Telegraph, Bell began to shoplift upon her release in the hopes of being sent back to prison. She is said to have described the ‘real world’ as “strange and alien”.

Bell had a daughter four years after her release, and in 2009, the Telegraph reported that she had become a grandmother, age 51.

Commenting on reports of the birth of Bell’s grandchild, June Richardson, Martin Brown’s mum, told the newspaper: “A child is a blessing. She took my blessing and left me with grief for the rest of my life. I hope when she looks at this child she remembers the two she murdered.

“I will never see a grandchild from my son. I hope every time she looks at this baby she realises what my family are missing out on because of what she’s done.”