Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mrs. R. B. Bell, Child Torturer – Canada, 1896

Other texts give a fuller name: “R. B. Bell.”

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Ottawa, Ont., Apr. 18. – Mrs Bell, for cruelty to her grandchildren, was to-day sentenced to life imprisonment.

She punished a boy of 15 and a girl of 16 with the most fiendish torture that ingenuity could concieve. Stripping them to their thinnest clothing, she would soak them in water and compel them to sit before open windows when the temperature was several degrees below zero, till they were nearly frozen stiff. On one occasion the boy was kept at work in the cold, improperly clad, until his toes were frozen and dropped off. The children were fed victuals mixed with noxious fluids like kerosene, turpentine and worse.

[“A Female Fiend – Given a Life Sentence for Torturing Her Grandchildren.” The Salt Lake Tribune (Ut.), Apr. 19, 1896, p. 17]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): The telegraphic columns of The Tribune on Saturday contained the announcement that Mrs. Bell, of Ottawa city, has been sentenced to imprisonment for life for the cruel treatment of her grandchildren. Without some knowledge of the crimes proved against this woman, one might believe that Judge Robertson was unduly severe in his punishment of the prisoner. But the evidence against her was overwhelmingly strong, and the accusations proved of so revolting a character as to suggest that the accused was more a fiend than woman. Charged with the care of her two grandchildren – a boy aged less than 14, and a girl of 10 – not outrage short of murder seems to have been regarded by this misguided woman as too cruel to mete out to these children.

I was proved that Percy Short, the grandson, was hung from the ceiling by corsets while he was in a nude condition. His grandmother made him pull hair out that grew under his arms, and she singed him with a candle. Not contented with that punishment, on a cold day in January last she took him to the the garret, compelled him to strip naked, then put on him a wet shirt, and tying him hand and foot to a chair, left him for an hour in an open window. From the exposure ulcers grew on his legs, and his feet were so badly frozen that his toes had to be amputated. On the revelations made by the boy after he was taken to the hospital, criminal proceedings were taken against the torturer.

Nor was the granddaughter Oneita treated with less cruelty. When the child appeared in court, she exhibited to the jury a bald spot on her heard from which her grandmother had torn the hair. As a punishment for a slight offence, the woman put turpentine in the girl’s eyes; but the most revolting crime of all was the tying up of the girl’s tongue for a whole night, causing her intense agony. Mrs. Brousseau, who was a servant in the family at the time, swore that she heard Mrs. Bell tell the girl to go into the other room and lick Percy’s sores. The girl began to cry, whereupon the prisoner took the child away, and when she came back she could not answer a question because her tongue was tied. Mrs. Bell said she had tied the tongue because Oneita had tasted Percy’s soup and had swallowed some milk that was left in a glass. Mrs. Brousseau saw the tongue two days afterwards. It was black, ulcerated, and so swollen that it filled the mouth. Mrs. Brousseau said she burst out crying at the sight. At that time, Mrs. Bell said the child had poisoned her tongue by by putting some of the salve from Percy’s foot on it.

It was further proved that the woman was in the habit of sending the children down into the cellar in the dark, keeping them prisoners there. By making strange noises she pretended that evil spirits were after them. In the coldest days, they were made to run around the house with their feet bare, and when Mrs. Bell was remonstrated with she said that children had warmer blood than grown people, and would not catch cold. Perhaps this was her excuse for making the boy sleep in a cold garret and his sister on the floor downstairs, with only a thin covering, though there were several beds in the house. During all the time they were in Ottawa under the charge of their grandmother, the children told the court they had never been allowed to play with other children. They were often unmercifully beaten with a stick. Mrs. Bell told a servant that she had authority from their mother to beat the children as much as she liked, but not to kill them, though they were not worth hanging.

The prisoner seems to have been afraid that she would get into trouble through her cruelties, as she compelled the boy to write a series of “confessions” at her dictation, exonerating from all blame for his injuries, and claiming that he believed the Almighty had caused the ulcers to break out on his legs because of his disobedience and of his attempts to injure his grandparents. Bot the boy and the girl swore that the “confessions” were first written on a slate by the woman, and subsequently copied out by the boy, who was afraid to refuse.

It is almost impossible to conceive that a woman presumably intelligent, well-educated, and making some pretense to religious convictions could be guilty of such atrocities as, according to the verdict of the jury, after several days of earnest investigation, were brought home to Mrs. Bell. The life sentence meted out to her must not be regarded as vindictive punishment. Rather ought it to serve as a warning to all persons placed in charge of children that society will not tolerate the cruel treatment of the defenceless.

The prisoner is only 51 years of age. She said that she was the daughter of a retired British lieutenant-colonel.

[“The Torture of Children. – particulars of the Ottawa Case for Which Mrs. Bell Was Sentenced to Life Imprisonment. – The Accused More a Fiend Than a Woman – Her Cruelties. – A Little Girls Tongue Tied Up for a Whole Night – Boy Hung From the Ceiling.” The Winnipeg Daily Tribune (Canada), Apr. 24, 1896, p. 5]



For more cases, see: Women Who Like to Torture


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