Sawney Bean: the story of a Scottish cannibal

Myth and Legend

Sawney Bean: the story of a Scottish cannibal

Alexander "Sawney" Bean was a mythic cannibal, said to be the head of a 45-member clan in Scotland in the 16th century that murdered and then ate over 1,000 people over 25 years.

According to legend, Bean and his clan members would eventually be caught by a search party sent by King James VI, and were executed for their heinous crimes.

The story goes that Sawney and his wife Agnes ended up at a coastal cave in Bennane Head between Girvan and Ballantrae. The cave was 183 metres deep, and the entrance was blocked by water during high tide, so the couple were able to live there undiscovered for some 25 years.

By repute, Sawney and Agnes produced eight sons, six daughters, 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters. Various grandchildren were products of incest between their children.

Lacking the inclination for regular labour, the Bean clan thrived by laying careful ambushes at night to rob and murder individuals or small groups.

The clan brought the bodies back to their cave where the corpses were dismembered and eaten. They pickled the leftovers in barrels.

Eventually the clan were seen when they attacked two travellers and a search with bloodhounds revealed their secret home. They were all captured without a fight and executed in Edinburgh in a grisly fashion – by mutilation or fire.

Well that's the story. It however remains unclear whether Bean and his family really existed.

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