Someone was preying on children in Tyne, England. The killer was eventually dubbed the Tyneside Strangler. This story is terrifying for many reasons, but the scariest part is that the killer, was a child herself. Mary Flora Bell had a very troubled childhood that was filled with abuse. On the day before her 11th birthday, she murdered Martin Brown. Just weeks later, Mary and her friend, Norma, murdered Brian Howe.
Someone was preying on children in Tyne, England. The killer was eventually dubbed the Tyneside Strangler. This story is terrifying for many reasons, but the scariest part is that the killer, was a child herself. Mary Flora was born May 26th, 1957 and many of her friends and family called her May. There's no record of who her biological father was and her mother's name was Betty McCrickett Bell. Mary ended up being raised by Billy Bell. He did have some troubles with armed burglary in his life. Mary and her siblings were never allowed to call Billy dad or father. They were forced to call him Billy Bell or uncle. Betty did this to make sure she could continue receiving government assistance. Everyone believed Billy was Mary's uncle and he wasn't in the home very often because he kept landing his ass in jail and he was always on the run. When Mary was a child, her family referred to burglarizing as “going to work”. Billy Bell would “go to work” then the police would show up at the door and he'd dip out the back and disappear for awhile. Mary would have to tell the police that Billy didn't live there and she didn't know where he was.
Things didn't start off great for Mary when she was a child. Her mother was a sex worker who specialized in dominatrix and wasn't home very often. There's nothing against being a sex worker, if that's your thing, get it. Mary's mom just used her line of work to do shitty things. She ended up being away for long periods of time when Mary was young because she was operating her business out of Glasgow. People would check on Mary, but she was alone a lot. Betty was typically traveling around and she gave birth to Mary when she was only 17 years old. Apparently, when Mary was born, the nurses attempted to hand the baby to her mother and Betty yelled, “Get that thing away from me!”
When Mary was young, her family lived with Betty's mother for a bit. Betty's mother had migraines and was prescribed medications. She was VERY careful about hiding her pills when she had children living in her home. She kept the bottle in the back of the used needle compartment of the record player and this was on top of an old chest. There was a knitting needle next to this and Mary's grandma used that to fish the bottle out each time she needed it. When Mary was one year old, she somehow got the pills and ate them. The baby would need to grab the knitting needle, climb up to the record player, reach to the back with the needle, dig out the pill bottle, unscrew the top, and eat the pills. Mary's grandma found her and rushed her to the hospital to have her stomach pumped. She knew there was no way Mary could have accessed the pills on her own and she was highly suspicious.
The family says that by age two, Mary was already completely shut down emotionally and she was filled with anger. That's how shitty of a mother Betty was. She had already destroyed this child by age 2. When Mary was a child, she refused to cry because that was a sign of weakness and she wasn't willing to show that. Her mother was very hard on her and enjoyed degrading her daughter, much like she enjoyed degrading her clients when she played a dominatrix. Unfortunately, Mary was a chronic bed wetter. Perhaps this is linked to all of the abuse she endured? Her mother handled this in a disgusting way. She would often grab Mary by the hair and shoved her face into the urine soaked mattress.
When Mary was almost 3, her aunt, Cath came to visit. She brought two bags of candy for Mary and her brother. Aunt Cath and Betty headed to the kitchen for some tea and when Cath came back, she saw that the candy was spilled on the floor and the children were snacking on it. Cath saw little blue pills mixed in the candy and recognized this as amphetamines. Betty was like, oh my gosh, the kids must have found the pills in my purse and poured them into the candy on the floor. Cath gave the children hot water and salt to make them vomit to get the pills out.
A few months later, Betty was carrying Mary around the house and set her down next to the sink and there was a window that was wide open. Suddenly, Mary went tumbling out the third floor window. Betty's brother, Philip saw her, lunged across the room and grabbed her by the ankles and was able to pull her back in.
