Who was Mary Bell? Was she a murderer or a victim?
We brush off the inappropriate actions of children as “kids will be kids”, forgetting that the influence of those around them is playing into their decision making. So when a child goes off the deep end, like Mary Bell, and commits a crime, can we truly blame them for their actions?
Mary Bell was a 10 year old British girl charged with two murders in 1968. Released in 1980, Bell has been living under protection through a series of pseudonyms with her, her daughter, and her granddaughter. But in 1998, she worked with author Gitta Sereny to publish a book about the abuse she put up with as a child that left her scarred.
Even her prefrontal cortex had damage to it, which is the part of the brain responsible for decision making. So though Bell did kill two younger children, is she truly responsible for her actions? Or was she just going off of her home life?
Abuse and attempted murder throughout childhood
Bell’s mother gave birth to her when she was only 17 years old. Working as a prostitute, it was not clear who Bell’s biological father was, though it is assumed to be Billy Bell, a habitual criminal. Leaving her alone constantly as she travelled to Glasgow for work, it’s clear that she had no interest in being a mother.
She made this even more clear as accounts from family members stated that her mother tried to feed Bell sleeping pills as sweets, and more often than not had her nearly overdose on them. Bell was also dropped from a window “on accident”, where the brain damage came from.
On top of these murder attempts, Bell’s mother would also offer Bell up to her clients, so several men sexually abused Bell as early as age four. Her mother’s husband even sexually abused her from time to time. It’s clear that by the age of 10, Bell had already been through more than enough trauma in one lifetime.
Murder for the sake of murder
Of course, Bell also killed two toddlers for the sake of murdering someone. Her first victim in 1968 was 4 year old Martin Brown, who she strangled to death in a rundown home. Her and her friend Norma Bell broke into a nursery sometime after the murder, vandalising it and claiming they killed Brown. Police just brushed it off as a prank.
Then about two months later, the two girls murdered 3 year old Brian Howe near the nursery, strangling him to death. Later on, Mary went back and messed with the body some more, mutilating his genitals, scratching his legs, and carving an M into his chest. This time, police arrested the two girls in relation to the murders.
Norma Bell was able to be acquitted for the crimes, but Mary Bell was convicted on both counts of manslaughter, but with diminished responsibility. Though she was described as dangerous and posed a grave risk to other children, the jury also acknowledged the fact that her psych evals showed classic signs of psychopathy.
Whether this disorder was from the various abuse and the head injury she suffered as a child, the psychiatrists were unsure of. But they made it clear that there was something wrong upstairs with Bell. The question remains though: is Bell guilty of the murders?
At the end of the day, there was definitely some malicious intent to what Bell was doing with those two children. If the claim is true that she was murdering for the sake of killing something, there’s no mental illness on earth that could defend that action. Evil comes in many forms, and sometimes it comes in the form of a 10 year old girl.