“Evil Born”: The Vicious Crimes Of 11-Year-Old Murderer Mary Bell

Published March 16, 2018
Updated August 22, 2018

How Mary Bell brutally killed toddlers and got off very lightly.

Mary Bell

Wikimedia CommonsMary Bell

Mary Bell killed two young boys in 1968. When she was released from prison after serving a 12-year sentence, she was only 23 years old.

In other words, Mary Bell was only 10 when she started committing her murders.

On May 25, 1968, the day before she turned 11, Bell strangled four-year-old Martin Brown to death in an abandoned house in Scotswood, England. Police, however, didn’t find sufficient evidence of violence and decided that the boy’s death was an accident.

But Bell soon broke into a nursery school and vandalized it with notes saying that she was responsible for Brown’s demise. Because she was so young, however, police disregarded the vandalism as well as any notion that Bell might be guilty in the boy’s death.

Then, on July 31, Bell and a friend named Norma Bell (no relation) killed three-year-old Brian Howe by strangulation. This time, Bell mutilated the body with scissors, carving an “M” into his chest and butchering his penis.

Police soon learned that Mary Bell had been seen with Howe on the day of his death. And as the investigation progressed, detectives noticed that Bell was exhibiting some rather strange behavior. She was seen lurking outside Howe’s house on the day of his burial and even laughed and rubbed her hands together when she saw his coffin.

Soon, Norma Bell began cooperating with police and implicated Mary Bell, who herself admitted to being present during Howe’s murder but tried to place the blame on Norma. Nevertheless, both girls were charged and a trial date was set.

At trial, the prosecutor told the court that Bell’s reason for committing the murders was “solely for the pleasure and excitement of killing.” Meanwhile, the British press referred to her as “evil born.”

The jury apparently agreed that Mary Bell had committed the murders and handed down a guilty verdict in December (Norma was acquitted). However, manslaughter was the conviction, not murder, as court psychiatrists had convinced the jury that Bell showed “classic symptoms of psychopathy.”

Furthermore, the judge stated that she was a dangerous person and a serious threat to other children. She was sentenced to be imprisoned “at Her Majesty’s pleasure,” a British legal term that denotes an indeterminate sentence — basically, until the powers that be feel like it’s appropriate to let you out.

Apparently, the powers that be were impressed with Bell’s treatment and rehabilitation and felt like it was appropriate to let Mary Bell out in 1980. She was released on license, which meant that she was technically still serving her sentence but was able to do so while living in the community under strict probation rules instead of living in prison.

Additionally, Mary Bell was given a new identity to provide her with a chance at a new life and protect her from tabloid attention, for one thing. Even still, she was forced to move several times to escape hounding by tabloids, newspapers, and the general public that always found ways of tracking her down.

Things grew worse for Bell after she had her daughter in 1984. Bell’s daughter didn’t know about her mother’s crimes until she was 14 when a tabloid paper was able to find Bell’s common-law husband and thus track Bell down.

Soon, a slew of journalists surrounded her house and camped out in front of it. The family had to escape the house with bedsheets over their heads.

Today, Bell is in protective custody at a secret address. Both she and her daughter remain anonymous and are protected under court order.

Some feel she doesn’t deserve the protection. June Richardson, the mother of Martin Brown, told the media, “It’s all about her and how she has to be protected. As victims we are not given the same rights as killers.”

Nevertheless, Mary Bell remains protected by the British government today and court rulings protecting the identities of certain convicts are even unofficially referred to as “Mary Bell orders.”


After learning about Mary Bell and the gruesome murders she committed as a child, read the story of teenage serial killer Harvey Robinson. Then, have a look at some of the most chilling quotes from history’s worst serial killers.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City.
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