When Mary was almost four, she had another “accident” and was rushed to the hospital. Her aunt Cath was told by a police officer that Mary was in the hospital. When she got there, she learned that Mary had her stomach pumped and had regained consciousness. Betty was saying things like don't believe her, she says I gave her those pills. Mary swallowed several iron pills and she told the doctor, “Me mam gave me the Smarties.” A child in the neighborhood had also witnessed Betty giving the pills to Mary and telling her they were Smarties, like the candy. Betty reported that Mary took the pills on her own. She even claimed that her daughter was trying to take her own life. Somehow, no one questioned how Mary could have gotten the drugs or why she would attempt suicide at such a young age. Mary's misery didn't go completely unnoticed though. She had many outbursts at school and a teacher found Mary trying to choke another student on the playground one day. You know, typical kid stuff. When the teacher talked to Mary about what happened, she flat didn't understand why choking someone was wrong. People that knew Mary said she was an intelligent child, but she was also a compulsive liar and she craved attention. She acted out often and never worried about the consequences of her actions. She did attack children and get in trouble at school, but it got her attention like she desired.
When she was 4 or 5, a man was sitting on the bed with her mother. Betty would hold Mary's head back and the filthy men would put their penis' in her mouth. Mary would be blindfolded for this and they told her they were playing blind man's buff. Betty told her daughter that if she ever told anyone about their “game” she would be locked away and punished, so she was terrified. Betty also dropped Mary off with random strangers for a few hours at a time. She doesn't recall much, but she knows they often masturbated in front of her. After Mary's mother and the random men were done raping her, she would get sweets or bags of chips. Her mother would be extra nice, wouldn't call her names, or even hit her for awhile after. Betty said, “at least I made sure the whips and stuff were hidden.” Mother of the fucking year. Mary recalls a time where she walked in on her mother who was sleeping with the landlord when she was a child. She remembers that's how the rent was paid and her mother drug her away by her hair.
Betty's sister and brother-in-law offered to adopt Mary, but nothing ever came of this. It's odd that this didn't work out because from everything I read, Betty didn't want anything to do with her daughter. People say she was aggressive and neglectful. Betty even attempted to sell her daughter to a German woman when she was an infant. The woman told Betty that her and her husband were denied a child through adoption. So, they weren't fit to adopt, but Betty was like, here, have my kid. Betty's sister wasn't down with this arrangement, so she actually followed them and was able to get Mary away from the German woman.
When Mary was about 6 or 7, she remembers a time where she says, “We, my mother and I, were going to see my dad's parents, who lived on the other side of the Tyne Bridge. I remember it was dark, because there were lights on the bridge and on the cars. We were walking along the bridge. My mother was angry, I don't remember why. She grabbed my arm and pointed ahead at a sentry box, you know, one of those concrete things, and she said, if I told anybody stories, that's where I was going to be put. That's what they do with children who don't keep their mouths shut as they are told.” Betty explained this to her child as she was shaking her.
When Mary was about 8, a family friend had a few drinks and was sleeping on the couch. Mary unzipped his pants and pulled his penis out. The man was completely startled and was maybe even embarrassed? He told Mary not to do something like that ever again and this actually gave Mary the strength to tell her mom she wouldn't be part of her dominatrix act any longer.
Like I said, Betty was gone a lot for work, but she came back early one time. Mary had been taking a bath and used up all of the hot water. This enraged her mother and she made Mary fill the bath with cold water. She held Mary's head under the water and she was fighting as hard as she could. Mary was able to get out of her mother's grip and she ran outside and sat on the back step, naked, in the cold. Betty went after Mary with a dog chain and the police were called. By the time they arrived, Mary was dressed in torn up clothing and nothing happened.
At age 10, Mary did have a friend named Norma Joyce Bell and she was 13 years old. The girls had the same last name, Bell, but they weren't related. Norma came from a large family with 10 siblings and her older brother was handicapped. Norma didn't like when he got picked on and she often got in fights with kids or threatened them at the very least. Norma wanted attention from her family, so she ran away a lot and Mary actually liked that about her. Both girls seemed to bond over the fact that they craved attention in different ways.
