"Look out, there are murderers about."

-found written on a nursery school wall



In 1968 America, eighteen year old boys were preparing to be sent half a world away, to fight and kill a fairy tale monster called the Vietcong. The government was sending them away to do battle with the evils of communism, a horror that was only somewhat tangible to the Free World and its doctrines of peace and love.

In 1968 Scotwood, England, a run-down inner-city suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne, an unknown assailant was busily murdering young boys and leaving cryptic messages scrawled on nursery walls. There were glaring differences in how America and England's troubles were ended, however. Saigon fell, if only after tens of thousands of young men died horrible deaths, in the jungles of a country they had never known. England, which prides itself on civility, had to learn to deal with a beast in the form of an eleven year old girl.

Her name was Mary Bell, a wickedly intelligent, manipulative, cold little girl with dazzling blue eyes and dark, short hair. Mary was one to tell 'tall tales', according to school teachers who knew her, and she was also one to kill. More than once, and completely, unbashedley without remorse.

The summer of 1968 saw the disappearance of two toddlers. Bordering the town was a railroad, an abandoned home, and an old construction site. Normally places where the children played, they would also figure in to the deaths of Brian Howe, 3, and Martin Brown.

Early in August, Mary Bell and her friend Norma Bell, (the girls were not related,) offered to help Brian Howe's sister Pat search for the boy, who had not come from being out playing. Pat accepted the girls' offer, and they set off to look.

The whole while, Mary and Norma led Pat on a fruitless search through the usual places children played. Finally they found themselves in the town's broken-down industrial area, and a series of huge concrete blocks that children were warned never to play on.

At a loss, Mary surmised that 'he might be playing behind the blocks, or between them.' Norma countered that little boys, even those as young as Brian, knew better. The industrial area and the railroad tracks were a dangerous place to play. With no Brian safely in tow, Pat Howe, Mary, and Norma went home and notified the police.

The Newcastle Police Department pulled Brian Howe's body from between the stone blocks at 11:00 p.m. that night. He had been strangled, puncture wounds were dotting his thighs, his hair had been cut, and, worst of all, his penis had been partially skinned. When authorities removed his clothing they found the letter 'M' cut into his stomach, which may have been inflicted with the broken scissors found lying nearby. Parents and children panicked.

Police invaded the town, and immeadiately found Mary and Norma Bell suspicious. They were reported to have been smiling the entire time, as if it were all 'a huge joke'. Even more alarming and creepy, detectives noticed bizarre reactions to the funeral on Mary Bell's behalf. When the coffin was carried from the Howe's home, she merely rubbed her hands together and laughed, delighted at the spectacle.

Sadly, Brian Howe was the second child who had died at Mary's small hands. In May 1968, young Martin Brown disappeared while playing, and was found on May 25th, dead inside an abandoned house on the outskirts of Scotswood. The police, with no leads, declared the cause of the boy's death as 'open'.

Mary had been a time bomb, it seemed, even before she culminated her actions into murder. On May 11th, a young boy was found outside a pub bleeding from a head wound. Mary Bell, who had asked before, "When you choke someone, do they die?", told adults that the boy had fallen from a ledge. In reality, it was later discovered, she had pushed him.

On May 15th, four days after attempting to kill the young boy, Mary choked two playmates in the playground at Day Nursery in Woodlands Crescent, what we call an elementary school. Ten days later, she took Martin Brown's life.

Regarded as a loudmouth and a girl who loved to brag, Mary and her friend Norma would visit Martin's aunt's home and grill her. She has stated that the girls asked her, "Do you miss him? Do you cry for him? Does June [Martin's mother] miss him?" Eventually, repulsed by their gleefulness, she orderered them never to come back.

Two days following Martin's murder, the Day Nursery was broken into. With all the characteristics of adult killers, Mary and Norma scrawled cryptic, frightening notes on the walls and tore the school apart, ransacking everything inside. Scrawled on the walls in their childish handwriting were these words: (Errors have been corrected by me for ease in reading.)

"I murder so that I may come back. Fuck off, we murder. Watch out, Fanny and Faggot." (Fanny was alledgedley Norma's alias, Faggot was Mary's.)

"We did murder Martin. Fuck off you bastard."

After her capture, Mary passed off the writings as something they did 'for a giggle'.

Luckily, before Mary Bell could kill again, she was apprehended by shocked police, disgusted that such a small child could act with such relentless evil. She is said to have told attorneys, "I like hurting little things that can't fight back."

As if her own proud admission to the crimes wasn't enough, gray fibers from Mary's clothing were found on the bodies of both Brian Howe and Martin Brown. The trial, a media frenzy for its day, lasted nine days. It culminated in the jury find Norma guilty of the breaking and entering of Day Nursery, and Mary guilty of manslaughter by diminished responsibility, due to her age. Norma was given probation. Mary was given detention for life.

Finally, the little girl cried.

She was placed in a boy's home, since prison was not deemed appropriate, and she was considered far too dangerous for a home for troubled girls. At age 23 she was set free, and after living with her mother for some time, becoming addicted to drugs, and spending time in intensive therapy, Mary Bell became a mother herself. She is currently living free and clear, with no supervision.

When asked about her crimes, she is reluctant to assume responsibility. Recently she and her family were driven from their home when villagers learned of her identity. Signs were posted screaming "Murderer Out!", and, with blankets covering their faces, she and her family escaped a mob not unlike the final scene in Frankenstein, where the enraged villagers drive the monster from their home.

