Also Known As: Alexander Sawney Bean, Alexander Bean
Born in: East Lothian
Notorious As: Criminal
Who is Sawney Bean?
Sawney Bean is a name that has been made popular by the Scottish legends. He was a cannibal who sustained on human bodies. He was the leader of a clan consisting of cannibals. Bean was born into an agricultural family. He detested all forms of labor since childhood. He liked the easy way of living and was against hard work. After his marriage to Agnes, who also had a vicious character, Bean was forced to flee his native place. They led a hidden life in a cave and were totally unnoticed by the public. They took to robbery for a living. In order to satiate their hunger pangs without being noticed by the public, Bean and his wife started devouring the humans they murdered and looted. They gave birth to several children, who in turn produced several children of their own through incest. As the clan grew bigger, their food demands increased. The Bean clan had a definite mode of operation. They murdered people and got rid of their bodies, without leaving any evidence. One night, while attacking a couple, the clan faced resistance and was seen by several passersby. This was the first evidence of the existence of a group of cannibals. The king ordered a thorough search of the area, and the cave inhibited by the Beans was found. All members of the clan were captured and executed. There are people who believe that Sawney Bean is just a mythical character and that he did not exist. He is remembered as one of the most notorious characters in the Scottish legends.
Childhood & Early Life
Sawney Bean was born Alexander Bean. There is no information regarding the exact date or year of his birth. There are conflicting opinions regarding the period of his birth. He is believed to have been born in East Lothian, Scotland, in the 15th or 16th century.
Bean was born into an agricultural community. His father was a ditch-digger and a hedge-trimmer. Bean was not inclined toward hard labor. He was often punished by his father for not being a good worker. Bean liked to disobey rules. Bean’s attempts to lead an honest life failed, and this disappointed his father.
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Sawney Bean changed the course of his life after his marriage. He was married to Agnes Douglas, who was infamous in the locality. People believed her to be a witch who was involved in making human sacrifices and conjuring demons. After their marriage, Bean and Agnes were forced to flee their native place.
They traveled across Scotland and resorted to robbing people as a means of livelihood. However, after a while, it became difficult for them to spend the looted valuables on buying food, as that would have given them away. It was at this point that they resorted to cannibalism. Cannibalism helped them remove all traces of their crimes. Thus, they would loot people, murder them, and devour their bodies, thereby also getting rid of the bodies. There are stories that it was Agnes who had put forward this idea. It is believed that she had been practicing this even before meeting Bean.
After traveling extensively, the couple settled in a coastal cave in Bennane Head, between Girvan and Ballantrae. The cave was 200 yards deep and had several tunnels and passages. The entrance to the cave was hidden during high tides. This was the perfect hideout for them. It was difficult to find the place, as the entrance was submerged most of the time.
Initially, they resorted to cannibalism only when it was absolutely necessary. They murdered and ate people, disposing off the remains in a manner that would make the attacks look like animal attacks. Later, they adopted several methods of pickling to preserve the leftover body parts.
In course of time, the Bean family expanded. Sawney Bean and his wife had eight sons and six daughters. They were raised to be cannibals and had a huge appetite for human bodies. The children were encouraged to mate among themselves to produce more of their own kind. Bean had 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters as a result of incest among his children.
The entire Bean clan led the cannibalistic way of life. They ambushed people at night and took the bodies to their cave. After eating them, they would either preserve or dispose of the leftovers. When the body parts washed ashore, people thought they were acts of wild creatures. Nobody suspected the existence of this clan for a long time.
As the number of members of the Bean clan increased, they needed to undertake frequent hunts. They remained hidden in the day and conducted murders by night. The increasing number of missing people in the town created suspicion in the minds of people. They conducted searches but failed to find the hideouts of the Bean family. Many innocent people were suspected and assaulted by the public.
One night, the Bean clan was planning to capture a couple who were on horseback. They were coming back from a village fair. The wife was easily killed, but the husband put up a fight. The group members even ate a part of the woman’s mangled body on the spot. Before the man could be killed, several passersby arrived at the spot. The clan members had to retreat, leaving the dead bodies behind.
This was the first evidence of the existence of the Sawney Bean clan. King James VI of Scotland dispatched a team of 400 men and several bloodhounds to conduct a manhunt. After a thorough search, the dogs found the cave. Inside the cave, they were welcomed by a horrid sight of mangled body parts strewn all around.
Death & Legacy
When found by the members of the king’s search team, Sawney Bean and his clan surrendered meekly, without putting up any fight. They were jailed and executed without trial. The men of the clan had their body parts cut off and were left to bleed to death. The women were made to watch the men die, after which they were burned alive on stakes.
None of the clan members showed any sign of remorse after being captured. Sawney Bean’s dying words were: “It isn’t over, it will never be over.”
There is another legend in Girvan about Bean’s family. It says that one of the daughters of Bean had quit the clan and had moved to Girvan. She had planted a Dule tree in the area. When the Bean family was captured, the daughter’s identity was revealed. The villagers hanged her from the same tree that she had planted, which came to be called as “The Hairy Tree.”
There is no solid proof of the existence of Sawney Bean and his clan. There are some who believe he is a mythical character. However, there are others who believe the legends to be true.