Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mary Bell

Free at 23

 "Mary has made herself into two people for her own sake."

-- Mary's probation officer

Mary Bell was released May 14, 1980, and stayed in Suffolk. Her first job was in the local children's nursery, but the probation officers deemed this inappropriate work for her. She took waitress jobs, and attended a university, but was too discouraged to stick with it. After moving back in with her mother, she met a young man and became pregnant. There was great concern over whether the woman who had murdered two children should be able to become a mother herself, yet she fought for the right to keep her child, which was born in 1984.

Mary claims to have a new awareness of her crimes from the birth of her child. She was allowed to keep the child, who was technically a ward of the court until 1992. "If there was something wrong with me when I was a child, there wasn't now. I felt that if they could X-ray me inside, they could see that anything broken had been fixed," she insisted.

Somehow, Mary Bell had made a transition, without appropriate psychiatric treatment, from a child killer to a loving mother. Her years in reform school and prison yielded sexual abuse and drug addiction, yet she claims to have a new moral consciousness and deep sorrow for her crimes. Could this be possible? Can we believe, as Gitta Sereny wrote, in the "possibility of metamorphosis"? Mary Bell had become, for the author, "two people -- the child and the adult."

She eventually met a man and fell in love, then settled in a small town. But the probation officer had to inform the local authorities of her presence, and soon the villagers were marching through the street with "Murderer Out!" signs. She lived in constant fear of being exposed.

When attempting to explain what was going through her mind as a child, particularly during violent outbursts, Mary only partially acknowledged her behavior, and has trouble confessing to the compulsion to choke other kids. Instead, she often describes her violence as hitting or pulling: "I put my hands around her ears or her hair or something like that."

As far as killing Martin Brown, Mary's version of events keep changing, from being an accident to an unexplainable compulsion. She said she had a fight with her mother, and for the first time hit back. When she "pressed" on Martin's neck, she recounts a vague blankness: "I'm not angry. It isn't a feeling... it is a void that comes... it's an abyss... it's beyond rage, beyond pain, it's a draining of feeling," she said. "I didn't intend to hurt Martin; why should I have? He was just a wee boy who belonged to a family around the corner..."

Yet Mary still implicates Norma in having some responsibility in Brian Howe's death. "The weaker makes the other stronger by being weak," she said, in defense of being the "stronger" one.

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