In a twist only this horror story could have, it was then that Mary Bell's daughter discovered that her own mother was the Mary Bell of British history, the child killer who was but a child herself.


Those Involved

Mary Bell at the time of her crimes.

Mary Bell at age 16.

June Richardson, Martin Brown's mother, holding a photograph of her son.

A portion of the note found at Day Nursery.

A page from Mary Bell's diary, depicting Martin Brown's body in the abandoned house.


Author's Note


As a human being who has feelings, I find the case of Mary Bell one of the most sickening, disenheartening episodes in history. What causes an eleven year old girl to carry through with such hideous acts, especially against other children?

Psychologists and those involved in the science of criminology have made great advances since 1968. We now know that as a child, Mary exhibited classic examples of psychosis, or traits that could eventually lead to psychosis. As mentioned before in this site, there is a phenomenon called the 'Homicidal Triad', and includes late bed-wetting, a preoccupation with starting fires, and cruelty to animals. Although there is no evidence of fire-starting with Mary Bell, she was prone to destructiveness in her early years. She was a late bed-wetter, and while incarcerated before her trial told guards that she was terrified of 'messing the bed'. She was also reprimanded often by neighbors, relatives, and strangers for cruelty to animals.

Her childhood may also have contributed to her crimes. Although not an exscusal, many serial killers have experienced terrible abuse or dysfunctional, (to say the least,) family lives. Mary's mother was a prositute, who oftentimes left for Glasgow, England on 'business'. Her father figure, (her biological father was absent,) was a thief and spent time in prison. Those who have studied her case have discovered that several times during her early childhood, even as early as her first year of life, Mary experienced overdoses of medication. Once, she ingested so many iron tablets that her stomach had to be pumped. The pills had been hidden in a tiny space inside a record player, and authorities speculate that her mother may have been inflicting the overdoses on her own child. Such a condition is referred to an Munchausen-by-Proxy syndrome, and is characterized by a parents deliberately causing their children to become ill, (sometimes resulting in death,) in order to receive attention. By all accounts, Mary's mother was always making attempts at martyrdom, and can be quoted as saying during the trial, "Jesus was only nailed to the cross, I am being hammered." Her mother was also one for dramatics, and, bluntly, whored out her daughter's story to the press during and after the trial.

Was Mary Bell a victim of circumstance, driven to psychopathology by a serial of major overdoses, which have been known to cause severe brain damage in very young children? Did these incidents and the added trauma of an unstable home cause her to kill? Or was she simply born bad, a psychopath who was never able to comprehend her actions?

The recent school shootings in Jonesboro, AR and Littleton, CO, as weary as we are of hearing about them, are not the first of their kind. Children, it seems, have been carrying out very adult crimes for decades now.


Recently, I was lucky enough to exchange a few emails with former Detective Chief Inspector Ron Wright of the Northumberland County Constabulary, UK. Mr. Wright was on the police force at the time of the Bell murders, and graciously corrected a few factual points in the story and allowed me to share his experiences on this site. The following is his recall of the events.


"The investigation of the murders of Mary Bell were investigated by the Newcastle City Police who policed the City of Newcastle. The surrounding area to the east,west and north of the City was Northumberland County which was policed by Northumberland County Constabulary.

"I joined Northumberland County Constabulary.

"Within the City of Newcastle was the Northumberland Assizes - A court going back centuries where a High Court Judge sits. He had the power up until 1965? to pass the death penalty - death by hanging. In theory we still have the death penalty for Arson in Her Majesty's Dockyards and Treason but it is never used. There is a body of opinion that all of the IRA terrorists were guilty of treason as they tried to overthrow the state and were therefore eligible to be hung.

"The Northumberland Assize Court pre-dates the formation of the police force and became a small piece of Northumberland within the City of Newcastle. It was therefore policed by Northumberland County officers.

"I was present throughout the trial and the public gallery was full. The Scotswood area of Newcastle was very lower working class with a high crime rate and a lot of social deprivation. Most of those living there would not be invited for tea at yours or my house. Feelings were running very high and throughout the trial Bell sat impassively and showed little feeling or remorse. A second girl [Norma Bell] was also tried for murder at the same time but was acquitted.

"Bell was detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure until around the age of 20 when she was released. She was given a new identity and came to live about 5 miles from where I live where she eventually married and had a child. Our press are very much more active and investigative than yours and they operate with "no holds barred." An investigative journalist "outed" Bell and she had to move again and with another identity. Her current whereabouts are unknown. I think she has been "outed" at least twice since.

"Mary Bell was probably the first child murderer in modern time to make such an international impact. However since them we have had just as bad crimes especially the abduction and killing of James Bulger by two 11/12 year olds.

"34 years as a police officer convinced me that there are evil people who are borne evil. I am not an unintelligent man and have followed the nature v. nurture debate but there are occasions when the cruelty shown by a human being on another human being is difficult to understand. Peter Sutcliffe- the Yorkshire Ripper; Ted Bundy from Seattle and the recent London Bombers attest to this fact. There is no other animal, possibly with the exception of fox, which will kill for the delight in killing.

"At the time of the Mary Bell incident I was PC 207 Ronald Wright. I eventually retired as a Detective Chief Inspector - the US equivalent would be Chief of Detectives."