The Case of Mary Bell

The Case of Mary Bell : A Portrait of a Child Who Murdered

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In December 1968 two girls - Mary Bell, eleven, and Norma Bell, thirteen (neighbours, but not related) - stood before a criminal court in Newcastle, accused of strangling, within a six-week period, Martin Brown, four years old, and Brian Howe, three. Norma was acquitted. Mary Bell, the younger but infinitely more sophisticated and cooler of the two, was found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder because of 'diminished responsibility' and was sentenced to 'detention' for life. Step by step, the extraordinary murders, the events surrounding them, the alternately bizzare and nonchalant behaviour of the two girls, their brazen offers to help the distraught families of the dead boys, the police work that led to their apprehension, and the trial itself are grippingly re-created in this rare-study of the wanton murder of child by child. What emerges with equal force is the inability of society to anticipate such events and to take adequate steps once disaster has more

Product details

  • 12-17
  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 134 x 216 x 26mm | 381.02g
  • Vintage Publishing
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1
  • 0712662979
  • 9780712662970
  • 96,040

About Gitta Sereny

Gitta Sereny is of Hungarian-Austrian extraction and is trilingual in English, French and German. During the Second World War she became a social worker, caring for war-damaged children in France. She gave hundreds of lectures in schools and colleges in America and, when the war ended, she worked as a Child Welfare Officer in UNRRA displaced persons' camps in Germany. In 1949 she married the American Vogue photographer Don Honeyman and settled in London, where they brought up a son and a daughter and where she began her career as a journalist. Her journalistic work was of great variety but focussed particularly on the Third Reich and troubled children. She wrote mainly for the Daily Telegraph Magazine, the Sunday Times, The Times, the Independent and the Independent on Sunday Review. She also contributed to numerous newspapers and magazines around the world. Her books include: The Medallion, a novel; The Invisible Children, on child prostitution; Into That Darkness; and a biographical examination of Albert Speer. Gitta Sereny died in June more

Review quote

"Gitta Sereny has worked with disturbed children, and her dignified, compassionate book is a mile away from the usual tawdry accounts of sensational murder trials... The story of Mary Bell in all its terrifying detail is told here with fine lucidity, joined to remarkable charity and understanding." -- Julian Symons Washington Post "Accurate and scrupulously fair" -- T.C.N. Gibbons New Society "Gitta Sereny's clear and readable book will help many people to make sense of the story... She also draws out the lessons to be learned both by professional workers, and by society at large." -- W.H. Allchin Mindshow more

Review Text

Unlike the Moors murders, the story of Mary Bell, eleven, who in the company of her friend - not sister - Norma Bell, killed two little boys of three and four at an interval of more than two months, was muffled in the press. It was too unthinkable. And actually Miss Sereny who covered the trial and followed it up for three years never raises her voice above a quiet rebuke at the world which neglected this child - her mother, teachers and the society at large where until recently there have not existed the right facilities in which to confine and perhaps rehabilitate her. Mary Bell is a psychopath and her condition has never been properly separated from her crime, reviewed here along with the extensive Assizes trial in Newcastle where both girls blamed each other but only Mary - intelligent, variable ("I couldn't hurt a fly" or "I like hurting people") but above all manipulative - committed the strangulations. And as she most rightly declared, "I've got no feelings." With less wide-ranging social commentary than Pamela Hansford Johnson's On Iniquity (1967) but equal regret, author Sereny discusses the aftermath for each family involved and in particular Mary's own terrible history - a mother as disturbed as the child and the various prefatory "accidents" since Mary's infancy. She has also informed it with caution (we cannot afford sentimentality) as weft as compassion and cool reason. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

539 ratings
3.92 out of 5 stars
5 33% (177)
4 35% (188)
3 26% (140)
2 5% (26)
1 1% (8)
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