On Saturday May 11th, police were called to the Delaval Arms Pub in Scotswood. Mary's cousin, 3 year old John Best, had been brought in by Mary and Norma with a minor head wound. The young boy was crying and kept saying pushed down, but wouldn't say who had pushed him. The boy had been pushed down by a local embankment and Mary and Norma were questioned the next day and had nearly identical stories. The girls said they were in the street on the day of the incident and they took John to Davy's shop to get him some sweets. Afterwards, they told him to go home. The girls collected wood from some of the condemned houses nearby and took that home to their mothers. Then, they went to play in the parking lot near Delaval Arms. Suddenly, they heard a child shouting “May! Norma!” They ran to the embankment and found John lying at the bottom and there was blood coming from his head. They shouted to someone passing by, but this person didn't help them. The girls weren't able to carry John by themselves, so they did find someone to help. They both said they had never brought John to the embankment before, so they don't know why he was there. The police knew that John claimed he was pushed, but they never realized there was a big problem with this story. If John was by the embankment by himself, how would he have known to yell for Mary and Norma?
Years later, Mary explained that her and Norma had an increasing desire to do bad things and kept daring each other to do more. They had gone into a factory by Delaval Arms and they ran into John. The girls felt that he was being pesty, so Mary pushed him and told him to go away. He fell down and Mary said she'd push him again if he didn't go away. John wouldn't listen and sat down. Mary grabbed him by the leg and threw him over the edge of the embankment.
No one could have known that this was the beginning of a terrible problem and the lives of the Bell girls were about to be changed forever. Newcastle social services had already been aware of the two Bell families, but even they didn't understand the full extent of what was happening. Social services knew that Norma's family needed constant help especially because there were 11 children to take care of. They kept an eye on Mary's family because her father was in trouble with the police and they knew Mary's mother was absent from the home often. Since the kids were fed, clothed and attending school, they weren't necessarily considered at risk.
On May 25th, 1968, Mary Smothered a 4-year old boy, Martin Brown in a deserted house. Martin had blonde hair, blue eyes and round little face. This was one day prior to her 11th birthday. There were two boys hunting for scrap wood and they discovered Martin's body and lying next to the boy was an aspirin bottle. Since there weren't any injuries on Martin, police believed he had overdosed on pills and died. When the boy was discovered, there was saliva and dried blood on his cheek, but no sign of a struggle.
The next day, on May 26th, Mary and Norma broke into the Woodlands Crescent Nursery. They smeared paint and caused a lot of destruction. They also left something behind. The girls left four notes for the police to discover. Mary wrote the notes with her right hand since she's a lefty. There is a very derogatory word that is used twice in the letters. I would never use this word, but I think it's important to tell you what the letters truly say.
We later find out that Fanny was referring to Norma and the other F word was for Mary. The notes weren't taken very seriously because they were scribbled in a childlike handwriting and it really seemed like a prank. The nursery ended up installing a new alarm and it went off on the afternoon of May 31st and the police found Mary and Norma. They were brought in for questioning and swore they never broke in before and certainly would never do it again. The police never associated the notes or initial break in with the girls, so they were only charged with breaking and entering and released back to their parents. Then, they ran away the next day which was a Saturday and the police found the girls on Sunday.
Since Norma was the expert on doing this running away thing, she planned everything out. They headed to South Shields since she had been there before. Norma said there was a man there that liked her, so they stole money from home for their bus fares. Mary was so excited to run away that she peed on the floor before leaving and her and Norma laughed about this. She said she would have left some poops if she could have. The girls headed to this pervy man's place and he took a bath with Mary and tried to butter her up. Like he literally put butter on her vagina, but she stopped him. So the guy did that to Norma instead. Norma actually told Mary she liked this, but she's underage and legally can't give consent, so he raped her. When the police brought the girls back home the next day, Mary felt really proud of herself. Her father had always been in trouble with the police and she felt like they had a tighter bond now since they were both criminals.
Mary had a discussion with her father and asked what the worst thing someone could do was. He said that the worst thing would be to kill a policeman. After that, Mary and Norma kept talking about how they should kill someone. Not necessarily a policeman, but they fantasized about doing something terrible so they would both get taken away from their homes.
