December 25, 2015 6:51 pm

It’s strange to think of a little girl strangling someone let alone two people, but that’s precisely what Mary Bell did within a three-month span when she was 10 going on 11. The first murder Mary committed took place on May 25,1968 the day before her 11th birthday: she strangled four-year-old Martin Brown in an abandoned home. It’s not clear why she committed the murder, only that she did it all on her own. She even broke into and vandalized an orphanage and left a note admitting to the murder, but police only thought it was a prank. 

The second murder took place on July 31, 1968. This time, Mary enlisted a friend, Norma Joyce Bell (no relation) to help kill another boy, three-year-old Brian Howe.

After killing the little boy, Mary returned to the scene of the crime to carve an “M” onto his stomach. With scissors, she cut his hair, scratched his legs and mutilated his penis.

What could drive a little girl to kill like this? Well, Mary Bell’s mother, Betty, was an extremely abusive prostitute and dominatrix. She regularly forced her daughter to perform sex acts on her clients starting at age four. There are family accounts of Betty trying to poison and kill Mary several times too. She planned to make the murder look like an accident but never succeeded in killing her daughter. For instance, Mary “accidentally fell from a window” but survived and she “accidentally took too many sleeping pills” when others saw her give the pills to her daughter, claiming they were sweets.


Despite her tragic childhood, Mary Bell was convicted of the two murders (her friend Norma was acquitted) on December 17, 1968. The judge, Justice Cusack, believed Mary exhibited the classic signs of a psychopath. He also felt she was “a very grave danger to other children.”

In 1980 Mary was released from Ashkam Grange prison after serving 12 years. She was granted a new name and anonymity so she could start a new life. Four years later she had a daughter. She kept her grisly past a secret from her daughter until 1998 when reporters learned of her whereabouts. Mary and her daughter had to leave their home with bed sheets over their heads to hide from the press. Even though her daughter was only legally granted anonymity until age 18, Mary fought the high courts of England to maintain her daughter’s privacy for life. She won the case.

In 2009, it was reported that Mary Bell became a grandmother. Apparently, she’s been a great mother and grandmother, despite her past.

If you want to learn more about Mary Bell, her tragic childhood and the horrific murders she committed, there are two great books about her: The Case of Mary Bell and the biography, which includes interviews with Mary, Cries Unheard: the Story of Mary Bell, both by Gitta Sereny.


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This post was written by Nadia Vella