Wicked Child | The Mary Bell Case, Part Three

(June Richardson with a picture of her son Martin. Photo cred: chroniclelive.co.uk)

Continued from part one and two 

People began to notice how interested Mary and Norma seemed to be in the police's investigations into the deaths of Martin and Brian. Whenever there was a police conference where they would update the locals on what was happening with their investigations, Mary Bell always seemed to be upfront and centre and listening like her life depended on it. People thought this was strange behaviour for a young girl but the people who really knew Mary started to have ideas that she may have been involved with the deaths due to her previous erratic behaviour, penchant for strangling other children at school and her explosive temper.

The police started to receive phone calls about Mary and Norma from concerned locals, they advised the police to look into the pair and told them of Mary's behaviour with the kids at school.

The police wanted to talk to Mary but when they arrived at her house, Billy threatened to set his dog on the officers if they didn't leave. According to some sources (this may or may not be true), Mary was said to have sat on her father's knee in front of the officers and said ''Send for my lawyer''  

The police got a big break when a couple came to the police station with their son who claimed to have seen Mary and Norma murder Brian Howe. The boy, who was nine years old, had learning difficulties and the mental age of a four year old. As he witnessed the murder taking place he didn't realise at the time what was actually happening until it all became clear when he told his parents about it later on. The boy told the police that Mary had said that Brian had a sore throat and she needed to massage it better. As she massaged the boy's throat she tightened her grip till the boy passed away due to lack of oxygen to the brain. The police wasted no time in bringing Mary and Norma in for questioning. The girls were questioned during the day and were taken into care at night so they were kept away from each other as well as family.

School teachers were contacted as the police wanted to check out Mary and Norma's handwriting to compare with the notes found at the nursery. At this same time, the teachers handed over the short story and drawing that Mary had done about Martin Brown's death. The police had noticed straight away that Mary had included the word 'tablet' next to Martin's body in the drawing, a detail which had not been released to the public. The police were confident that they had the right children in custody and both Mary and Norma were arrested in early August 1968 and charged with both murders.

Four months later their trial began and they both pleaded their innocence and blamed each other for the murders. Norma looked like she was in way over her head and appeared to struggle with everything that was happening, Mary on the other hand, appeared confident, no remorse or emotion until she was asked if she had ever strangled a pigeon to death to which she became hysterical. The trial had to be briefly paused as Mary was crying uncontrollably and would not calm down.

During the trial, Mary would show no emotion the majority of the time but if she was upset, she would be very over dramatic. She claimed to have left the notes at the nursery for a bit of a laugh and said that she made up the things that she had written. Mary had been examined by various psychiatrists who all came to the same conclusion that she was a psychopath.

Norma Bell was acquitted on the grounds that she had learning difficulties and therefore the court believed that she had no idea what she was getting herself into and that she was frightened of Mary and controlled by her. Some people speculated later that Norma played the part of the easily led, vulnerable girl as an attempt to escape justice and that she knew exactly what she was doing.

Mary was found guilty but not of murder, she was found guilty of manslaughter. The court deemed her psychologically insane and because of her age (she was 10 when the first murder took place and was now 11 years old) it was decided that she would be better of being rehabilitated rather than punished as she was still a child and too young to be placed in a Psychiatric hospital. She was sent to a boarding school and surprisingly her mother was a regular visitor, their relationship remained very strained with Mary writing a letter to her mother at one point, begging her to go to court and take full responsibility for the deaths of the two boys. Mary felt that if it wasn't for the way her mother treated her, the murders would never have happened and she had a lot of anger over what happened to her as a child. Mary placed the blame of the murders onto her mother and felt that she should take the blame so that she could be released and be free.

Over the years since the murders, Betty became an alcoholic. She was a nervous wreck and would rarely leave the house. There wasn't much sympathy for her and some felt that all she cared about was herself and how she appeared as the mother of Mary Bell. Betty seemed to have no shame either as she would give interviews to newspapers and sell Mary's letters and drawings for cash.

