On 25 May 1968, the day before her 11th birthday, Mary Flora Bell strangled four-year-old Martin Brown. She was believed to have committed this crime alone. Between that time and the second killing, she and her friend Norma Joyce Bell (no relation), age thirteen, broke into and vandalised a nursery in Scotswood, leaving notes that claimed responsibility for the Brown killing. The Newcastle police dismissed this incident as a ‘prank’.
On 31 July 1968, the two took part in the death, again by strangulation, of three-year-old Brian Howe. Police reports concluded that Mary Bell had gone back after killing him to carve an “N” into his stomach with a razor; this was then changed using the same razor but with a different hand to an “M”. Mary Bell also used a pair of scissors to cut off bits of Brian Howe’s hair and to mutilate his genitals. As the girls were so young and their testimonies contradicted each other, what happened has never been entirely clear. Martin Brown’s death was initially ruled an accident as there was no evidence of foul play. Eventually, his death was linked with Brian Howe’s killing and in August, the two girls were charged with two counts of manslaughter.