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 2:
Mary and Norma murdered Brian Howe and the police had caught the girls in several lies. Mary and Norma planned to run away to Scotland to be big time criminals that were on the run. If they were caught, their horses would pull the jail down with rope so they could escape. Both Mary and Norma were charged with murder and the trial lasted 9 days. Norma Bell was acquitted of the charges against her, but Mary Bell was found guilty. The court wasn't sure where to send her since she was so young and now you're all caught up.
In February of 1969, Mary began her sentence at Red Bank Special Unit which was part of their secure detention center. While Mary was at the detention center, she met the director, James Dixon and he ended up being more of a parent to her than her own mom had ever been. James Dixon was retired from the Navy and was known for being really strict, but he genuinely cared for children. He provided structure and discipline for Mary without humiliation and abuse. Unfortunately, the facility did have a major flaw in their treatment system though. They had a rule that they never focused on an inmate's past, they only focused on the current. This might sound nice initially, but this also meant that Mary had a lot of unresolved issues from her past. The abuse she suffered wasn't discussed and they didn't bring up that she was a convicted killer.
A staff member said that Mary had acquired a lot of items during her stay. She had soaps, powders, bath salts, diaries, cards, and lots of other items. She loved all of her treasures and they were extremely important to her. She kept everything very tidy and obsessively took baths. I mention this because Mary's home was described as horrendously messy and the children weren't always well groomed. It almost seems like there's something psychological happening here.
Before long, Mary was up to her same old antics. She attacked the other inmates and bashed a boy's face into a table when he called her a murderer. She did accuse a staff member of sexually assaulting her while she was at the facility. There wasn't any evidence of this, but the person did resign later. Now, remember, Mary had suffered sexual abuse as a child, now she's in a facility with all boys.
Mary had a pretty interesting effect on the staff members at the facility. She had gone through four counselors. Each time she asked to switch, her wish was granted. If any of the boys wanted to switch counselors, it was just shrugged off and they had to deal with what they got. For some reason, when Mary asked to switch counselors, people felt guilty, like they weren't doing their job efficiently. Maybe they were failing her? Two staff members ended up leaving because they got too attached to Mary. She was described as intensely needy and draining. She needs something so desperately, but you're not quite sure what she actually needs and that's the draining part. Many staff members believed whole heartedly that Mary was wrongfully convicted and that she was innocent. This may have contributed to the world of denial she was allowed to live in for so many years.
Mary's father, Billy Bell ended up getting himself into hot water for robbery. The judge, Rudolph Lyons, had prosecuted the case against Mary. He gave Billy a light sentence of 15 months in prison and he said, “because of the tragedy surrounding this man's life.” Billy only served 9 months of his sentence. While he was locked up, his sister Audrey took his kids.
During Betty's visits, she told Mary she should focus on writing her daily letters and poems. People really thought she was trying to help her daughter learn how to express her feelings and emotions, but that just wasn't Betty's style. She sold the letters to tabloids and eventually Mary refused to write her anymore. This didn't necessarily phase Betty though. She just copied her daughter's handwriting and wrote her own stories for the media. Betty had a very large problem with drugs and alcohol and she wasn't making the money she needed as a sex worker any longer. She NEEDED Mary to help her. She began telling her how hard it was on her to be the mother of a murderer and would take her on a huge guilt trip. Mary actually started self-harming by cutting herself.
Most of Mary's family stopped talking to her and her mother was the only consistent visitor. Her aunt's baby had died from leukemia, so she understood why she couldn't visit. Mary's mom told her that her aunt blamed her for the baby's death and that it was God's vengeance on the family since Mary was such a bad person. Mary was absolutely devastated to hear this and she found out much later in life that her mom made this up and her aunt never blamed her. In the spring of 1970, Mary was going to be allowed to visit her dad in jail. This had all been pre-arranged, but good ole Betty showed up and told Mary she had to choose between her and her father. She chose visitation with her father and told the facility she was at that they could stop visitations with her mom. They actually complied with this for awhile, but as it turns out, they weren't allowed to stop visitations with her mom.
There was a letter that Betty said Mary wrote to her and people believed this for many years, but when the Cries Unheard book was being written, Mary confirmed she didn't write the letter, her mom did. The letter says,
I know that in my heart
from you once was not apart
My love for you grows
More each day.
