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For other people named Mary Bell, see Mary Bell (disambiguation).
Mary Bell
Mary Bell at the time of her arrest in 1968
Born (1957-05-26) 26 May 1957 (age 58)
Newcastle upon Tyne, England, United Kingdom
Other names The Tyneside Strangler
Criminal penalty 12 years imprisonment
Children 1
Parent(s) Betty McCrickett
Conviction(s) Manslaughter
Date 1968
Killed 2

Mary Flora Bell (born 26 May 1957) is a British woman who, in 1968, as a child, strangled to death two little boys in Scotswood, an inner-city suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne. She was convicted in December 1968, at the age of 11, of the manslaughter of the two boys, Martin Brown (aged 4) and Brian Howe (aged 3).[1]

Since her release from prison in 1980, she has lived under a series of pseudonyms. Her identity has been protected by a court order, which has also been extended to protect the identity of her daughter. In 1998, Bell collaborated with Gitta Sereny on an account of her life, in which she details the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her mother, a prostitute, and her mother's clients.

Early life[edit]

Bell's mother Betty (née McCrickett) was a prostitute, who was often absent from the family home, travelling to Glasgow to work. Mary (nicknamed May)[1] was her first child, born when Betty was 17 years old. It is not known who Mary's biological father was. For most of her life she believed it to be Billy Bell, a habitual criminal who was later arrested for armed robbery. Bell married her mother when Mary was a baby, but evidence gathered by Gitta Sereny suggests he met her after Mary was born.[2]

Independent accounts from family members strongly suggest that Betty had more than once attempted to kill Mary and make her death look accidental during the first few years of her life. Her family was suspicious when Mary 'fell' from a window, and when she 'accidentally' consumed sleeping pills. On one such occasion, an independent witness saw Betty giving the pills to her daughter as sweets.[2] Mary herself says she was subjected to repeated sexual abuse, her mother forcing her from the age of four to engage in sexual acts with men.[3]


On 25 May 1968, the day before her 11th birthday, Mary Bell strangled 4 year old Martin Brown in a derelict house.[1] She was believed to have committed this crime alone. Between that time and a second killing, she and a friend, Norma Joyce Bell (1955–89; no relation), aged 13, broke into and vandalised a nursery in Scotswood, leaving notes that claimed responsibility for the killing. The police dismissed this incident as a prank.[4]

On 31 July 1968, the two girls took part in the death, again by strangulation, of 3 year old Brian Howe, in a wasteland in the same Scotswood area.[1] Police reports concluded that Mary Bell had later returned to his body to carve an "M" into the boy's stomach. Mary Bell also used a pair of scissors to cut off some of Howe's hair, scratch his legs, and mutilate his penis. As the girls were so young and their testimonies contradicted each other, the precise details of what happened have never been entirely clear.

An open verdict had originally been recorded for Brown's death as there was no evidence of foul play – although Bell had strangled him, her grip was not hard enough to leave any marks.[5] Eventually, his death was linked with Howe's killing and in August 1968 the two girls were charged with two counts of manslaughter.


On 17 December 1968, at Newcastle Assizes, Norma Bell was acquitted but Mary Bell was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, the jury taking their lead from her diagnosis by court-appointed psychiatrists who described her as displaying "classic symptoms of psychopathy". The judge, Mr. Justice Cusack, described her as dangerous and said she posed a "very grave risk to other children". She was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, effectively an indefinite sentence of imprisonment. She was initially sent to Red Bank secure unit in St. Helens, Lancashire – the same facility that would house Jon Venables, one of James Bulger's child killers, 25 years later.[1]

After her conviction, Bell was the focus of a great deal of attention from the British press and also from the German Stern magazine. Her mother repeatedly sold stories about her to the press and often gave reporters writings she claimed to be by her daughter. Bell herself made headlines when, in September 1977, she briefly absconded from Moor Court open prison, where she had been held since her transfer from a young offenders institution to an adult prison a year earlier. Her penalty for this was a loss of prison privileges for 28 days.[6]

For a time, Bell also lived in a girls' remand home at Cumberlow Lodge in South Norwood (in a house built by Victorian inventor William Stanley).[7][8]

Life after prison[edit]

In 1980, Bell, aged 23, was released from Askham Grange open prison after having served 12 years and was granted anonymity (including a new name) allowing her to start a new life. Four years later she had a daughter, born on 25 May 1984; Bell's daughter did not know of her mother's past until Bell's location was discovered by reporters in 1998 and she and her mother had to leave their house with bed sheets over their heads.

