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.
In Part 1:
Mary's mother, Betty Bell was a dominatrix who often wasn't home because she was working. Her father, Billy Bell was always in trouble with the law and had to live life on the run. When Mary was young, she was caught snacking on pills several times and had to get her stomach pumped. She also rolled out a window, but luckily, she was saved. Betty Bell tried to give her daughter away to a German woman, but she wouldn't allow her sister to adopt her. Mary murdered Martin Brown a day before her 11th birthday and we are about to discuss her second murder.
On July 11th, 1968 Mary lured Brian Howe to a trash heap that the children referred to as “Tin Lizzie” and she brought Norma with her as well. Brian had fine, curly light-blonde hair and he was just 3 years old. Before we get into his murder, I have to tell you who ties back into this story and this literally is pure coincidence. Remember the first murder victim, Martin? Well, his aunt, Rita was the last one to see him alive. Brian Howe was best friends with Rita's son and she often walked the children to the nursery in the mornings. On this particular day, it was a school holiday. Rita went and knocked on Brian's door, but no one answered. That afternoon, around lunchtime, Rita's son, John had met up with Brian and they were watching some men working on houses. Rita said she lost it and started screaming. She had obviously been through something very traumatic with Martin dying, so she was probably experiencing a lot of emotions. She yelled at the workers and told them they should know better than to let the boys sit there and watch. They could get hurt! She hit the young boys so hard, she remembers her hands stinging. She brought the boys home and she put her son, John to bed and probably out of guilt, gave Brian some biscuits.
So back to Mary and Norma luring Brian to Tin Lizzie. The girls murdered Brian and left his body between some concrete blocks in the dump. He was suffocated and strangled, left partially undressed and mutilated. Mary used scissors to cut clumps of hair from the boy's head and she jabbed holes in his thighs and mutilated his genitals. She also carved the letter N as in Norma on Brian's abdomen. It's believed that Norma added another line to turn it into the letter M because the extra line was drawn by a different hand. When the girls were done, Mary picked dried grass and purple flowers and sprinkled this all over Brian's body.
Brian's body was discovered that night and they canvassed the neighborhood for the next few days. They interviewed all the children and felt that two of them really stood out due to their words and actions. Norma stood out to the police because the police said she was acting too excited when they questioned her. She kept smiling and acting like everything was a joke. Mary didn't seem to be affected by Brian's death at all. Martin's family (The first boy that was murdered) had also recalled a very strange conversation they had with Mary. She dropped by their home and said she knew something about Norma that would get her put away. She claimed that Norma put her hands on Martin's throat and said “she pressed and he just dropped.” She demonstrated this by putting her own hands around her throat and dropping to the ground.
After the examination of Brian Howe's body, the pathologist, Mr. Bernard Tomlinson concluded that he had been strangled, and had died between 3:30 and 4:30 PM. There were pale pressure marks on his neck and the stab wounds were light. There were six small puncture wounds on his thighs and legs and there was a small amount of skin loss in the middle of his scrotum. The pathologist didn't feel that the wounds were inflicted by an adult because everything was done with such light pressure and looked almost playful or childlike.
As the police began pressing Mary harder for information, she suddenly remembered that she saw an 8 year old boy hitting Brian and pushing him around. She was like oh yea, he had a pair of scissors with him too. “Silver-colored and something wrong with the scissors, like one leg was either broken or bent.” She had perfectly described the murder weapon and the police hadn't mentioned the scissors that they found with Brian's body. They knew at this point that Mary was at the scene of the crime at the very least.
On the day of Brian's funeral, investigators questioned Norma again. She started turning on her friend at this point. She said Mary told her she killed Brian and took her to see the boy's body. The police brought Norma back to Tin Lizzie and she walked them straight to the spot where Brian's body was discovered in the concrete blocks. Norma got on the ground and showed the detectives how Brian's body was and she said Mary used a razor blade to mutilate his body. She also showed them where Mary hid the razor when they left. She pointed to a rock and when they looked, they found the Gillette razor just like she described. The police knew there was no way Norma could know all of these details if she wasn't involved. Norma explained that Mary said she, “squeezed his neck and pushed up his lungs. That's how you kill 'em.” Then she warned Norma, “Keep your nose dry and don't tell anybody.”