When you visit me mam
I'd weep once, your away
I look into your eyes. So Blue and
they're very sad, you try to be very
cheery But I know you think I'm bad, so bad
though I really don't know if you feel the same
and treat it as a silly game
A child who had made criminal fame
Please mam put my tiny mind at ease
tell Judge and Jury on your knees
they will LISTEN to your cry of PLEAS
THE GUILTY ONE IS you not me.
I sorry it has to be this way
We'll both cry and you will go away
to other gates where you are free
locked up in prison cells,
Your family are wee
these last words I speak, on behalf of dad, P and me
Tell them you are guilty
Please, so then mam, I'll be free, daughter, May.
Mary says she would never write something that ends every sentence in a simple rhyme like that.
In 1972, there was a pretty big story that was splattered all over the media. Red Bank had a parent's weekend and everyone was invited to tour the facility, visit, and see the rooms. In the presence of a supervising teacher, Betty Bell dressed Mary in suggestive clothing and took photos of her. This caused a pretty big shit storm for Red Bank. Soon after this time, Mary got her period, her body was changing, and she felt really constricted and awkward in the boy's facility and requested to be sent somewhere else. She eventually got out of her locked bedroom and snuck into one of the boys' locked bedrooms (no one can explain how this happened) a teacher caught Mary fooling around with the boys. Soon after this, Mary broke a window and needed several stitches. The facility was forced to bring her to a mental hospital for awhile and it was time to find a new place for Mary to go.
The staff at the facility could tell that Mary started acting out every time she had contact with her mother, she was obviously a trigger for her. After Betty would visit, Mary would become withdrawn and would daze out or she would get really aggressive and violent. They decided to move Mary in 1973 to a women's prison.. She ended up making a deal with someone right away for protection by becoming the inmates girlfriend. Mary had gone from a facility where she was coddled, to prison. Soon after she got there, Mary witnessed an older lady being drug out of the building by her hair. Mary went berserk and started running her mouth and crying. An officer rang the bell and a mob rushed towards Mary, pinned her down, carried her to lockup, and injected her with something they call the liquid straitjacket. It's a hypnotic drug called paraldehyde. Mary remembers being injected, then she tried to move and her body didn't do anything. She tried to speak, but words wouldn't come out. Her mouth was heavy and her tongue felt swollen and she was paralyzed. When the drug finally wears off after 48 hours, it feels like pins and needles all over your body for hours. Mary tried to appear tough and masculine by adding makeup on her face that the guards described as a 5 o'clock shadow and she inquired about a sex change. Mary later said she believed she did this to distance herself from the girl who was the murderer. She wanted to be someone else. So, she started telling the inmates that she had an evil twin and she started acting very masculine. Mary actually rolled up stockings in the shape of male genitals and wore this around often. She later says she didn't actually desire to be a man, she just knew she didn't want to be herself anymore. She did ask to be allowed to see a psychiatrist, but this was prevented for two full years. Can you believe that? Someone is asking for help and it's repeatedly turned down.
While Mary was in prison, she accidentally discovered that her dad, Billy, wasn't her dad. She was finally allowed to see a psychiatrist and one day, they asked Mary who she would like to see the most and she said, my dad. She explained that he hadn't visited her since she had been moved to prison. The psychiatrist responded with, which dad? Mary was like oh, I don't mean Georgie, that's my stepdad. By this time, Mary's mother had divorced Billy and remarried. The psychiatrist was like , well Billy isn't your father either. That was the first time Mary had ever heard that Billy wasn't her biological father and no one would tell her who her father was. When her mother came for her next visit, Mary asked her who her real father was and Betty told her she was the devil's spawn. I think I can safely say this because Betty Bell isn't alive anymore. She was a twat waffle.
There was never a possibility that Billy Bell was Mary's biological father. Betty actually met him a few months AFTER Mary was born in 1957 and they got married in 1958. Betty got pregnant with her second child who was born that autumn and Billy was the father of this child.
