Mary Bell: Wikis


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Mary Bell

Mary Bell at the time of her arrest in 1968
Born 26 May 1957 (1957-05-26) (age 52)
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Alias(es) The Tyneside Strangler
Conviction(s) Manslaughter
Penalty 12 years imprisonment (effective)
Status Living
Children 1

Mary Flora Bell (born May 26, 1957 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England) was convicted in December 1968 of the manslaughter of two boys, Martin Brown (aged four years) and Brian Howe (aged three years). Bell was ten years old at the time of one of the killings, and eleven at the time of the other.


Early life

Bell's mother Betty (born McCrickett) was a prostitute who was often absent from the family home, travelling to Glasgow to work. Mary (nicknamed May)[1] was her first child, born when Betty was 17 years old. It is not known who Mary's biological father was; for most of her life she believed it to be Billy Bell, an habitual criminal later arrested for armed robbery who had married Betty some time after Mary was born. Independent accounts from family members suggest strongly that Betty had attempted to kill Mary and make her death look accidental more than once during the first few years of her life. Mary herself says she was subject to repeated sexual abuse, her mother forcing her from the age of four to engage in sex acts with men.


On May 25, 1968, the day before her 11th birthday, Mary Flora Bell strangled Martin Brown. She was believed to have committed this crime alone. Between that time and the second killing, she and her friend Norma Joyce Bell (no relation), age thirteen, broke into and vandalised a nursery in Scotswood, leaving notes that claimed responsibility for the Brown killing. The Newcastle police dismissed this incident as a prank.

On 31 July 1968, the two took part in the death, again by strangulation, of three-year-old Brian Howe. Police reports concluded that Mary Bell had gone back after killing him to carve an "N" into his stomach with a razor; this was then changed using the same razor but with a different hand from an "M". Mary Bell also used a pair of scissors to cut off bits of Brian Howe's hair and to mutilate his genitals. As the girls were so young and their testimonies contradicted each other, what happened has never been entirely clear. Martin Brown's death was initially ruled an accident as there was no evidence of foul play. Eventually, his death was linked with Brian Howe's killing and in August, the two girls were charged with two counts of manslaughter.


On 17 December 1968, Norma was acquitted but Mary was convicted of "manslaughter due to diminished responsibility", the jury taking their lead from her diagnosis by court-appointed psychiatrists who described her as displaying "classic symptoms of psychopathology". She was sentenced to be "detained at Her Majesty's pleasure": effectively an indefinite sentence of imprisonment.[1]

From the time of her conviction onward, Mary was the focus of a great deal of attention from the British press and also from the German Stern magazine. Her mother repeatedly sold stories about her to the press and often gave reporters writings she claimed to be Mary's. Bell herself made headlines when in September 1977, she briefly absconded from Moore Court open prison, where she had been imprisoned since her transfer from a young offender's institution to an adult prison a year earlier.

Life after prison

Bell was released from custody in 1980, having served 12 years, and was granted anonymity to start a new life (under a new name) with her daughter, who was born in 1984. For a time, Bell lived in Cumberlow in South Norwood (a house built by Victorian inventor William Stanley).[2] This daughter did not know of her mother's past until Bell's location was discovered by reporters and she and her mother had to leave their house with bed sheets over their heads.

The daughter's anonymity was originally protected until she reached the age of 18. However, on 21 May 2003, Bell won a High Court battle to have her own anonymity and that of her daughter extended for life. Any court order permanently protecting the identity of someone is consequently known as a Mary Bell Order.

Bell is the subject of two books by Gitta Sereny; The Case of Mary Bell (1972), an account of the killings and trial, and Cries Unheard: the Story of Mary Bell (1998), an in-depth biography based on interviews with Bell and relatives, friends and professionals who knew her during and after her imprisonment. This second book was the first to detail Bell's account of sexual abuse by her mother, a prostitute who specialized as a dominatrix, and her mother's clients.

The publication of Cries Unheard was controversial because Bell received payment for her participation. The payment was criticised by the tabloid press, and the Blair government attempted to find a legal means to prevent its publication on the grounds that a criminal should not profit from his or her crimes, but the attempt was unsuccessful.

Bell's case (as well as the James Bulger Murder) was used as the basis for a 1999 episode of Law & Order entitled Killerz. Hallee Hirsh played the Mary Bell analogue.

Bell's case was also used as the basis for an episode of the short-lived 2005 series The Inside entitled Everything Nice. Jennette McCurdy played the Mary Bell analogue.

See Also

  • Murder of James Bulger
  • Boy A, a 2004 novel later adapted as a film that details the release and attempted re-integration into society of a British child criminal.


  1. ^ a b "BBC On This Day / 17 December / 1968: Mary Bell found guilty of double killing". 
  2. ^ Akpan, Eloïse (2000). The Story of William Stanley - A Self-made Man. London: Eloïse Akpan. pp. 40. ISBN 0-9538577-0-0. 
  • Sereny, Gitta. Cries Unheard. Macmillan, London, 1998. Hardback ISBN 0-333-73524-2; paperback ISBN 0-333-75311-9

External links

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