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Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell
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Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell (Mary Bell #2)

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  744 ratings  ·  56 reviews
England's controversial #1 best-seller.

What brings a child to kill another child? In 1968, at age eleven, Mary Bell was tried and convicted of murdering two small boys in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Gitta Sereny, who covered the sensational trial, never believed the characterization of Bell as the incarnation of evil, the bad seed personified. If we are ever to understan
Paperback, 416 pages
Published April 15th 2000 by Picador (first published May 8th 1998)
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Best True Crime
125th out of 473 books — 746 voters
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Bizarre Murders
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Community Reviews

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In 1968: an eleven year old girl named Mary Bell killed two boys (ages 3 and 4). The courts tried her, found her guilty, put her in jail until she was in her 20's. This book revisits her case years after she was released from jail and tries to figure out why she did it, what her life was like before she committed this crime, and whether she really understood the gravity of what she did at the time. I don't want to give any of it away, but I was so engrossed that I wanted to read the
not written by Mary Bell and her accomplice

In a broad sense, this is the story of Mary Bell, a child serial killer who before her capture strangled two young boys.

As such the story is somewhat disturbing.

But beyond the story of Mary's crime is also the story of an inept legal justice system that was and, to some extent, still is ill-equipped to deal with children who kill.

When an adult kills, it's much easier to assign blame. Surely, an adult has the ability to distinguish right from wrong, to fully comprehend and appreciate the finalit
Though I've had a long-standing interest in the Bell case, it was Sereny's descriptions of her meetings with Mary that I found most riveting; the "reflections" chapters, the author's careful notations of Bell's body language and intonations, and finally, the chapter in which Bell is asked to do what Sereny has hinted at through the entire book as next to impossible, and give a complete account of the killing of Brian Howe. The elusiveness of this "true" account is convincingly held up by Sereny ...more
Jul 27, 2010 Holly marked it as to-read
From Reading Matters: Gitta Sereny is an Austrian-born British-based journalist who has spent much of her career writing about moral culpability. She wrote an amazingly detailed but completely fascinating biography about Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, and a similar one about Franz Stangl, the commandent of the Treblinka extermination camp. But it is this book about Mary Bell, an 11-year-old who was tried and convicted of manslaughter of two young boys in the late 1960s, that sticks in my mind ...more
Terrible, and dated psychology analysis from the get-go coupled with jumbled and scattered writing. I almost gave it a 1 star, and I did skim the last half because she was so redundant. This author would have produced a better work by writing the long term adult story of Mary Bell in 1/3rd of this length instead of preaching her own bias and rewriting the first book. The second star was for the locale of Newcastle societal information for the late 1960's, especially common family, community neig ...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 28, 2007 Paul Bryant rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: true crime fans and students of English working class society
Shelves: true-crime
Brilliant examination of a very compelling case. Completely interesting on a great many levels. The book itself because a huge scandal on its serialisation and publication, when it became known that the grown up Mary Bell had received payment for her participation, which was another whole level of remarkableness.
Kevin Walsh
Mary Flora Bell at the age of 11, strangled to death two little boys in Scotswood, an inner-city suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne. She was convicted in December 1968 of the manslaughter of Martin Brown (aged four) and Brian Howe (aged three). In this book Gitta Sereny controversially collaborates with Mary to provide a thought provoking biography that sheds some light on one of the most infamous child-killers of the 20th century.

I went into this book not having read her other book on the case (The
Andrea Hickman Walker
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Molly Olusunmade Corlett
The fact that people worried (and probably still worry) that this book ‘excuses’ Mary Bell makes me sad. What this book seems to me to point towards (although Gitta Sereny herself might disagree) is the need to get away altogether from the language of ‘excuses’, ‘blame’, and, above all, ‘evil’. She argues that these concepts are flawed when you are dealing with children, and that in light of this their trials should focus on why they committed crimes, not just whether they did. Children, she say ...more
This book is so terribly sad from every angle- Mary's childhood, her worthless piece of human debris of a mother, the failings of the system...everything. The author has clearly undertaken tremendous effort in research and it shows. It's a well-written book and the author definitely accomplished her goal of using it as a tool in understanding why kids kill. I can't imagine anyone reading this and finish it still thinking Mary Bell was a monster. I have to admit that I began the book with that ve ...more
Ruth Turner

The ebook that I have has so many punctuation errors that it was difficult to read. I often had to reread paragraphs a number of times to clarify what the author was trying to say. Also, notations by the author appear in the middle of sentences all the way through the book.

The story itself was slow to start and, for a good proportion of the book, is rambling and disjointed, and often hard to follow. Again, I had to reread many sentences and paragraphs.

Normally, with a book this bad, I would have
Danie Tanaka
Cries Unheard... Until it was too late.

When this book was first released, it created a massive controversy over criminals profiting from their crimes in the nation where this story really happened: Britain. I can only surmise that those whom so vigorously felt that way didn't even read the book. Not long ago, I got my hands on a first edition American Version of the book published in 1999 from a thrift store.