People were still trying to figure out where to put Mary and when her sentence should actually end. It was decided that she could be transferred to a less secure facility. It was referred to as an open prison which means you can go for walk, be alone with others, and there's more trust that you'll do what you're supposed to. It's a test to see if you're ready to be released. The only thing you can't do is go outside the perimeters. Mary had been controlled for so long and she didn't know what she would even do if she got released. Since she had been locked up as a child, she didn't know what normal life was like. Where would she go? Who would help her? How would she got a job? In September of 1977, Mary and another girl escaped. They did this on a Sunday because visiting hours started at 1:30 PM. There would be lots of people milling around and the next head count wasn't until 6:00 PM. They were picked up by three young guys. One of the guys must have suspected something or recognized Mary and he actually had them stop the car and he bailed. The rest of the group spent the day going to pubs and hanging out. The other person that escaped with Mary had her own plans, so she ditched and left Mary with the two strangers. The next morning, Mary saw her face all over the newspapers, so the boys bought her a large hat to cover her up. One of the boys ended up betraying Mary and sold the story to the tabloids.
When Mary was caught, she was told to write a statement detailing her escape, she wrote, “Since my parole was turned down in July-August 1977 and I haven't been given any release date I felt rather depressed, since I have seen girls come in and out and I have felt so isolated. I wanted to prove to authorities that I am established and given the opportunity, I could lead a normal life just like anyone else. What happened ten years ago, although all the truth didn't come out in court, is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life and no amount of years in prison is going to erase it from my mind. I took a life, but not in the savage way the press made it out to be. At the age of ten I did not realize the meaning of death. What happened to me could have happened to any other child of my age and circumstances...Last week by chance I saw in reception at Moor Court a Christmas card from my dad which I had never received and also news that my grandma Bell had died. All of these things started to build up and I thought I am shut away and I have never experienced any life. I don't even know what the other girls are talking about when they come in because I have never been anywhere or done anything.
This part of the letter she describes being picked up by the boys.
I told the police that Clive and Keith knew nothing about it. I didn't want them to get in trouble because of me. They showed me that I could be normal and enjoy myself and have a nice time and mix with people like anybody else. I am sorry for mucking up their lives because they were just trying to help me. I am grateful to them both. I am asking now that my case circumstances and situation will be reviewed in a different light and I may be given a chance to live a normal life. Because in these three days I know I can cope with outside life and feel at ease with ordinary people. I only hope the press don't start dragging up all the past and try to make me look a horrible person. Perhaps you don't believe I deserve my freedom, specially after running away, but I don't want to spend the rest of my life in prison. I plead for leniency and hope you can understand it from my side. I am sorry I have created a disturbance but I just wanted to be free. Give me a chance to be so.”
Mary had only been out for a few days, but in 1980, she was actually released at the age of 23. She was paroled and sent to youth hostel. The hostels are a group of bungalows on the grounds and you must get a job nearby. Mary got a job waitressing at St. Williams College restaurant. She worked during the days and her and a friend would get evening passes. If you had good behavior and you were doing well at work, you could get a pass to stay out until 10PM and go to the local pubs. Pretty much right away, Mary was pregnant. She had received a three night pass because she was going to visit her mom. Before she left, she met a man who said she should spend two nights with her mom and one night with him and she agreed. When Mary did end up heading to her mom's house, she told her that she can't use her real name or tell anyone who she was. They went to a pub and told her friends that Mary was her cousin and her parents were both dead. It was a very strange experience for her. So, Mary began getting more passes to hang out with the man that got her pregnant, but he had a wife and eventually told her about Mary. They all met and had a discussion about things. Mary knew that she wasn't going to continue seeing this man and she was terrified to be a single mom....she had just been released from prison, so she ended up getting an abortion.
On May 14th, 1980, it was time for Mary to officially be released. She was given a new identity and she was told she would be driven to a probation officer to spend 10 days in a small village. This was a high profile case and they didn't want people to figure out that Mary was being moved and they certainly didn't want her mother to sell the story. She was sent to her new home and began applying for a job at all the local places in town. Her first job was at a nursery, but when she told her probation officer, they said absolutely not. We probably shouldn't have a convicted child murderer working in a nursery. The media would have had blown up if they had known about this. Mary got herself another job and she was doing well for several months. One day, a car was following her as she was walking and when she stopped, her step-father, Georgie got out and told her to give her mother another chance. This was right before Christmas and they wanted to spend the holidays with Mary. The family Mary was living with said she could spend the day with her family, but if she went home with them, she would no longer be welcome to live with them because it totally ruins all the work they put in with her. She didn't like the ultimatum and chose to go spend the holidays with her family. They were all drunk together from Christmas to New Year's. The probation officer confirmed that the previous family wasn't joking and Mary wasn't welcome back, so they had to find her a new place.