Detectives knew they needed to watch Mary closely. Everyone gathered around the front of Brian Howe's house as his tiny coffin was carried out. Detective Dobson saw Mary standing there, watching. She laughed and rubbed her hands together and he said he knew right then and there that he better bring her in or she was going to murder again. That evening, the police brought Norma in for a formal statement. They waited until the middle of the night to bring Mary in and they informed her of Norma's statement. She was like, she's a liar and she's just trying to get me in trouble, so she refused to give another statement. Detective Dodson told Mary that a man had seen her at the location that Brian's body was discovered and he could identify her. This wasn't true, but Mary fell for it. The detective told her that the man had seen her and Norma running away and Mary said, “He would have to have good eyesight.”
Detective Dodson was like, oh really? Why would he need good eyesight? Mary started answering,but quickly recovered and told the detective that the man couldn't see her when she wasn't there. One thing that Mary was well trained in was keeping your mouth shut when cops asked you questions. She was raised by criminals. Eventually, an official statement was given and it's a fucking doozy. On the night that Mary signed her statement, she had been locked up in a separate jail cell from Norma. They spent the majority of the night chatting and there was a female officer assigned to watch the girls overnight. The officer told Mary to get some sleep and she explained that she was afraid to sleep because she may wet the bed. I'm sure she believed the officers would punish and humiliate her just like her mother always did. Instead of sleeping, she told the officer that she had figured out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Mary wanted to be a nurse because she liked the idea of being able to stick needles in people. She could get paid to hurt people and that sounded delightful.
****TW racist/derogatory statements
I, Mary Flora Bell wish to make a statement. I want someone to write down what I have to say. I have been told that I need not say anything unless I wish to do so, but that whatever I say may be given in evidence.
Signed, Mary F. Bell
Brian was in his front yard and me and Norma were walking along towards him. We walked past him and Norma says, “Are you coming to the shop Brian?” and I says, “Norma, you've got no money, how can you go to the shop? Where are you getting it from?” She says, “Nebby,” keep your nose clean. Little Brian followed and Norma says, “Walk in front.” I wanted Brian to go home, but Norma kept coughing so Brian wouldn't hear us.
We went down Crosshill Road with Brian still in front of us. There was this coloured boy and Norma tried to start a fight with him. She said, “Darkie, whitewash, it's time you got washed.” The big brother came out and hit her. She shouted, “Howay, put your dukes up.” The lad walked away and looked at her as though she was daft. We went beside Dixon's shop and climbed over the railings, I mean, through a hole and over the railway. Then I said, “Norma, where are you going?” and Norma said, “Do you know that little pool where the tadpoles are?” When we got there, there was a big, long tank with a big, round hole with little holes round it. Norma says to Brian, “Are you coming in here because there's a lady coming on the Number 82 and she's got boxes of sweets and that.”
We all got inside, then Brian started to cry and Norma asked him if he had a sore throat. She started to squeeze his throat and he started to cry. She said, “This isn't where the lady comes, it's over there, by them big blocks.” We went over to the blocks and she says, “Ar---you'll have to lie down,” and he lay down beside the blocks where he was found. Norma says, “Put your neck up.” and he did. Then she got hold of his neck and said, “Put it down.” She started to feel up and down his neck. She squeezed it hard, you could tell it was hard because her finger tips were going white. Brian was struggling, and I was pulling her shoulders, but she went mad. I was pulling her chin up, but she screamed at me.
By this time, she had banged Brian's head on some wood or corner of wood and Brian was lying senseless. His face was all white and bluey, and his eyes were open. His lips were purplish and had all like saliva on, it turned into something like fluff. Norma covered him up and I said, “Norma, I've got nothing to do with this, I should tell on you, but I'll not.” Little Lassie was there and it was crying and she said, “Don't you start or I'll do the same to you.” It still cried and she went to get hold it its throat, but it growled at her. She said, “Now, now, don't be hasty.”
