THE CASE OF MARY BELL
Mary Bell was and is a child killer. At the age of ten she killed two little boys.
She was just a child herself.
'The Case Of Mary Bell' is my first 'soundtrack' project. The music was composed and recorded as 'Incidental' Soundtrack music for an as-yet unmade film or in-depth documentary. A major film is highly unlikely to be made due to the harrowing nature of the events that took place in Newcastle that May through to December of 1968. But a documentary, well that's a possibility. The B.B.C and/or History Channel could make a brilliant documentary using reconstructions, original photographs plus interviews and expert analysis.
I have based the entire score on the excellent book "The Case of Mary Bell' by the acclaimed author Gitta Sereny. The idea is to tell the story of Mary Bell through a series of instrumental pieces with the occasional piece of dialogue and/or sound effect added to give the listener a feel for each of the cues/scenes as they unfold. I think it makes a fine Audio companion to the book.
I have taken the story from Mary Bell's birth through to her Day of Judgement in the Newcastle Assizes only, as the later period of her life through to her subsequent release is another story altogether. I have also taken the liberty of putting the events in chronological order. if you are interested in the later period of Mary Bell's life, then please read Gitta Sereny's other excellent book on the subject 'Cries Unheard".
What follows is a brief description of each scene and used as audio and visual inspiration by myself during the period of composition for each one.
Scene 1 - "Take The Thing Away"
26th May 1957 at Dilston Hospital, Corbridge, Gateshead, seventeen year old Betty McC had a baby."Take the thing away" Betty reportedly cried, jerking her body away when the baby was put into her arms minutes after it was born."We couldn't believe it. We just couldn't believe it" says Aunt Isa sadly.
The beginning of life for Mary Flora Bell
Scene 2 - May 1958 - The first accident
In May 1958, when Betty was pregnant with her second child. Mary, just one year old, almost died. The was to be the first of a series of inexplicable accidents and events involving her and extending over a period of four years. Her grandmother took pills for her nerves and Mrs McC was a very responsible woman. With no lockable cupboards or drawers in her flat, she had carefully put the bottle out of reach in the back of the used needle compartment of an old gramophone and hid the knitting needle she used to extricate it in another place. Despite all these precautions, Mary somehow got hold of a number of these acid tasting pills and ate them. She was found in time and rushed to hospital. her stomach was pumped out and she recovered.
Scene 3 - "Can We Adopt Her?"
1959 - When Mary was two her Aunt Cath and Uncle Jack wrote to Betty asking if they could adopt her. "Betty came the very next day." Cath went on, "the day she got the letter, and took May (she was known as May to all her family) away. As if she was afraid."
Scene 4 - "I'll Bash You're Face In"
1959 - Jack and Cath say that "Mary never cried when hurt" but had temper tantrums, screamed, stamped on the floor when not given what she wanted, was never spanked at home, but stopped her tantrums at once when they gave her the occasional slap on her backside. They can only remember one occasion when they saw violence in her and that was just about the time they had suggested fostering her. As usual Mary had been staying with them and they'd had a letter from Betty in the morning to say that she and her husband Billy were coming that afternoon to pick Mary up and take her home. "Jack was sitting there," Cath said, "in his usual chair in front of the fireplace in their kitchen dinette, and Mary sat there opposite him. She was playing with a big red toy gun and Jack said 'your Mam and Dad will be here soon to pick you up'. "I'll bash your face in," May shouted at her uncle. And she did, with that toy gun. He still has the bump on his nose from it."
Scene 5 - "Me Mam gave me the smarties."
Newcastle General Hospital - 6th March 1961. This was the fourth and worst accident that happened to Mary. It was also the last. On this occasion the police, who often help by delivering urgent messages when there is no telephone, came to Cath's house and told her that her niece was in hospital in Newcastle. It was no doubt Betty who sent for her. She always called the family when in trouble. By the time she arrived Mary's stomach had been pumped and she had regained consciousness. Betty was standing in front of the ward. "Don't believe her," she implored, sobbing. "She says I gave her those pills." This time apparently Mary had swallowed a number of 'iron' pills her mother was taking. And it appears that when they got the four year old awake she immediately said to the doctor, "Me Mam gave me the smarties," and kept on saying this on and off for the next twenty-four hours.
