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The Shocking Story of the UK's Youngest Killer: Mary Bell

The United Kingdom is not new to horrific crimes, but this one... this one made history.

WARNING: This case involves shocking violence against two children, by another child. This isn't for the faint of heart.

Damaged from the Start

Mary was born in Northumberland, England on May 26, 1957. Her mother, Betty, worked as a prostitute and was only 17 years old. Mary’s biological father is unknown, but many believe it was a man named Billy Bell. He was a known criminal and spent a majority of his life in jail, mostly due to armed robbery. Growing up with a mother who was nearly never around, and not knowing who her father was, Mary was left to her own devices. It's believed this is when she began developing a hatred for her mother.

Along with this, family and friends who knew Mary and her mother believed firmly that Betty attempted to kill Mary on several occasions. There was an incident in which Mary fell from a window, another where she “accidentally” consumed sleeping pills, and more. The fall from the window would result in significant brain damage in Mary’s prefrontal cortex. This resulted in issues with voluntary movements and decision making. Another incident was reported where Betty was said to be feeding Mary pills that she claimed were candy. Finally, Mary has claimed on several occasions that her mother would prostitute her out when she was as young as four years old. Mary endured some of the most imaginable pain possible until it all became too much.

The Murder of Martin Brown

It was May 25, 1968, the day before Mary’s 11th birthday. That day she lured four-year-old Martin Brown to an abandoned house in Scotswood, England and strangled him to death. She would return later with a friend named Norma Bell (who is of no relation) where they saw two boys had found the body. Soon they all fled. The following day, police discovered the body and couldn’t figure out what had taken place. During a search of the house, they discovered an empty bottle of painkillers and assumed the boy had taken them and overdosed.

That following day, Mary and Norma broke into a nursery school and left letters scattered about the desk inside, confessing to the murder of Martin. While it was reported, the police saw it as nothing more than a joke. Although it wasn’t taken seriously, the police did end up installing a security system in the school. A few nights later, Mary and Norma were caught hanging around the nursery late at night, but were only sent home and not formally punished. Over the following days as word got out about Martin, Mary began bragging about having done it. According to those who knew her, this was common behavior for her, and it wasn’t taken seriously. That was until the second child was found.

The Murder of Brian Howe

A little over two weeks after the first murder, on July 31, Mary and Norma killed Brian Howe. He was only three years old. He was also strangled the same way Martin was, but in this case, the body was badly mutilated. The girls, more Mary than Norma, cut along the boy's legs and thighs with a pair of scissors. They then went on to mutilate the young boy's genitals and sometime later, a large “M” was found carved into his abdomen. They hid the body and soon aided his sister in searching for him.

During the search, Mary made a comment about a pile of cinder blocks, suggesting they search over there knowing that’s where Brian’s body was. His sister didn’t think he would have gone over there and so they moved on. When he was found, police were shocked, once again, at the brutality of it. They immediately began interviewing everyone they could find, but their prime suspect was Mary, who had been seen with him the day he was killed. During interviews with the two girls, they attempted not to show interest or seem suspicious, but it failed. Mary was described as very standoffish and Norma was said to be excited.

The interrogations continued for months before Mary made a mistake while making up a story. She claimed she’d seen an eight-year-old boy hit Brian on the head with something the day he passed away. She also claimed the boy had a broken pair of scissors. Mary hadn’t known that the mutilation had been kept out of the public, so when she mentioned it, police knew they had her.

Trial, Conviction, and Aftermath

December 17, 1968, Norma was acquitted for the crimes, but Mary was convicted. She was given the charge of manslaughter on the ground of “diminished responsibility.” This was partly because a psychiatric evaluation showed early signs of psychopathy. During her time inside, Mary’s mother would often sell stories to the press and even forged letters from Mary just to give them to reporters. Once Mary served 12 years, however, she was let out with a new name. Four years after this, when she was 27, she had a daughter of her own on May 25, 1984. Her daughter’s identity will forever be protected under the “Mary Bell Order” that allows convicts and their children to be protected, even after they turn 18 years old. Mary is still alive and is a grandmother. She’s currently 61 years old.

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