We went home and I took little Lassie home. Norma went acting kind of funny and making twitchy faces and spreading her fingers out. She said, “This sit he first, but it'll not be the last.” I was frightened then. I carried Lassie and put her down over the railway and we went up Crosshill Road way. Norma went into the house and she got a pair of scissors and she put them down her pants. She says, “Go and get a pen.” I said, “No, what for.” She says, “To write a note on his stomach.” and I wouldn't get the pen. She had a Gillette razor blade. It had Gillette on. We went back to the blocks and Norma cut his hair. She tried to cut his leg and his ear with the blade. She tried to show me it was sharp, she took the top of her dress where it was raggie and cut it, it made a slit. A man came down the railway bank with a little girl with long blonde hair, he had a red checked shirt on under a big, square concrete block. She left the scissors beside him. She got out before me over the grass on to Scotswood Road. I couldn't run on the grass cos I just had my black slippers on.
When we got along a bit she says, “May, you shouldn't have done cos you'll get into trouble.” and I hadn't done nothing I haven't got the guts. I couldn't kill a bird by the neck or throat or anything, it's horrible that. We went up the steps and went home, I was nearly crying. I said, if Pat finds out she'll kill you, never mind killing Brian cos Pat's more like a tomboy. She's always climbing in the old buildings and that.
Later on, I was helping to look for Brian and I was trying to let on to Pat that I knew where he was on the blocks, but Norma said, “He'll not be over there, he never goes there.” and she convinced Pat he wasn't there. I got shouted in about half past seven and I stayed in. I got woke up about half past eleven and we stood at the door as Brian had been found: The other day Norma wanted to get put in a home. She says will you run away with us and I said no. She says if you get put in a home and you feed the little ones and murder them then run away again.
I have read the above statement and I have been told that I can correct, alter, or add anything I wish. This statements is true. I have made it of my own free will.
Mary Flora Bell. Signed at 6:55PM.
Detective Dobson knew they needed to exhume the body of Martin Brown because suddenly, his death didn't seem so accidental anymore. He started combing through the notes and here's how the day of Martin's death started. Martin's family lived in a two-story red-brick terraced home. It was a Saturday morning and Mr. and Mrs. Brown slept in. Martin was a great little helper and he got up early, fed his baby sister, dressed her, got himself dressed, ate breakfast, and then shouted to his parents that he was heading out to play. His mother's older sister, Rita lived a few doors down from their house and Martin went there often and called his aunt Fita. On this Saturday, Martin woke his aunt up and she scolded him and he cried. At around 3 PM that day, Martin stopped by the house and asked for money to buy some candy. His father, Georgie, agreed and gave him some money and Martin headed to Dixon's shop and got a lollipop. Martin got scolded at Dixon's shop for being so dirty. He's four and was probably sticky. His aunt Rita saw him one last time because he stopped by and asked for bread and butter. Rita explained that butter was for tea and he could have some margarine. Martin was upset about this and said, “I'm not coming to your house bloody no more. I won't come again.” Martin was dead a half hour later, the school boys found his body at 3:30 PM.
Court appointed psychiatrists noted that Mary had a total lack of guilt or remorse and displayed no emotions except for anger and resentment when she was in jail. It was also determined that Mary had a very twisted and naive reality that she lived in. In a way, Norma and Mary actually hoped they'd be caught. The girls had discussed what would happen and they agreed that they should run away to Scotland and they would be big-time criminals that were on the run. If they got caught and put in jail, their horses would trot right over, pull the jail down with rope, and they'd escape. They figured they would eat carrots to survive and if it rained, they'd dig a hole and hide. Norma and Mary may have watched far too many westerns when they were growing up, but they believed they would have a better life on the run than with their families. The girls didn't have a concept of death being forever. Mary figured you go to sleep and you eventually come back around. Mary had never experienced a death in the family, so that helps to explain why she didn't understand fully get what dying meant and this next part totally explains why she had it so messed up. Mary had a dog and she says it died two or three times during her childhood. Then, her dad would come home the next day with a dog and tell her it was the same one.
Trial was set to begin in December of 1968 and this gave police enough time to exhume Martin Brown's body and investigate things further. This was obviously well before DNA testing existed, but they still had things to work with. Once of the pieces of forensic evidence linked Mary and Norma to the crime. Fibers from the girls' clothes were found on Martin's body. The trial was a pretty different experience for Norma and Mary. Even though Norma was older, she was treated like she was younger and some people described that they treated her like she had a learning disability or a lower IQ. The jurors felt sympathy for Norma and she cried a lot. When Mary took the stand, she was callous and just didn't give a shit. When Mary was asked why she went to Martin Brown's home to harass the family after his death, she said Norma had dared her and didn't believe she had the guts to do it. The drawing that Mary did in school got brought up as well. This was the photo she drew of Martin's body with the container lying next to him. Mary said she was never at the scene, she only drew this after hearing the rumors.
