When I first saw the sweet little face of Mary Bell looking out at me through the television screen, I thought I had to have heard wrong. That beautiful little girl with the haunting eyes couldn’t possibly have killed anyone. Not on purpose. Looks can be deceiving.
Pretty little Mary Bell lived in Scotswood, England, and was ten years old in the year 1968. At that time, two young boys were found murdered in the neighborhood. The first death, that of Martin Brown, had been confusing for investigators, as the boy’s body showed no apparent cause of death. Once the second boy, Brian Howe was found, however, they understood that something sinister had happened to the first child as well as the second.
Mary Bell had a best friend named Norma Bell and they liked to torment the neighborhood children together. Many kids reported that they had been hurt by the two girls, naming Mary in most of the assaults. They bragged around the neighborhood that they had murdered. Surprisingly, the children and adults alike thought the girls were just talk. No one thought it strange that Mary had a preoccupation with death and dying and especially with the victims of the recent murders.
Mary also tormented Martin and Brian’s guardians with questions about their deaths and whether or not they missed them. She requested to see Martin’s dead body before he was even prepared for his funeral. At one of the funerals she was clearly giddy with excitement and giggled aloud during the service.
The most disturbing part in this case, however, was the details of the police interview with Mary. When she was questioned about Brian’s murder, Mary first tried to pin the deed on Norma. When questioned the second time, she gave a detailed confession that still placed the actions on her cohort. Even in these accusations, she showed extensive knowledge of the bodies and how the crimes were committed.
The ten year old who should have been too young to cover her tail completely gave it a very winning go, with details that painted Norma as the criminal and herself as the poor, innocent bystander. The fact that she knew enough to give fictitious details in her own defense, such as how she could never even kill a bird by choking it to death is horrifying. She showed herself to be a true psychopath and utterly manipulative.
Mary Bell also had a horrifying childhood to that point, having come from an abusive household where her mother worked as a prostitute and sometimes involved Mary in sexual interludes with her customers. It was also stated that Mary’s mother never wanted the little girl and beat and drug her. Being the victim of such abuse could well produce a demon spawn that did the things Mary did.
Mary was convicted of manslaughter for the murders and sent to prison. At the age of twenty three, she was released. She now has a daughter of her own. This is scary on many different levels. I’m not sure a child who experienced such a huge void of empathy for other human beings could ever be truly rehabilitated. She admits to having understood, even at ten years old, that it was important to say the right things to try and get out of trouble.
Since her release, how do we know Mary hasn’t simply learned how to play the game really well and avoid detection?