So, I am finally back! Before I get into this post I just wanted to say a huge thank you for everyone’s patience over the last couple of months whilst I have been busy with my personal stuff, aka getting married! Thank you for all of the well wishes and messages of love, I am now a wife and ready to get back into the swing of True Crime & Wine!
In this post I want to focus on what I believe to be one of the most stand out and well known child serial killers in history.
Mary Flora Bell was born on the 26th of May 1957 in a rundown and poverty stricken area of Newcastle called Scotswood. Her mother, Betty was only seventeen when she gave birth to Mary and worked as a prostitute. Betty resented Mary from very early on and would often force her into helping her to “entertain” her clients and would subject her to awful abuse. It was also accounted by various family members that when Mary was a baby, Betty had made a few attempts at killing Mary. She would always pass these incidents off as accidents and near misses but the extended family members had their suspicions.
It comes as very little surprise that due to her upbringing, Mary was often in trouble and would frequently upset and hurt the children who she went to Delaval Road junior school with. She would burn children with cigarettes and strangle them until they were unable to catch their breath. Teachers at the school recall Mary as being extremely bright and independent, yet lacking any sympathy or feelings for others.
During her schooling, Mary met Norma Bell (no relation) who was a couple of years her senior. Despite being older than Mary, Norma was the less mature of the two and had learning difficulties. These traits made Norma extremely easily manipulated by Mary, who always had the upper hand in the relationship.
The first documented sign of trouble the pair found themselves in was when Mary strangled a young girl whilst filling her mouth with sand. Norma helped by holding the girl down until she managed to wriggle free. The girls parents reported this incident to the police but it went un-investigated.
On May 25th 1968, Mary, who was just a day shy of her 11th birthday was out playing alone amongst the derelict houses and wasteland of Scottswood. Here she met four year old Martin Brown, who like her, was out playing unsupervised.
Mary befriended the young boy, and during that morning took him to play in an abandoned house on the estate. Martin Brown never left the ruined house alive. Mary had taken hold of Martin and subsequently subdued and strangled him to death, leaving his body alone in the old abandoned house.
The same afternoon, two young boys playing in the house discovered Martins body and alerted the police who upon investigating the scene discovered a half empty bottle of tablets. Martins body bore no signs of strangulation due to the fact that Mary herself was a child and didn’t have the force or strength to leave any marks on his neck, in light of this Martins death was considered that of a somewhat misadventure due to consuming the tablets found not far from his body.
Two days after Martins death, Mary and Norma broke into the suburbs abandoned nursery. Whilst in there, they left hand scribbled notes confessing to the murder of Martin. When the police were called to investigate the break in and seal and secure the building, the notes were subsequently discovered. Due to the nature of the notes and the childlike way in which they were presented, the police assumed them to be a sick prank and did nothing to follow them up.
It was around this time that Mary and Norma paid a visit to Martin Browns mother. They asked the grieving parent if they could see Martin and when Mrs Brown told them sadly no, Martin has passed away, Mary declared, “Oh yes we know that, we want to see him in his coffin.” Mrs Brown was understandably disturbed by the revelation and promptly closed the door on the girls in disbelief.
A couple of months passed by without event and Martins family were left to grieve assuming that his death had been from an accident.
This was until July 1968 when Mary, now eleven and Norma, 13 were out playing on some waste ground in Scottswood. It was here they met three year old Brian Howe.
Brian, who had striking blue eyes and blonde hair had been playing with the girls before he was also attacked. Brian was strangled, and had incisions and marks made in his torso, a letter “N” and a letter “M”. Police were quick to establish the possibility that children may have been responsible for the murder due to the crassness of the carvings and how Brian had been left.
Interviews with almost 1,200 local children were conducted in order to try and establish what and who was responsible for the heartless murder, something that locals could not fathom a child being behind.
During these interviews, police found Mary and Norma to be evasive and contradictory. Their stories didn’t add up and suspicion began to grow towards the girls. Mary had also been showing a rather unhealthy interest in the case, often pestering visiting journalists and police during their interviews and explorations of Scottswood.
Police continued to press the girls for answers and it wasn’t long before they were talking. The girls blamed one another for the death, Mary accused Norma of making the cuts and marks in Brian’s torso. Both girls were arrested on the 5th of August 1968. When police informed Mary that she was to be charged with murder she simply stated “that’s alright by me.”
When investigations got further underway, the case of Martin Brown’s death was once again looked at. It became clear to police that even though there was no physical marks on Brian’s body to confirm murder, that the girls were more than likely also linked to this crime also.
Due to this the girls were subsequently charged with both murders.
In December 1968 both girls appeared in court (Moot Hall) charged with the murders. Mary appeared self assured and confident during the trial and admitted to breaking into the nursery and leaving the above mentioned notes. Norma on the other hand struggled with being on trial, she became confused, contradicted her stories and was generally overwhelmed to the point of being unable to provide her side of events. It was clear that Mary was the “ring leader” of the pair and heavily manipulated Norma.
After weeks of deliberation and court appearances, the jury found Mary Flora Bell guilty of two counts of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility. She was eleven years old. Mary was handed a life sentence and after serving time in both a young offenders unit and an open jail, was released in 1980 with a new identity. She went on to have a daughter in 1984 who also shares anonymity for life.
Norma Bell was found not guilty due to her inability to give evidence and her behaviour in court.
It is of general opinion that Norma was heavily coerced into her behaviour by the heavily disturbed and manipulative actions of Mary Bell.
What are your opinions on this case? I’d love to hear your feedback over on my Instagram page (linked below!)
In the meantime, thank you again for reading and I’ll see you real soon!