Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mary's mother, Betty Bell, was a prostitute who often went to Glasgow on "business". She was also a disciplinarian. Mary had a bed wetting problem that lasted well into adulthood and she said that when she wet her bed her mother would rub her face in the urine and then hang the mattress up for the entire neighborhood to view. On several occasions as a baby, Mary overdosed on various medications. Once she lost consciousness and had her stomach pumped. She had apparently been given pills by Betty as if they were candy. Mary was also allegedly subject to sexual abuse as her mother used her as a prop for the purposes of prostitution. Nothing of this nature has ever been confirmed by Mary's relatives, however.
Mary's father's name was Billy Bell and, although he wasn't her biological father, she saw him as one. She loved him, but he was not a good role model. He was a thief who was later convicted of armed robbery. Mary never knew her biological father, who left Betty before Mary was born.
Mary grew up in the Scotswood area of Newcastle, an economically depressed area where brutish, violent criminal behavior is common place. As a result, Mary's anti-social behavior, including attacks on other children at school, vandalism and theft did not attract undue attention. Also, Mary had developed a reputation as a "show off", so her proclamation, "I am a murderer" was dismissed as just another one of her idle boasts.
She strangled two children, killing toddler Martin Brown, her first victim, when she was 10 years old.
Between the two murders Mary and her friend Norma Bell (no relation) broke into and vandalized a Nursery in Scotswood, even leaving notes that gloated over their participation in Martin Brown's murder. The Newcastle Police dismissed the incident as a sick prank typical of the populace of the area.
On July 31, 1968, three-year-old Brian Howe was the next victim. The cause of death was strangulation. Police reports concluded that Mary Bell had gone back after killing him to carve an "M" in his stomach with a razor, as well as use scissors to cut off bits of his hair and scrape part of his genitals.
Initially, Martin Brown's death was ruled an accident as there was no evidence of foul play. Eventually, his death was linked with Brian Howe's murder and the two girls were tried for both.
Mary Bell was convicted of manslaughter in 1968. She avoided being charged with murder due to "diminished" responsibility" which was informed by courtroom psychiatrists who proclaimed she suffered "classic symptoms of psychopathology". She was released from prison in 1980 and was granted anonymity to start a new life (under an assumed name) with her daughter. This daughter did not know of her mother's past until Mary Bell's location was discovered by reporters. The daughter's anonymity was originally protected until she reached the age of 18.
She is the subject of an in-depth, serious (and not salacious) biography, Cries Unheard: the Story of Mary Bell by Gitta Sereny (Macmillan, London, 1998. Hardback ISBN 0333735242; paperback ISBN 0333753119). This details the fact that Bell herself was the victim of abuse. The book was criticized strongly by the media, particularly the tabloid press, and by the government, but in a 1999 debate in the House of Lords, Lord Wakeham stated "the public interest oozes from every pore of the book".
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