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Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 31, 1999


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Hardcover, Bargain Price, March 31, 1999
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 382 pages
  • Publisher: Example Product Manufacturer (March 31, 1999)
  • ISBN-10: 0805060677
  • ASIN: B000H2MGVC
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,357,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1968, cases like that of Mary Bell were almost unheard of. Two little boys were dead, and the two accused killers, Mary Bell and Norma Bell (no relation), were 11 and 13. Norma was acquitted, but Mary was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Almost 30 years after her conviction, Mary Bell was able to tell her story, from her troubled childhood to her eventual release from prison as an institutionalized young woman and her awkward attempts to build a life for herself in a hostile world.

In Cries Unheard, Gitta Sereny coaxes out Mary's story without becoming an apologist. She is blunt about the brutality of these crimes, and doesn't attempt to dismiss them as the acts of an ignorant child. When Bell gives explanations that don't ring true, Sereny pushes on, refusing to accept the easy answers. The questions raised are wrenching: Can children understand the finality of death? Are they capable of evil? Did Mary Bell understand what was happening to her in the courtroom where she was declared a "bad seed," a child so innately evil that she would have to be locked away for the rest of her life? Was she responsible for her actions at all, or were those responsible for her to blame? While Cries Unheard can't answer all these questions, it dissects Bell's unthinkable acts to the point that we can almost understand them. --Lisa Higgins --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a searching examination of how children become violent criminals, and how the judicial system treats them, Sereny focuses on the case of Mary Bell. At age 11 in 1968, Bell committed the motiveless murder of two boys, ages three and four, in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. The British tabloids demonized Bell as a "born killer" and "vicious psychopath." But Sereny, who extensively interviewed Bell, her therapists and social workers, portrays Bell, at the time of the murders, as a cauldron of repressed rage and anguish who lived in a grotesque fantasy world dissociated from reality. A prostitute's daughter, Bell was forced to watch as her mother was whipped by clients; she was also sexually abused by her mother's customers. Sentenced to life in prison but released in 1980, Bell, according to Sereny (who covered the trial in a 1972 book, The Case of Mary Bell), today feels profound remorse, sees a parole officer regularly, has a stable relationship with a caring man and is raising a daughter. Sereny's account of Bell's 12-year incarceration is disjointed and overwritten, but it offers a scorching look at British women's prisons as cesspools of drugs, abuse and coerced sex. Sereny (Albert Speer) proposes that children under 14 should not be held criminally responsible and should be tried by a specially convened panel instead of by jury. Her harrowing inquiry, marked by a rigorous and by no means easy exercise of sympathetic imagination, will compel people to rethink how to deal with children who kill or commit other serious crimes.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the true crime genre.
Drew
She was eleven at the time, so she had a good idea of what she was doing, the fact that it was very wrong, and why she did it or how she felt while doing it.
S. A.
Mary Bell's story is compelling because once they caught the girls and had recanted confessions from 11 year old girls.
Dani Tanaka

