Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mary Bell

Suspicious Behavior

In this summer of 1968, Scotswood, an economically depressed community 275 miles north of London, was in a state of panic. Police flooded the community, interviewing kids between the ages of three and fifteen. The adults wondered if Martin Brown's "accident" was also murder. "We were real nervous," said Martin's aunt, "but the kids themselves felt it too."

Among the children who stood out as suspicious to the investigators were eleven year old Mary Bell and thirteen year old Norma Bell (no relation). Mary was evasive and acted strange. Norma was excited by the murder, remembers one authority. "She was continually smiling as if it was a huge joke."

As the investigation narrowed on Mary, she suddenly "remembered" seeing an eight year old boy with Brian on the day he died. The boy hit Brian for no reason, she claimed. She had also seen the same boy playing with broken scissors. But that boy had been at the airport on the afternoon Brian died. By revealing that she knew about the scissors, which was confidential evidence, Mary implicated herself. She described them exactly: "like silver coloured and something wrong with the scissors, like one leg was either broken or bent." It was becoming clear that either Mary, Norma, or both, had seen Brian die. And one of them was probably the killer.

Brian Howe was buried on August 7th. Detective Dobson was there: "Mary Bell was standing in front of the Howe's house when the coffin was brought out. I was, of course, watching her. And it was when I saw her there that I knew I did not dare risk another day. She stood there, laughing. Laughing and rubbing her hands. I thought, My God, I've got to bring her in, she'll do another one."