In December 1968, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 11-year-old Mary Bell was found guilty of manslaughter by reasons of diminished responsibility after having strangled to death two younger boys, Martin Brown (aged four) and Brian Howe (aged three). Unlike other near-contemporary murder cases that had shocked the nation, such as the child-killings dubbed “the Moors Murders” in Manchester three years earlier, Bell’s crimes would not go on to inspire very much fictionalized representation, nor would they provide the fodder for lucrative true crime publications or “biopics.”1 The aberrant fact of a female child having killed other (male) children seems to have silenced the usual cacophony of lurid speculations and adaptations that follow murder cases, as if people simply did not know what to say about a killer who was both so young and, crucially, female. The only prominent books to be published about Mary Bell in the years following her trial would be Gitta Sereny’s two serious and impressive studies of Bell’s childhood and psychology, the latter revealing the physical and sexual abuse she claims to have suffered at the hands of her mother.2 Almost 40 years after the trial, in 2005, Tyneside actor and filmmaker Tony Hickson released a puppet animation short, Where’s Mary?, which is the only extant filmic treatment of the case to date. It tells the story of Bell’s childhood, culminating in two murders.
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- Where’s Girlhood? The Female Child Killer in Where’s Mary? (Tony Hickson, 2005)
- Palgrave Macmillan US