Bell's daughter's anonymity was originally protected only until she reached the age of 18. However, on 21 May 2003, Bell won a High Court battle to have her own anonymity and that of her daughter extended for life. Any court order permanently protecting the identity of a convict in Britain is consequently sometimes known as a "Mary Bell order."

In 2009, it was reported that Bell had become a grandmother.[9]

Books about the case[edit]

Bell is the subject of two books by Gitta Sereny: The Case of Mary Bell (1972), an account of the killings and trial, and Cries Unheard: the Story of Mary Bell (1998), an in-depth biography based on interviews with Bell and relatives, friends and professionals who knew her during and after her imprisonment.[10] This second book was the first to detail Bell's account of sexual abuse at the hands of her mother, a prostitute who specialised as a dominatrix, and her mother's clients.

The publication of Cries Unheard was controversial because Bell received payment for her participation. The payment was criticised by the tabloid press, and Tony Blair's government attempted to find a legal means to prevent its publication on the grounds that a criminal should not profit from his or her crimes, but the attempt was unsuccessful.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "17 December: 1968: Mary Bell found guilty of double killing". BBC On This Day (BBC News). 17 December 1968. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Sereny, Gitta (1998). Cries Unheard: the Story of Mary Bell. London: Macmillan. pp. 330–34. ISBN 0-333-73524-2. 
  3. ^ Sereny, Gitta (1998). Cries Unheard: the Story of Mary Bell. London: Macmillan. pp. 334–6. ISBN 0-333-73524-2. 
  4. ^ The Case of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child Who Murdered, page 115, Gitta Sereny, 1972
  5. ^ Wilson, Colin. "Mary Bell must not disappear". Daily Mail (London). 
  6. ^ "Street parties for the Queen". Our Century. Express & Star. 
  7. ^ Akpan, Eloïse (2000). The Story of William Stanley – A Self-made Man. London: Eloïse Akpan. p. 40. ISBN 0-9538577-0-0. 
  8. ^ "Cumberlow lodge, approved school and remand home south Norwood; General LCC/CH/D/CUM/1 [n.d.]". The National Archives. 
  9. ^ Seamark, Michael; Sims, Paul (9 January 2009). "Child killer Mary Bell becomes a grandmother at 51: But all I have left is grief, says victim's mother". Daily Mail (London). 
  10. ^ Sereny, Gitta (1998). Cries Unheard: the Story of Mary Bell. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-73524-2. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Bell — Please support Wikipedia.
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1351 news items


Sat, 03 Oct 2015 06:07:30 -0700

"As of today, we have had more than 100 scarves donated – I am absolutely floored by the outpouring of donations from the community," Adult Services Librarian Mary Bell said. Rays of Hope, a project headed by Baystate Medical Center, provides pink ...

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Tue, 25 Aug 2015 12:09:15 -0700

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 ...

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... revenue in order to support our overgrown population. Sabrina Knost. About editor's Bill Myers column. Thank you for the 'right' words for this fine man — one I didn't even know, but respect for his courage and kindness his friends have expressed ...

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Mon, 28 Sep 2015 11:11:41 -0700

"Based upon my 20 plus years of experience working on it, those facilitators are the glue that holds Neighborhood Place together," said former JCPS Deputy Superintendent Mary Bell. "In my opinion without that position, in a short period of time the ...

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Tue, 22 Sep 2015 21:52:30 -0700

DAMHA Chief Executive Paul Mullis with Mary Bell, whose kitchen at MarsdenRoad, South Shields, which will soon be replaced. 06:00 Wednesday 23 September 2015. 0. Have your say. Homes in South Shields are among those to benefit from a massive ...


Thu, 01 Oct 2015 08:02:39 -0700

Keith will recreate some of his iconic photographs, 30 years on, while Richard will recount some of the personal stories from the community from the past three decades, including that of Mary Bell, a miner's wife from Easington, who launched the first ...

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Tue, 22 Sep 2015 04:03:45 -0700

New kitchens earmarked for 100-year-old homes in South Tyneside. Chief executive Paul Mullis resident Mary Bell whose kitchen at Marsden Road, South Shields, will soon be replaced. Verity Ward. verity.ward@jpress.co.uk. 11:56 Tuesday 22 September ...

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Wed, 23 Sep 2015 16:11:47 -0700

They will air on six Houston-area channels, including Univision and Telemundo, beginning October 10, according to Campaign Manager Mary Bell. "The Garcia campaign is communicating to all voters, including predominantly Spanish speaking voters, and ...

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