RAD, reactive attachment disorder, is the mental condition that enabled Mary Bell, an 11-year-old girl from New Castle, England, to strangle two little boys, then later return to use a scissors and mutilate the legs and genitals of one. RAD is characterized by pathological behaviours, such as an inability to bond, lack of empathy and hostility. It would appear from the beginning that fate played a hand against Mary Bell. Mary was raised in a chaotic environment in Newcastle, England: her mother, Florence McCricket Bell, was depressive and erratic by nature. She was a known prostitute, specializing in sadomasochism. Frequently she used Mary in her encounters with her clients. Mary’s father, William Bell, and her mother, came and went and Mary was left alone for days at a time. On one occasion Florence put Mary up for adoption then changed her mind. Relatives implied that Florence tried to kill her daughter on a number of occasions and make it appear to be an accident. Mary’s relatives offered to take Mary from Florence and raise her but oddly, Florence refused.
Mary’s community was no better: she lived in a poverty-stricken, crime-ridden part of Newcastle, known as Scottswood. She lived on Whitehouse road, a particularly rough area. It was a neglected slum and many families who lived in the area were known to police for domestic violence and other such crimes. Children were left for hours to play unattended in the streets. During Mary’s childhood the worst buildings were being torn down to make way for new highrise buildings. Children often played in dangerous, abandoned buildings and houses. watch constructing the expressway
By the time Mary began school it was apparent something was very wrong with the child. She had no friends and was hostile toward other children, most of whom shunned her out of fear. Frequently children her age and younger angered her and when this happened Mary committed violent acts against them. It is possible Mary experienced seizures during angry episodes: her eyes fixated on her intended victim, her head shook and a bizarre transformation came over her. One of her favourite methods was to tell a child she would massage his or throat, then begin tightly squeezing the child’s neck. On occasion she forced sand into a child’s mouth until the child was unable to breathe.
Mary was able to befriend one girl, Norma Bell, no relation. Norma was below average intelligence and easily manipulated. With Mary as ring leader, the two abused a number of little boys in the area. Eventually Norma assisted Mary in committing both murders. Norma and Mary are an example of typical partners-in-crime; one is usually far brighter than, and dominant over the other. Mary’s teachers on Delaware Road were well aware that she had a sadistic streak. Once Mary stubbed out a cigarette on a child’s cheek. Mary admitted her transgression and stated she was sorry, however the school did nothing to intervene with Mary’s behaviour. watch mary bell 2/5
On Saturday, May 8, 1968, Mary and Norma took a small child purportedly to buy sweets. When he was found hours later, wandering dazed, police were contacted, however no legal action was taken against the girls. The next day a local girl named Pauline was nearly strangled by Mary but when police were contacted nothing was done and Mary’s family wasn’t contacted.
By this time Mary, she was an isolated, angry child, lacking social skills and capable of terrible crimes against children. It appeared that her favourite targets were boys. The two homicides she committed in fact did involved boys: 3-year-old Brian Howe and 4-year-old Martin Brown. It is possible Mary would have also murdered older boys but she didn’t have the physical strength. Her murderous hatred of males probably stemmed from the sexual abuse men perpetrated against her in her home. watch children psychopaths? conduct disorder
When Martin Brown was found after his strangulation, he was cold and grey. Driven to New Castle Hospital he was dead on arrival. The murder was committed upstairs in an abandoned house. Later Mary and Norma returned and wrote graffiti on the walls, boasting about the kill. Two days after Martin’s murder, police were called to a Scottswood nursery, close to Mary’s home, where they found 4 pieces of paper, on one of which Mary had written “we did murder Martin Brown“, however the police disregarded the note as fanciful child’s play. Foul words such as “fuck off” and other vile curses were written on the notes. The residents of Newcastle mistakenly believed that Martin’s death was accidental from a fall inside an abandoned building. Mary herself reacted in a bizarre manner by carrying a banner during a public protest demanding that Newcastle be made into a safer place for children to live. watch a clockwork orange
Mary’s next and final victim was occurred when she was 13-years-old. 3-year-old Brian Howe. While playing unsupervised in the streets, little Bryan went to watch a demolition of some houses in “rat alley” as it was known. Mary and Norma brought Bryan to an isolated patch of land known as the tin lizzy. Hours later, police found the child’s body, spread-eagled. Snippets of his curly blonde hair were found nearby. The same scissors had been used to cut the child’s legs in a posthumous attack. Investigators suspected a child committed the attack due to the “gentleness” of the murder. Soon after the discovery of Bryan Howe’s body, the Martin Brown case was re-opened. Thereafter whenever the police held a media conference, Mary was present. This was not lost upon the inspectors and days later Mary and Norma were picked up for questioning and ultimately charged in both boys’ deaths. Mary’s angry response to the officer pressing charges was “I’ll get you back for this.” watch the mary bell case 1/5
From the beginning to the end of the trial Mary denied her role in the deaths of the boys. Frequently Mary inquired as to whether her mother would visit; she also inquired about her dog. Professionals couldn’t help but grow fond of the vivacious and highly intelligent 11-year-old. However being young, she didn’t realize the extent of her predicament. Mary astounded police by dodging their questions with finesse and demanding legal representation. Mary and Norma blamed one another for the killings, as crime partners often do. watch the bad seed
There was little media response to the case: the two little brown-haired girls hardly seemed like criminals and due to the girls’ ages, the courts kept the case as quiet as possible. The girls’ lawyers sat with their clients in order to counsel the children quietly and offer comfort where needed. A child psychiatrist who worked with the girls felt Mary was impervious to the crimes, but Norma was quite docile and highly impressionable. People who heard about the case wondered if Mary was a bad seed, a monster. Mary was deemed a psychopath as she lacked remorse, anxiety and usual human emotions for her actions. 9 days later Mary was convicted of manslaughter due to “diminished responsibility” and Norma was released due to her simple-mindedness, what would now be considered “diminished capacity.” read mary bell
However the outcome was to rehabilitate and not simply lock up Mary Bell. Her case however, was without precedent in modern England and the court was at a loss as to how to treat the 11-year-old. Ultimately Mary was incarcerated at Redbank School in Lincolnshire where she was one of 22 incarcerated children, 21 of whom were boys. Years later Mary’s mother gave a television interview about her daughter. Florence was now an alcoholic and drug addict, broken and alone after the notorious case. Florence blamed her daughter’s actions on her own stress and unhappiness, however the cold relationship between Florence and Mary had a great deal to do with Mary’s crimes: Mary had never been exposed to a normal bond with a loving mother. Mary became incapable of bonding with anyone and her ability to feel emotions towards other people was annihilated by this experience. watch tale of mary bell
As Mary grew up she was no longer considered to be a danger to the community and at 23 she was released, changing her name and moving to a new area. Somehow she emerged as a balanced person, a good citizen, and a single mother with a daughter of her own. Mary’s relationship with her daughter was reportedly healthy. On one occasion Mary brought her child to visit with Florence who expressed delight toward her granddaughter; Mary stated she was “truly in awe” about this development. watch mary bell
If there is anything we can take away from Mary Bell’s unfortunate life, it is that from birth children require loving affection and care through a strong bond with a parental figure. A lack of bonding can result in terrible tragedy, not only for the child and its victim, but the general community.
Signs of RAD
- torture of small animals and children
- lack of bonding with people
- extreme fits of rage
- unaccountable violence
- a lack of bonding with family, particularly with parents
- sexual and/or physical abuse of child
- lack of remorse for cruel behaviour
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