In the spring of 1968, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, two boys, ages 3 and 4, were found dead, nine weeks apart. At first the deaths appeared unrelated. In fact, the police thought the first child died accidentally. Then it became clear that not only had both boys been murdered but they had been murdered by another child, an 11 year old girl named Mary Bell. In December of that year, Mary and another girl, Norma Bell (no relation), who was 13 at the time, were tried for the crimes.
At trial, the prosecutor told the court that Bell’s reason for committing the murders was “solely for the pleasure and excitement of killing.” Meanwhile, the British press referred to her as “evil born.” Mary Bell supposedly said that “murder is not that bad, we all die sometime anyway” and “I like hurting little things that can’t fight back”. Mary Bell showed up on their doorstep in the days after Martin’s (the boy she had killed) death and asked to see him. His mother gently explained to her that Martin was dead, but Mary said she already knew that; she wanted to see his body in the coffin. Martin’s mother slammed the door in her face.
The jury agreed that Mary Bell had committed the murders and handed down a guilty verdict in December. Manslaughter, not murder, was the conviction, as court psychiatrists had convinced the jury that Mary Bell showed “classic symptoms of psychopathy” and could not be held fully responsible for her actions.
Mary Bell was born to Betty, a 16-year-old prostitute who reportedly told doctors to “take that thing away from me” when she saw her daughter. Things went downhill from there. Independent accounts from family members strongly suggest that Betty had more than once attempted to kill Mary and make her death look accidental during the first few years of her life. Betty’s own sister witnessed Mary’s mother try to give Mary away to a woman who had been unsuccessfully trying to adopt; the sister quickly recovered Mary herself. Mary herself says she was subjected to repeated sexual abuse, her mother forcing her from the age of four to engage in sex acts with men. It is not known who Mary’s biological father was; for most of her life she believed it to be Billy Bell, a habitual criminal later arrested for armed robbery who had married Betty some time after Mary was born.
''I didn't know I had intended for them to be dead . . . dead forever. Dead for me then wasn't forever,'' adding, ''When I think of it now, it's really funny to think that nobody, nobody at all, ever talked to me in a way that could have made what I did real to me.'' It wasn't until Bell had a child of her own that she began to acknowledge the injury she had done to these boys' families.
1. “Manslaughter, not murder, was the conviction, as court psychiatrists had convinced the jury that Mary Bell showed “classic symptoms of psychopathy” and could not be held fully responsible for her actions”
From your study of psycopathy in this course, and from what you have read of the Mary Bell case above, would you agree with the court psychiatrists that Mary Bell was a psychopath? Support your answer by comparing characteristics from the psychopathic checklist to characteristics of Mary Bell.
2. Albert Bandura once said “people are not born with…repertories of aggressive behaviour. They must learn them”. Do you think his psychological theory of social cognition (also called social learning theory) applies to this case? Explain why with reference to the case above.
3. The passage above mentions that the British media responded to Mary’s crime as describing her as “evil born”.
Do you think Mary’s crimes can be explained through the idea that she was born evil? Explain why/why not with reference to at least one theory learned during the course.
Case Study B: Gangs in Vancouver
Police officers say the gang conflict in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland is unlike any other in North America. Many young members come from middle- to upper-class homes. They aren’t driven by poverty, but instead by their desire to belong, to be protected or to emulate the gangster lifestyle flashed by other teens on social media. Some become trapped in gangs once they join, while others just meet the wrong friends and find themselves caught in the crosshairs.
“Some may be new immigrants to Canada, but their parents sold property back home and they live in $1 million-plus homes and their parents buy them whatever car they want.”
It is not only the material rewards that pull youth into gang membership, youth are pulled towards gangs because of the possible psychological benefits to be gained, such as a sense of belonging, protection, and the feeling of popularity. Another important factor is the feeling of inferiority, especially in terms of school performance or family. Furthermore, as described by an incarcerated gang member, youth join gangs not in a sudden and conscious way, but as a result of hanging around gang members for a period of time. Racism, marginalization, deprivation, violence, despair, and lower socio-economic status can lead to the creation of gangs (Gang Strategy of Saskatoon, 2006). When these problems are combined with personal, family, or peer group risk 19 factors, such as low self-esteem, child abuse, or rejection by peers, the potential for gang activity increases (Gang Strategy of Saskatoon, 2006).
In one study, Indo-Canadian adults viewed gang membership as a rational choice, one designed to obtain money, power, and status. However, Indo-Canadian youth viewed membership as an opportunity to rebel against traditional Indian ways. It has been suggested that gangs provided the security and structure lacking at home, and provided youth with a sense of identity. In effect, being in a gang protected them from bullying or racism. Furthermore, peer pressure and exposure to criminal opportunities also played a role.
Furthermore, Indo-Canadians, like other parents, want their children to be successful. However, exactly what “successful” means is not clear. For some, success is measured in the ability to get high grades in school. Others, it is to achieve a lot of money. Not every child succeeds in school and, for those who are forced to go to school, but do poorly, gangs may be viewed as a viable option to make quick money.
Azez grew up middle-class, but he says joining a gang wasn’t necessarily the clear-cut “choice” that police sometimes make it out to be. In his experience, each school in Vancouver represents itself.
“If you go to the school, you’re basically a part of the gang,” he says.
“You could be one of those kids who stays indoors and plays chess with the nerds, or you could be with the cool kids outside smoking and hanging out on the block. On the one hand, you did have a choice. But on the other hand, it’s clear that no one really wants to be on the inside.”
“We’re not coming from broken families, where we’re missing parents, or from foster homes, or we’re poor. We have a family. We have a nice house. We have cars,” he explains.
“What we’re seeing is surprising to us and unexpected,” says Joanna Angelidis, director of learning services for the Delta School District. “It seems to be that it’s young people who you wouldn’t necessarily expect would become involved in gang life,” she added.
“So what we’re thinking is that it’s young people who are maybe looking for a feeling of connection or inclusion and they’re looking for that in ways that are clearly unhealthy or dangerous.”
According to Besla et al. (2005), Indo-Canadian youth live in an environment that lacks communication, emotional support, and is authoritative. It is “this environment that does not allow Indo-Canadian youth to explore their individual and cultural identities and develop a positive sense of self within the broader Canadian community” (Besla et al., 2005: 9). Although Indo-Canadian parents are slowly becoming more accepting of Canadian cultural behaviors, Indo-Canadian youth continue to struggle with maintaining a balance between their parentsâ€Ÿ world and their own (Gill, 2007).
The piece above discusses the police shock at finding that many gang members in Vancouver come from financially secure homes. This likely is due to the fact that many police assume gang membership is connected to poverty.
Do you think the Chicago school theory of social disorganization is applicable in this case? Why/why not? Explain your answer with reference to the text and to the theory of social disorganization learned in class.
From reading this passage, and from your study of the course, do you think people join gangs primarily to make money? Why/why not? In your answer use at least one theory we studied in class. Hint: Social Process and Conflict Theories have many useful theories to apply here
Robert Merton’s theory of strain suggests that when some people cannot achieve social goals by acceptable means they turn to illegal means to achieve the same goals. Do you think this theory applies to this case? Which sections from the case study above would support this theory?