Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mary Bell

Making Mary Bell

  "Take that thing away from me!"

-- Betty Bell, responding to the
birth of her daughter Mary

In the saga of Mary Bell, mother Betty has been portrayed as the primary villain and culprit to her psychopathology. Betty Bell was born in Glasgow in 1940, and was described as a deeply religious child. "We all thought she was going to be a nun," said her mother. She liked "religious things," remembered her sister. "She always drew nuns, and altars and graves and cemeteries." According to the family, there was no excessive punishments or abuse, but for some reason Betty began to drift away. When her father died, "Betty was demented," said Isa, Betty's sister. Betty threw tantrums, staged a drug overdose, and in 1957 she gave birth to Mary Flora Bell. Mary's father would remain a mystery.

Mary's brief childhood was a nightmare of abandonment and drug overdoses. Betty was anxious to get rid of her daughter -- she would drop her off with relatives, yet would always come back despite the family's pleas to let them keep her. In 1960 Betty brought Mary to an adoption agency, giving her to a distraught woman who wasn't allowed to adopt as she was moving to Australia. "I brought this one in to be adopted. You have her," Betty Bell said, leaving Mary with the stranger. Her sister Isa had followed Betty, and soon found the woman, who had already bought new dresses for Mary.

At two years old, Mary was refusing to bond with others -- she was already behaving in a cold and detached manner. Mary never cried when hurt, and began lashing out violently, smashing an uncle's nose with a toy. Her mother's erratic rejections and reunions didn't help.

Mary witnessed her five-year-old friend get killed by a bus. This devastating event must have further retarded her ability to bond with others. In 1961, Mary started kindergarten. "She was almost always naughty," said her teacher, who once saw Mary putting her hands around the neck of another child. When told not to do that, Mary said, "Why? Can it kill him?" She was lonely, and other kids teased her. She kicked, hit and pinched the other kids, and told "tall stories all the time."

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