The Tragic Tale of Mary Bell
Mary Bell – Public domain image

In the working-class streets of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1968, a series of disturbing events unfurled that would leave the community both heartbroken and horrified. At the center of this dark tale was a girl named Mary Bell, who was only 11 years old when she committed crimes that were almost unfathomable for someone her age.

Mary’s early life was riddled with complexities. There were stories of abuse and neglect, and it’s been suggested that her own mother might have tried to kill her on more than one occasion. Some say that this turbulent upbringing might have sown the seeds for the tragedies that were to come.

In May of that year, the body of a young boy named Martin Brown was discovered in a derelict house. The community was shocked, and initially, his death was thought to be accidental. However, things took a chilling turn when, a few months later, a three-year-old boy named Brian Howe was found dead on wasteland near his home. His death was unmistakably a murder, with evidence of strangulation and other grim details.

Evidence and testimonies would soon lead the police to Mary Bell, along with her friend, Norma Bell (no relation). The two girls were seen playing with the young victims on the days of their deaths. Disturbingly, Mary even went as far as to brag to a schoolmate about killing Martin. When Brian’s body was discovered, it bore signs of mutilation, which was later determined to have been done with scissors. Even more haunting was the discovery that tufts of his hair had been cut off, and there were scratches on his legs in the shape of an ‘M’.

During the trial, Mary’s cold demeanor was unsettling. Norma, seemingly more shaken by the proceedings, was acquitted, deemed to have been under Mary’s malevolent influence. But Mary was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility—a legal way of saying that, due to her age and mental state, she wasn’t fully responsible for her actions.

Mary Bell spent twelve years in various youth institutions and prisons before being released at the age of 23. Upon her release, she was granted anonymity to start a new life, a decision that remains controversial to this day. Over the years, the case of Mary Bell has been examined and re-examined, a tragic example of the complexities of childhood trauma, societal responsibility, and the potential darkness that can emerge when they intersect.

Don Leith

By Don Leith

Retired from the real world. A love of research left over from my days on the debate team in college long ago led me to work on this website. Granted, not all these stories are "fun" or even "trivial" But they all are either weird, unusual or even extraordinary. Working on this website is "fun" in any case. Hope you enjoy it!