Since no one knew Mary was involved in the murder, she went to school as normal. For a class assignment, Mary drew a picture of a boy lying in the exact position that Martin Brown was found in. She even drew a bottle next to him and labeled it Tablet. She captioned it, “There has been a boy who just laid down and died.” The teacher wasn't necessarily alarmed by this because they were aware that Mary had seen the boy's body and they assumed she was traumatized by this. When the two boys had discovered Martin's body, they called out to some workmen that were nearby and soon a crowd of children and adults showed up. The workmen recognized Martin and said they had shared cookies with him an hour earlier. When the crowd gathered, two children had squeezed through to get a better view. The two children were Norma and Mary and the police made them leave.
On the day of Martin's death:
Betty sent Mary to the store to get a brush. When Mary got there, she was confused. Was she supposed to get the brush head? Or the whole brush? She was pretty sure she needed to get a broom, but she was scared to ask her mother to clarify. So, she purchased the broom and headed home. Betty wasn't pleased and beat Mary with the broom for buying the wrong thing. Mary punched her mother in the stomach and this was the first time she had ever stood up to her. This was the day Mary killed Martin Brown. Here's what she says happened. Mary went to the abandoned house and she saw Martin there. She climbed in the house and began looking around and Martin followed her. Mary told him to go home, but he didn't listen. She went up the stairs and had grabbed Martin's hand and pulled him up. The stairs were broken and Martin got really scared and started crying, he just wanted to go back down. Mary kept telling him to stop crying and she would bring him back downstairs. She wasn't able to carry Martin and she didn't have a way to bring him down the broken stairs. She spotted a hole in the upstairs floor, so she held onto Martin's hand and lowered him through it. Mary laid on her stomach and lowered Martin through the hold as far as she could reach and then, he dropped to the floor. She says it wasn't a very far fall and she ran down the broken stairs to check on him. She knelt beside the boy and told him to put his hands around her throat and he did. She put her hands around Martin's throat and squeezed, but she says she didn't intend to hurt him.
Mary was pretty proud of herself and had already brought Norma to the house to view Martin's body before all the commotion started. After his body was discovered, Mary ran to find Martin's aunt and told her she knew where Martin was and she could bring his aunt to the location. Mary told the aunt that there was blood everywhere and this poor woman ended up following her nephew's murderer to the scene of the crime. Over the next few days, Norma and Mary kept showing up at the aunt's place asking her questions. Are you sad Martin is dead? Do you think his mother misses him? They wouldn't stop badgering this poor woman and eventually, she refused to open the door when the girls showed up.
The community was obviously very distraught about the death of such a young boy. They began protesting and believed that the old, abandoned houses and buildings should be torn down. The children shouldn't be playing in them because it was dangerous. There were photos taken of the residents holding up banners stating they wanted to prevent future accidents. One of the children holding a banner in the photos, is Mary Bell. She was 10 years old and was inserting herself in the investigation and protests. Just like a grown ass adult serial killer would do.
Now, remember, the day after Martin's murder was Mary's 11th birthday. She ended up attacking her friend Norma and her father had to physically remove her from their home. She was known around town for getting in fights, so this was just a typical day for her. She later pointed to the house where Martin's body was discovered and told the neighborhood kids that's where she killed someone and they all just laughed because they didn't believe her. Then, she decided to torment Martin's mother. This is literally the creepiest thing I've ever heard in my life. Mary marched her ass over to Martin's house and she knocked on the door because Norma dared her. She stood on the doorstep with a large smile as his mother opened the door. Mary asked Mrs. Brown if she could see Martin. Mrs. Brown was like, oh shit, this little girl doesn't know what happened, so she told her that Martin was dead. Still smiling, Mary replied that she knew he was dead and she wanted to see him in his coffin. This was super tragic for Mrs. Brown and she ended up slamming the door in Mary's face and she couldn't get that smile out of her head....it felt so evil and intentional.
Initially, there wasn't a criminal investigation because people believed Martin's death was an accident. After a doctor viewed his body, he mentioned that it was possible for another child to have strangled him to death. He believed there wouldn't be any signs of violence because a child's hands are so small. It also wouldn't take a lot of pressure or strength because he was such a small boy. The police officers didn't take this information very seriously at that point.
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