This is an interesting tidbit. Billy Bell, the guy that was Mary's uncle/father, didn't believe that Mary was guilty and he actually hatched a really half baked plan with his buddies. When he realized she would be convicted, he decided they were going to kidnap Mary and hide her. They didn't end up going through with this though.
Both Norma and Mary were charged with murder in the death of Martin Brown and Brian Howe. During trial, Mary was sent to Fernwood which is a children's remand home and she was locked in an attic room under 24/7 surveillance. Since she was a category A prisoner, meaning she was accused of a serious crime, the light had to be on at all times and someone was always watching. The center Mary was at did have a cute little fluffer kitten sitting on the roof. Mary reached out the window, wrapped her hands around the poor baby's neck and began to squeeze. An officer said she was paging through a magazine and saw this, so she had to tear Mary's hands off the cat. She got in trouble with the officer and she told them, “I like hurting small things that can't fight back.” One of the guards also reported that Mary said, “Murder isn't that bad. We all die sometime anyway.”
The trial lasted nine days and both girls seemed to have a difficult time understanding everything that was happening in court. The words didn't make sense and Someone at trial told Mary, that's the jury and she was like, ok sweet, what's that? The person explained that the jury is a group of people that decide what happens to you. She had no concept of what any of this meant. No one told the girls that people were coming to watch the trial and they had no idea there would be crowds gathered outside. During the trial, when Mary and Norma locked eyes, they would giggle. Someone called Mary a monstrosity of nature and she started laughing because she was like, that obviously doesn't describe me, that's a hilarious thing to say. Neither of the girls really knew why they kept laughing. The court decided that Norma did have a diminished mental capacity, so she couldn't be tried as an equal participant. Intelligence tests determined that Norma had the mental age of a child between 8 or 9. Her comprehension and reasoning powers were limited.
Mary was described quite different than Norma during the trial. She was described as “a most abnormal child: aggressive, vicious, cruel, incapable of remorse, a dominating personality with a somewhat unusual intelligence and a degree of fiendish cunning that is almost terrifying.” It was stated that she had “an evil and compelling influence over Norma.”
Mary didn't seem to care much about anything that was happening during trial, but she was super pissed when she realized that the full responsibility for the murders just fell on her. A prosecutor described Norma as immature and Mary didn't understand what this meant, so she asked a policewoman about this. After she was told, she asked, “Would that mean that if I was the more intelligent, I'd get all the blame?” Mary started to realize what was happening.
Norma's family had been at the courthouse every day. They supported their daughter and hugged her whenever possible. Mary's mother did show up, but she caused a scene by crying loudly and storming in and out of the courtroom. Betty had her husband with and he just sat there silently. Mary was super jealous and wanted the attention Norma received. She was also upset that she was taking the full blame for everything. She vowed that she would make Norma pay.
During trial, a prosecutor asked Norma if Mary had described or shown her how to kill someone. Norma gasped and said, “Oh yes!” Mary pitched a fit and this ended up scaring the jurors and Norma. Just like that, the friendship was over. The girls blamed each other back and forth on the stand. Mary kept throwing the blame back to Norma and she was called out on this. She was asked if she was afraid Norma would hurt her as well if she was really the murderer. Mary said, “She would not dare because I would turn around and punch her nose.”
Norma Bell was acquitted of the charges against her.
Mary Bell was found guilty, The judge believed she was dangerous and posed a threat to children. Mary was terrified about being found guilty because she believed that she would be hung. At this time, that wasn't something that England was really doing anymore, but she didn't know that. It was tough to actually figure out where they would send Mary though. They didn't really want to send her to a women's prison, but it also didn't seem right to send her to a mental hospital. England didn't have a place for FEMALE juveniles and the court wasn't sure where to put an 11 year old girl. Eventually, they decided to send Mary to a facility for male juvenile offenders. The court decided where to send her, but they didn't know for how long and they were going to figure that out later. Mary was sent to Red Bank Facility to be kept “at her Majesty's pleasure.” This means that the justice system would determine when Mary was ready for release and she didn't have a definitive sentence to serve.
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