Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mary Bell

Cries Unheard

 "But what I want most of all is a normal life."

-- Mary Bell

When Cries Unheard was published in 1998, it ignited a firestorm over criminals profiting from their deeds. Mary was paid for her efforts, which infuriated so many that Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly decried her pay. Laws were written to prevent others, including serial killer Dennis Nilsen, from doing the same. Mary's hope for the book was to "set the record straight." She thought that if she told her story, the media would leave her alone.

Mary ignites controversy over book
Mary ignites controversy over book

Sereny, however, says the book was written for the benefit of Mary's child, yet she too was damaged by its publication. With the renewed media interest in Mary, reporters laid siege on her house. Her teenage daughter learned her mother was the infamous Mary Bell as the family evacuated their home, with blankets over their heads, dodging the flash bulbs and shouts from the media. But Mary says her daughter has accepted her mother's identity, and forgives her. "But Mum, why didn't you tell me? You were just a kid, younger than I am now," she said, according to Mary.

Perhaps the value of Cries Unheard is the attempt to unravel the "whys" of violent behavior in children, which is becoming an alarmingly common occurrence. In some ways, Mary Bell is an anomaly. She strangled her victims with her hands, instead of the now alarmingly typical shooting spree. Whether Mary's story can prevent the abuse of other children remains to be seen. It is an extraordinary cautionary tale of a child's capacity for violence. If it is true that children are blessed with an intrinsic goodness, it can also be a very fragile blessing.

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