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 3, 1998
Format: Hardcover
"Cries Unheard" is the most castigated book to be published in Britain in 1998. Why? It is the story of Mary Bell who at the age of 10 years murdered two little boys and was found guilty of the crime in an adult court of law. The book has been reviled in the British press because, 30 years after the killings, Gitta Sereny has interviewed Mary Bell herself to try to understand why these terrible events happened. The crux was that Gitta Sereny paid Mary Bell for her time and this has opened up a moral can of worms: should criminals be seen to benefit financially from their crimes?
Controversy over this issue has blinded many in Britain to the merits of this book although Sereny explains in her work why she felt it appropriate to pay Ms Bell. I tend to agree with Sereny since there can be little point in investigating these sorts of crimes unless we can hear directly from the perpetrator as to why they acted the way they did. In order to prevent children killing children, surely we need to understand what it is that has driven these kids to kill? In nearly all cases, Sereny argues, the behaviour of these children can be traced to a trauma in childhood. Mary Bell herself had a damaged childhood and the killings of these boys were her cry for help. These cries were unheard since Mary was sent to an adult prison where she became institutionalised. It is only now that Mary has understood what she has done and her remorse would appear to be genuine. The book carefully records her life in excruiting detail and I would defy anyone not to be horrified by the various ordeals that she has suffered.
The story of Mary Bell carries many lessons, particularly for those who deal with child criminals and children who are in care.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By "kmw3011" on October 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is an appalling story, not simply because of what Mary Bell did but because of the confusion of attitudes surrounding the issue of what an appropriate response to those actions might be. Children do not become as angry and as cruel as Mary Bell was without cause, and given the fact that they ARE children, and very much the product of their environments, she should be understood to be a victim of those circumstances as well as a victimizer. Children under the age of puberty quite clearly do not have an adult perception of consequences or an adult grasp of morality, nor for that matter the capacity for adult self-control. To treat them as adults, therefore, is simply to entrench in them the rage that led to the initial crime. If we subscribe to the view that imprisonment should be a rehabilitative process, then we cannot do anything other than applaud Mary's emergence into a relatively normal adult life outside prison: in particular, the very positive experience she had at Red Bank under the care of Mr Dixon - obviously one of those rare, humane and loving individuals the prison service is probably too short of - points the way to those who wish to reform the treatment of children in protective custody. To cast aside the life of an 11-year-old by blaming her for the sins which were committed against her and which her actions mirror back to society is obviously in itself another crime, and Gitta Sereny's book slowly and persuasively builds up the case for this view. By the way, since we as yet know next to nothing of the backgrounds of the children who killed in the USA recently, it is too early to say they too were not victims of a careless and uncaring adult world: their anger cannot have been causeless. Read this book with an open mind and then work for reform of the juvenile justice system!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very well-written, provocative apologia for Mary Bell, who at not quite 11 committed two inexplicable murders. I was at first very skeptical of both the author's and the killer's motives, but I came away feeling that Mary Bell was not the complete "bad seed" she was thought of. I do, however, take issue with the oft-sounded note that she really didn't understand that the little boys (or at least the first one) would actually die when she attacked them. She was not only old enough to know, she was also wise beyond her years, and she even said to her first victim before he died, "We're going to heaven." I am also not completely convinced that her childhood traumas (to the extent that they are true) were the sole cause of these murders, but the only other logical explanation is that Mary Bell was inherently "evil" -- which later events in her life apparently do not bear out. She was certainly a very angry little girl; but, as she herself points out, other children go through similar (or worse) traumas and don't kill people. Gitta Sereny does an excellent job arguing the case for juvenile justice reform, and her proposals at the end of the book make a great deal of sense. She makes clear that juvenile crime is not to be excused -- that these children must be punished -- but that the system must keep firmly in mind that they ARE children, and that they must be properly treated and prepared for their eventual release.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Fred M. Blum on June 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
Cries Unheard is not an easy book to review. Like Sereny's other books on Albert Speer (Hitler's Chief of Armaments) and Franz Stangl. (the Commander of the Treblinka Death Camp) one picks up the book with the hope that one will find answers to the question of why people commit evil acts. Sereny did not give the reader an easy, pat answer when dealing with Stangl and Speer, and neither did she make such an attempt in dealing with Mary Bell.
However unlike Stangl and Speer, who were adults and unquestionably knew what they were doing was wrong if not "evil," the same can not be said for Mary Bell. When Mary committed the murders she was a young child who did not understand the true consequences of her actions. Sereny explores Mary's psyche as well as the environment in which she lived in order to answer the question of why she committed theses unspeakable acts. As always, Sereny does not pull any punches when dealing with Mary, although she is clearly more forgiving than she was with Stangl or Speer. Importantly, Sereny in no way seeks to excuse the murders or minimize the horror that the victims families were forced to endure. She also makes clear that Mary knew that her conduct was wrong even if she did not understand the finality of death.
What comes out of the book is that there were multiple causative factors that led to the murders. Among them was the abusive home in which she lived as well as the total lack of a support network. However, Sereny does not rest with the easy answer that abuse equals murder. After all Norma Bell (no relation), who committed the second murder with Mary, did not come from an abusive home. At the end of the book there is no real answer as to why the murders were committed.
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