Some years passed and Mary was soon sent to an open prison but escaped when she was 20 years old. She was quickly found and continued her sentence/rehabilitation. In 1980, after serving 12 years she was released under an new identity.

In a chilling twist to the story, Mary gave birth to a baby daughter in 1984 on the 16th anniversary of the day she murdered Martin Brown. Mary had her daughter's identity protected but the order was only for 18 years. When Mary's daughter was 18, a journalist managed to find out where they were living, up until this point Mary had not told her daughter of her past. They both had to leave the house during the night with sheets over their heads and it was around that time that she told her daughter the truth of her past. Mary managed to get her daughter's identity protected for life. In 2001, Mary became a grandmother at the age of 51 and her granddaughter was also granted life long anonymity.

Not much is known about what happened to Norma in the years after the trial but she passed away in 1989.

I couldn't find much information about Brian Howe's family, they have remained private over the years. June Richardson, Martin's mother had also keep herself and her family out of the public eye and only spoke out after it was revealed that Mary had been paid £50,000 for a book that an author by the name of Gitta Sereny had written about the case based on interviews she had with Mary. The book, which has gotten some positive reviews on Amazon, is apparently in Mary's own words about her childhood and the abuse that she suffered through her mother's prostitution and neglect as well as the murders of the two boys..

June was outraged about the book and said that murderers should not be able to profit off of their crimes and called Mary's payment for the book ''blood money''. June sadly died in April 2013 at the age of 68 due to lung cancer. She never got over her son's death and in the late stages of her illness she spoke of being reunited with Martin to ''build sandcastles in the sky''  

June's daughter, Sharon said in a newspaper interview (on her mother hearing that Mary had given birth 16 years to the day her son was murdered) ''That hurt her more than Mary Bell coming out of prison. She said she would always be celebrating while she was mourning the loss of her son.''

As of 2019, due to the lifelong anonymity order, Mary Bell's whereabouts are unknown but has said to have been out of trouble and lived a relatively quiet life since her release.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my coverage of this case, I knew bits and pieces of the story. I didn't know anything about Mary's background or that she had been abused. I did have an idea that something traumatic must have happened to her for her to commit such terrible crimes. I do feel sympathy for what she went through at home, she didn't really have a chance from the start and struck me that she was a very traumatised child who was acting out. I do feel conflicted as she had no remorse and was happy to take £50,000 which showed to me that she still didn't care what sort of impact that would have on her victim's families. If you murdered someone as a child due to a traumatic upbringing but was later rehabilitated you'd think that she would have realised that collaborating on a book and taking money was in poor taste and disrespectful to the victims and their families. Can a child who murders be fully rehabilitated? I'm not sure of the answer to this question. I think about the James Bulger murder at the hands of two 10 year old boys which happened 25 years after this case, that case caused outrage and still does to this day with some people at the time, calling for the boys to be hanged. Years after the case when the murderers were said to be fully rehabilitated, one of them was found with thousands of child abuse pictures on his laptop and sent back to jail.

Mary Bell and Norma didn't receive the anger and outrage from the public that the James Bulger killers did, there wasn't as much publicity or media attention and a lot of people put it down to children being neglected and the poor living conditions that the people of Newcastle were forced to live in at the time.

It's a disturbing case and I still cannot believe that Mary was paid £50,000 to talk about the murders that she committed. What are your thoughts on this case? leave a comment below or come find me on social media and we'll chat about it. Thanks as always for checking out my recent case. I'll be back next week with a another one.

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  1. I know someone who lived in the same area and was a similar age, slightly older. Everyone knew to stay well away from her and there are a lot of stories of how evil she was. Scotchy as it’s known, was and still is a deprived area, but back then was in absolute poverty and kids ran wild.
    I’m definitely going to show this to my friend but I know they won’t comment publicly even now, the fear is still there,

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I can imagine, I know from my the town next to where I lived in Scotland where a girl had been murdered years ago, there was a sense that people in the community knew who killed her and even to this day some of those people still live there and people are afraid to talk about the case x

  2. I enjoyed your write up, I find it strange how the other girl normal was just forgotten about. Two people at a murder are both killers