She was sent to a place that forces you to leave everyday by 9AM and you can't come back until 4PM. This was temporary until a room opened up with a school owner. This person wanted Mary to get an education, so she got a grant to cover living and school expenses and was enrolled in college. Mary absolutely loved this environment and enjoyed her classes. She finally felt like she had a purpose in life and she dreamed of being a therapist or maybe even a school teacher. When she came back for her second term, her probation officer suddenly realized that she wasn't allowed to work in those fields. She didn't see where she could fit any longer and was disinterested in school. She started spending all her school money on clothes, got in a huge financial mess, and had to leave school. Mary moved in with her mother and had a job for about 6 months in a geriatric home. She got a new probation officer who realized she can't have that kind of job and they made her quit. During this time, Mary met a man named Rob and they wanted to have a baby. Mary had to see a psychologist and go through evaluations. It took two experts six months to write their reports, but they agreed that it was safe for her to have a child.
A few days after the baby was born, social services was like, I don't think this is going to work. They did a full hearing and social services applied for care and control of the child. Mary, Rob, and the baby were moved to a family center to be observed and they remained there for six months to be supervised at all times. At the end of this, Mary and Rob were awarded care and control of their child.
Mary went to court and her and her child were granted lifelong anonymity. When Mary gave birth to a little girl, her life changed big time. Not only did she find some meaning to her life, but she began taking responsibility for her actions. She felt very guilty about the murders she committed and stopped denying that it happened. She attempted to live a quiet life with her daughter under her new identity, but the media figured everything out.
The media went about things in a really vile, disgusting way. It's not surprising, but it's awful. They decided to contact the mother of Mary's first victim. Martin Brown's mother, June Brown was asked how she felt about Mary having a child. Obviously, June Brown was shocked and probably didn't have pleasant feels knowing that Mary got to live a full life, but her son didn't. June had spent her years fighting after her son had been murdered. She worked to establish and promote resources for parents of murdered children. She was a warrior who fought for victims and she celebrated her sons birthday every year so he was never forgotten.
Ten days after the news broke and people found out where Mary was, there were reporters and photographers surrounding her house. Mary and her family had just made a down payment on a home and they had only been there a week. Reporters were going down the streets knocking on every door, asking people if they met their new neighbor and did they know a killer moved in next door? People were banging on the door and faces were pressed against the windows. Mary pulled her child into the kitchen and they hid. She didn't think she was ready to learn the truth about her past, so she pretended it was all a mistake. Mary sent her husband out to get pizza and they tried to ignore all the chaos outside. Eventually, the police had to go in the home and remove everyone by covering them with blankets. At this point, everyone was forbidden to approach Mary's family and they couldn't even photograph or film them from a distance. Mary and her daughter were also given devices that would signal the police if they were needed.
The truth did eventually come out to Mary's daughter and she said she always knew there was a family secret and she's glad she finally knows the whole story. She was 14 when she learned everything and she understood that even though her mother did something terrible, she was a small child at the time.
In the end, Mary's mother completely alienated her from the family. When Mary's grandmother passed away, no one told her and she wasn't invited to the funeral. She also wasn't notified when her aunt Cath died. The way Mary found out was pretty fucked up. She was actually at her mother's house one day and told her she was going to stop by her aunt Cath's house afterwards and Betty didn't say a word. So, Mary shows up at Cath's house and the people that were there had to tell her she died.
It's been suggested that when Mary “overdosed” as a child, or when her mother tried to murder her, it had lasting effects on her brain that was still developing. This seemed to cause her to be dissociative and unable to empathize. A lack of empathy and inability to have any type of impulse control are typical signs of a frontal cortex injury.
Gitta Sereny (SirEEny) followed this case for a very long time and she wrote a book that I got a lot of information from called Cries Unheard Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell. She was eventually able to meet with Mary and many things in the story changed and she received more information about what Mary's childhood really was like. Gitta actually attended Mary's trial on December 5th, 1968. She met up with Mary when she was locked up in a facility and in November 1995, when Mary was an adult, Gitta met up with her to discuss writing a book.
Cries unheard Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell by Gitta Sereny
Mary Flora Bell The Horrific True Story Behind An Innocent Girl Serial Killer by Nancy Veysey and Ryan Becker