Scene 6 - "That's Mary Bell"
In September 1961 she started school. First at a kindergarten at Westgate Hill and then the Cambridge Street Infants School where she was to stay for three years. The Headmistress and her form teachers remember her clearly. The teacher remembers the first time she met Mary on a visit she paid to the school before she began to teach there. She went into the classroom where Mary (now five) was a pupil. Mary was hiding under the desk. 'She was always doing this. Sometimes it wasn't really hiding; she'd go and lie under the desk on her back, stiff as a rod, and refuse to move.' "That's Mary Bell," she was told by the mistress in charge of the class. "You'll be getting to know her soon enough."
Scene 7 - The Sandpit Incident
On the 12th May 1968 at 9.30pm, Mrs Watson made a complaint to the police alleging that her daughter Pauline, aged seven, and two friends, Cindy Hepple, six, and Susan Cornish, six, that afternoon between 4.30 and 5.00pm, in the sandpit of the Woodlands Crescent Nursery, had been assaulted by one of two older girls: Norma Joyce Bell, aged thirteen, and Mary Flora Bell, aged ten. The blotches on both sides of Pauline's neck, she said later, remained visible for three days.
Scene 8 - Martin
On 25th May 1968, Martin Brown, aged four years and two months, was found dead in a condemned house. No. 85 St. Margaret's Road. Three boys, who were looking for scrap wood, discovered him. He was found lying on his back with his arms outstretched and with blood and saliva coming from his mouth in front of the window in one of the back bedrooms on the first floor. One of the boys, Walter Long, stopped Mary Bell and Norma Bell as they tried to come up the stairs in the house. "Get away down," he shouted. "That's alright - the police know I'm here," he say's Mary Bell replied. Four days after Martin had been found Mary knocked on the door of the Brown's house. "There was another girl, or maybe girls, down the garden path," Martin's mother June Brown says. "Mary smiled and asked to see Martin. I said "No Pet. Martin is dead." She turned round and said "Oh I know he's dead. I wanted to see him in his coffin," and she was still grinning. I was speechless that such a young child should want to see a dead baby and I just slammed the door on her".
Scene 9 - The 'Tin Lizzie'
The Tin Lizzie was a large area of wasteland, just behind St Margaret's Road next to the railway lines, covered in old oil drums and hugh concrete boulders that the kids used to call 'The Blocks.' On the afternoon of the 31st July 1968, Mary Bell and Norma Bell marched little Brian Howe, with his dog, Lassie, to The Blocks.
Scene 10 - Brian
On the 31st July 1968, Brian was three years and four months old. They found Brian at 11.10pm that night. He was lying on the ground between two blocks. His left arm was stretched out from his body, and his hand was black with dirt. Lying on the grass nearby was a pair of scissors with one blade broken and the other bent back. His body was covered with a carpet of long grass and purple weeds - which grew all over the 'Tin Lizzie'. There were scratch marks on his nose and traces of bloodstained froth at his mouth. His lips were blue and there were pressure marks and scratches on both sides of his neck. He was dead.
Scene 11 - The Statement
Brian Howe was buried on 7th August. a brilliant, hot summer day. "Mary Bell was standing in front of the house when the coffin was brought out," say's Chief-Inspector Dobson. With Mary already under suspicion: "I was, of course, already watching her. and it was when I saw her there that I knew I could not risk another day. She stood there laughing. Laughing and rubbing her hands. I thought, My God, I've got to bring her in, she'll do another one." And bring her in he did, just after 4.30pm. She gave a statement, written down on her behalf, and signed it at 6.55pm. It was this statement that would bring her down. She knew, and gave, too much detail whilst putting all the blame on Norma Bell. At 8.00pm that night, Chief-Inspector Dobson charged her with murder. "I am arresting you on a charge of murdering Brian Edward Howe on 31st July 1968," he said, and Mary Bell answered, "That's alright with me."
Scene 12 - Remand - The 'Northumberland Mining Song'
7th August 1968 - Newcastle West End police station. The first night after the arrest of both Norma Bell and Mary Bell. policewoman Pauline Z; "On that night I was sitting in the chair at the foot of her bunk (Mary's) and she was lying on it. She suddenly started singing 'The Northumberland Mining Song.' Cilla Black sings it (Cilla recorded it as 'The Liverpool Lullaby'.) She knew every word of it. She had it absolutely right. She has a very good voice." Pauline shook her head. "I can't explain, but to hear that kid singing like that, in those cells, that night...."
Scene 13 - "I hope me Mam won't have to pay a fine."
