Why would a child murder another child? This groundbreaking book was first published in 1972 and created controversy around the subject of children who kill
In December 1968 two girls - Mary Bell, eleven, and Norma Bell, thirteen (neighbours, but not related) - stood before a criminal court in Newcastle, accused of strangling, within a six-week period, Martin Brown, four years old, and Brian Howe, three. Norma was acquitted. Mary Bell, the younger but infinitely more sophisticated and cooler of the two, was found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder because of 'diminished responsibility' and was sentenced to 'detention' for life. Step by step, the extraordinary murders, the events surrounding them, the alternately bizzare and nonchalant behaviour of the two girls, their brazen offers to help the distraught families of the dead boys, the police work that led to their apprehension, and the trial itself are grippingly re-created in this rare-study of the wanton murder of child by child. What emerges with equal force is the inability of society to anticipate such events and to take adequate steps once disaster has struck.
Gitta Sereny is of Hungarian-Austrian extraction and is trilingual in English, French and German. During the Second World War she became a social worker, caring for war-damaged children in France. She gave hundreds of lectures in schools and colleges in America and, when the war ended, she worked as a Child Welfare Officer in UNRRA displaced persons' camps in Germany. In 1949 she married the American Vogue photographer Don Honeyman and settled in London, where they brought up a son and a daughter and where she began her career as a journalist.
Her journalistic work was of great variety but focussed particularly on the Third Reich and troubled children. She wrote mainly for the Daily Telegraph Magazine, the Sunday Times, The Times, the Independent and the Independent on Sunday Review. She also contributed to numerous newspapers and magazines around the world.
Her books include: The Medallion, a novel; The Invisible Children, on child prostitution; Into That Darkness; and a biographical examination of Albert Speer. Gitta Sereny died in June 2012.