This book is the horrific story of tragedy. When a child of barely 11 years old strangl
This is a really hard book to read due to the content. I picked it up with the intention of reading something that I disagreed with to see if it could sway my opinion. It did. Obviously I don't glorify children who kill by any means, but it does shed light on the other side of the story. This book broke my heart but it was so intriguing that I read it in one night.
I first have to confess that I love true-crime, the more disturbing the better, though I do demand a certain level of literary-ness. This one seemed to fit the bill. But this is one of those books that you keep reading and hoping it will get better. It did not. Now I just feel annoyed at how much time I wasted. It was really just a book about prison life.
This book about child killer, Mary Bell, is one of the saddest true stories I've ever read. Because of my own tragic childhood, I could connect with this poor little girl on a deeper level. It really emphasizes that old saying: There but for the grace of God, go I. Very chilling.
I had a clear understanding of death by the time I was ten years old. The story of the experience of Mary Bell is most unfortunate as how many adults even remember their childhood? To most of us, it's ancient history but England punishes Mary for a crime she doesn't understand.
Ellis Amdur
In 1968, Mary Bell, then eleven, killed two small children. She was seen, then, as the personification of evil. This book was written twenty-seven years later, and it will gouge a hole in your heart – how a child could be so brutalized and ripped by her upbringing that murder in turn seems to be all that she had left. This story is also one of redemption, one that shows in at least this case, that even those we believe to be the worst are often not. This should lead the reader to at least ask if ...more
Apr 30, 2008 Shea rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in psychology and social impact
This book started really slow and the author belabored some points but it is a very interesting and intriguing subject.
This is a horribly sad book. Mary Bell's life before her crimes was never OK and when she killed those two toddlers, when she was 10 and 11, she basically ensured that her life would never be OK, ever. This is not a book that condones her actions, it is a book that tries to understand how it came to the point that an older child killed two younger children.
The saddest thing about this whole thing is, that if someone had paid attention and had done something, two boys might not have died and Mar
My favorite historian, recently passed away. She usually writes about the Nazis. This one was about a notorious crime in the UK. Mary Bell, a horribly abused 12 yo, killed two little boys. Ms. Sereny approaches evil in such a neutral way, as to get deep into the truth of the banality of evil. Very controversial book in the UK.

Read everything of hers you can get your hands on.... especially the books on Albert Speer.
Tracy Campbell
If you are at all interested in true crime, you must read this book. Mary Bell was an 11 year old murderer labeled a monster by everyone. After reading this book, it doesn't by any means excuse what she did, but it sure makes it a hell of a lot easier to understand why. Insightful and tragic story.
Matt Gough
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Su Irwin
This was never going to be an easy read, but, as an insight into what lay behind two little girls murdering two even smaller boys, it is tremendous. As a student of criminology this is a must.
Unfortunately what this book exposes more than anything else is the woeful inadequacy of the British Justice system to understand, adequately try and punish youngsters who murder.
It is a wonder that following a traumatic childhood, an unsettled incarceration and the constant attention of the press, Mary has
Interesting and ultimately disturbing look at the case of Mary Bell. I would say that this book is a must read for anyone interested in the Mary Bell case, if for no other reason than the fact that the author had some first hand access to Mary - something few authors or journalists ever accomplished. While the book does answer some questions about what made Mary tick (a lot of the blame is placed on her Mother and rightly so, which is made obvious as the facts of Marys young life unfold), many o ...more
Shauntal Bradley
May 29, 2011 Shauntal Bradley rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone working with Child Offenders
Recommended to Shauntal by: No One
I first became interested in Mary Bell in high school when I did a project over her. This book is complete and very well written in explaining her background (Mary's mother was a prostitute who would use her daughter as a prop), what Mary remembers about the trial, and her life being a "lifer" as a child. Back then, no one took into consideration the background or home-life of child offenders, so the abuse and re-occurring abandonment of Mary were not brought up in court. This is the telling of ...more
An excellent but incomplete read. Mary never really addresses the motives, thoughts and feelings behind her actions. I found her avoidant and with regard to this approach, Gitta was indulgent. I, as do many people, want to know what Mary was thinking at the time of the crimes and why she did them. This book was supposed to provide the answers, but in the end, I was left with more questions than ever before. For that, and also for the fact that she completely left the acquitted Norma Bell out ins ...more
I reviewed this book on my blog
Suzette Kunz
Compelling "true crime" type of story.
Sereny provides the compelling and heart-rending account of how years of sexual and physical abuse can lead to a child committing murder. The child in question is Mary Bell who, aged 11 murdered two younger boys aged 3 and 4. The killings took place in Newcastle in 1968 and caused national horror and condemnation. Sereny attended the trial and gained access to Bell in 1995 to produce this detailed analysis of the actions of a damaged child psyche. This is uncomfortable but required reading.
A lot of people will find this book depressing, morbid, and graphic. If you enjoy reading about true crime (about the psychology behind true crime actually), you would enjoy this book. The author gets first count testimonial from the child killer years after the crimes were committed. It does not glorify what she did; perhaps it does just the opposite. She explains her experiences in prisons and her childhood background which gives a new view to why she did what she did.
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Gitta Sereny was a journalist, biographer and historian. She passed away in England aged 91, following a long illness.

Gitta attributed her fascination with evil to her own experiences of Nazism as a child of central Europe in the early 20th century. Hers was not a happy childhood. She was born in Vienna, the daughter of a beautiful Austrian actress, whom she later described as "without moral opin
More about Gitta Sereny...

Other Books in the Series

Mary Bell (2 books)
  • The Case Of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child Who Murdered
Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth The Case Of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child Who Murdered The German Trauma: Experiences and Reflections 1938-2001 The Invisible Children

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