14th August 1968 - En route from Newcastle Juvenile Court to Milton House, Croydon, near London. "It was a ridiculous performance: I took her to Croydon; me and Cathy V.' said Policewoman Lynn W. "Here we were at the railway station with this kid everybody was on about, how dangerous she was and how the whole country would be up in arms if she got away and all that, and then there was this hargie-bargie about getting a private compartment on the train: there wasn't the money for it - £25. You wouldn't believe it, would you? If it hadn't been that we knew the stationmaster, who got us one anyway, I don't really know what we would have done. We got settled, you know, pulled down the curtains and all that so nobody could see in. Mary - she'd been zooming to and fro between the window and her seat and suddenly she said "I hope me Mam won't have to pay a fine." I thought that was a funny thing to say for a kid who was supposed to have killed two little boys. But she meant it, you know, that's what she was worrying about."
Scene 14 - "I never done anything. It was Norma"
16th August 1968 - Milton House, Croydon, near London. Dr Robert Orton, specialist in psychological medicine at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary, interviews Mary Bell. "Throughout the interview," he said later, "she was chirpy, bright and a bit cheeky. I asked her of course to tell me about the events of the 31st July. 'I never done anything,' she said. 'It was Norma. I tried to pull her off but she screamed and I didn't want to hurt her.' When I asked her what she thought might happen to her, she replied, 'I might get put in an Approved School. I have been disgusted with myself,' and she added immediately, 'I have been put away twice, that is enough.' "What do you mean by that?" I asked. 'I've had enough punishment.' she said.
Scene 15 - "Her name is May"
September - December 1968. Seaham Remand Home, fifteen miles from Newcastle. The Matron at the time Mary was there was a Miss A., who felt a resentment of what she considered "unfair" or "stupid" treatment of Mary whom she felt she really knew, while others did not. This feeling of defensiveness is one Mary roused in a wide variety of people who have been in contact with her. "It is ridiculous,' the Matron said, rather plaintively, "how everybody is calling her Mary. Even the child's parents have been forced into calling her Mary because the newspapers and all the officials did. Her name is May. That's what she's been called all her life."
Scene 16 - "I've got no feelings."
October - November 1968. Mary was seen on a number of occasions by the Home Office Forensic Psychiatrist, Dr David Westbury, who probably wrote the most complete report about her. Mary told Dr Westbury that she never worried about anything and was never frightened. "I've got no feelings," she said. "I'm like me Dad, I can't cry."
Scene 17 - Observation -"I've never met one like Mary."
October - November 1968. Dr Orton talked of how someone who was strangled would suffer before he died. "Why? If you're dead, you're dead," she replied in an interested and logical sort of way. "It doesn't matter then."
"I've seen a lot of psychopathic children," Dr Orton said later, "but I've never met one like Mary: as intelligent, as manipulative, or as dangerous."
Scene 18 - Guilty of Manslaughter.
The trial took place in the Newcastle Assizes between 5th December and 17th December 1968. On the final day, the Jury retired at 10.40am and returned at 2.15pm. The clerk of the Assizes rose from his seat just below the Judge's dais. "Members of the Jury.... are you all agreed upon your verdict?"
Mary Bell was found guilty of manslaughter of both Martin Brown and Brian Howe. Norma Bell was acquitted on both counts.
Mr Justice Cusack passed sentence on Mary Bell less than ten minutes later. "In the case of a child of this age no question of imprisonment arises, but I have the power to order a sentence of Detention, and it seems to me that no other method of dealing with her, in the circumstances is suitable. I therefore have to turn to what length of detention should be imposed. I say at once that, if an undeterminate period is imposed, as in the case of a life sentence of imprisonment, that does not mean that the person concerned is kept in custody indefinitely, or for the rest of their natural lives. It means that the position can be considered from time to time and, if it becomes safe to release that person, that person can be released. For that reason the sentence of the Court concurrently in respect of these two matters upon Mary Bell's is a sentence of Detention and the Detention will be for life. The child Mary Bell may be taken out of court."
Recorded between May and September 2003 at the Lane.
All Titles have been composed , played, recorded and produced by Mark Sach, except "The Northumberland Mining Song', which was written by Stan Kelly.
All sound Recordings are owned and copyright of Mark Sach (c&p Mark Sach 2003) except 'the Northumberland Mining Song' which is copyright of Heathside Music Ltd., London.
Melissa Pope provided the voice of Mary Bell
Pauline Pope provided the voice of Mary's mother, Betty McC, the Schoolmistress, the Matron and Miss A
John Pope provided the voice of Uncle Jack and Dr Robert Orton.
The Pope's are from Gateshead, Newcastle and know the area and places in this story very well. They do not, however, know any of the persons involved and have given their services as a favour to the composer and without any disrespect to any of the families involved.