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The Scottish Legend of Mass Murderer Alexander "Sawney" Bean and His Cannibal Clan

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DS Duby is an avid traveler and writer with a keen interest in horror and urban legends.

A cannibal family

A cannibal family

Alexander "Sawney" Bean

Alexander "Sawney" Bean was born in the later part of the 14th century in East Lothian, Scotland. Bean was raised in an agricultural community and came from a poor family of laborers. Bean's home life was said to be horrible, involving beatings by his father.

As Alexander got older, he attempted to become the son his father had always wanted by taking on the duties of adulthood and joining the workforce. However, in addition to his general recklessness, he developed a rebellious nature and a deep hatred for labor. As a result, Alexander completely failed in his attempts at earning an honest living, once again disappointing his father.

Agnes Douglas, the Dark Witch of Lothian

Bean tired of trying to fit in with his peers and stopped all attempts at being a productive member of his community. It was at this point that he took up a relationship with a woman by the name of Agnes Douglas, who locals called Black Agnes Douglas, the dark witch of Lothian. She was accused of practicing witchcraft, human sacrifice, and demon conjuring.

Eventually, Agnes and Alexander fled their homeland together.

First Taste of Human Flesh

Bean and Douglas traveled through Southern Scotland robbing anyone unlucky enough to cross their path. Some of the legends claim that it was during this journey that Bean got his first taste of human flesh.

As outlaws, they couldn't risk entering the villages and spending their stolen loot. Facing starvation, the witch Agnes convinced Alexander that cannibalism was the solution. It was rumored that Black Agnes Douglas had already been practicing this culinary form long before her relationship with Bean.

Not wanting to draw any unnecessary attention to themselves, they kept their feasting to a minimum, only eating humans when they absolutely had to and disposing of the remains in a way that made their causes of death look like animal attacks. In a sense, they were; Agnes and Alexander were on their way to becoming real-life monsters.

Cave entrance

Cave entrance

Real-Life Monsters Find a Home

After traveling and hiding out for several months, the pair eventually wound up on the South Ayrshire Coast near Ballantrae. While inspecting the area for potential victims and shelter, Bean and Agnes came across the entrance to a cave overlooking the water. Upon high tide, the entrance became completely submerged in water and they realized it was the perfect hideout. This was where they planned to raise a family.

Alexander Sawney Bean at the entrance to his cave.

Alexander Sawney Bean at the entrance to his cave.

Birth of a Cannibal Cult

Immediately after setting up home in their cave, Alexander and Agnes took their crimes to the next level. They began robbing on a regular basis and made sure to never leave a witness. They stuck to one victim at a time and brought the body back to the cave to be pickled and preserved.

Since they were, at the time, unknown to anyone in the area, they were able to spend their victims' cash in town to buy essential necessities. Any traceable or easily identifiable goods were stashed back in their cave, leaving no evidence that anything was afoul.

Serial Murder, Cannibalism, and Incest

Bean and Agnes began having children, and eventually raised eight sons and six daughters, all of whom were raised as cannibals. As the children grew up, they were integrated into the murders. Sometimes they hunted as a large pack; other times, they split into smaller groups to cover more ground and increase their profit.

Bean wanted to expand the family even more. He encouraged his children to breed with each other so that they could build an army. According to a Bean family ledger found many years later, incest generated a total of 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters, bringing the Bean clan to a total of 48 inbred cannibals.

The entire span of cave life for the Bean family lasted for well over 25 years, but something this evil, on this large of a scale, is impossible to keep hidden forever. The killings became so numerous that the town folk from surrounding areas began to make accusations and spread rumors against each other.

The Rumors Start Flying

Over that 25-year span, the number of missing persons in the area rose to over 1,000. The rumors of what was happening went from reasonable possibilities to what sounded like insane accusations. No one knew how close to the truth they were.

One very common explanation was that local innkeepers were robbing and killing people. This rumor was so widespread that many of the innkeepers actually left their businesses out of fear of being lynched.

Another rumor claimed there were evil beasts living in the wilderness areas surrounding the villages. Red Caps are murderous goblin-like creatures from Scottish folklore and were often thought to be the cause of the disappearances.

As if that wasn't a strange enough theory, there were many others who claimed it was the deeds of the Kelpie that caused the disappearances of all those people. Kelpie is a Scottish mythological creature said to live in the lochs and rivers, appearing on land as a horse or pony. Once you climb onto the back of the Kelpie, it rushes back into the water taking you right along with it.

The stories went on and on.

Finally Bit Off More Than They Could Chew

It was about 1430 A.D. when the Bean clan finally met their match. On this particular night, the family was broken up into several small groups while hunting. One of these groups happened upon a man and his wife riding horseback.

They looked like easy targets, but to the surprise of the clan, the man was not about to go down without a fight. They began to do battle right in the middle of the road. The man, who was armed with both sword and pistol and well-trained, was able to keep them at bay. The wife was not so lucky; she was dragged from her horse, murdered, and partially devoured right there in the street. All the while, her husband continued to fend off his own attackers.

Another larger group of people who had been traveling farther back down the road came upon the mayhem just in time to save the man. When the Bean family heard the crowd approaching, they scattered in every direction and eventually made their way back home to their cave.

Retribution by the King Himself

After collecting the remains of his wife, the man and his new group of allies made their way back into town to inform the local authorities. Word quickly traveled to King James I of Scotland, who is said to have dispatched nearly 400 armed men, including himself, and bloodhounds to hunt down Alexander "Sawney" Bean and his insane family.

It was the dogs tracking the Beans' scent that finally led the search party to the cave entrance, where they could smell the pungent odor of the decaying corpses. Upon entering the cave, they found drying body parts hanging everywhere, and vast amounts of stolen jewelry and heirlooms scattered all around the floor.

To the surprise of the hunting party, the Bean clan gave up without a fight, surrendering themselves to the King and his men. Forty-six people were captured, bound in chains and marched into Edinburgh that day to await their execution.

The women and children were hung on stakes, temporarily left alive to watch the men get slaughtered, at which point they were set on fire. As for the male Beans, they were each slowly dismembered and left to bleed to death as a reflection of their own cruelty.

During the entire execution, not one member of the Bean family showed any sign of fear or remorse. They just continuously spat obscenities towards their captives. Through it all, and up until his final breath, Alexander "Sawney" Bean continuously repeated the phrase, in as loud a voice as he could muster, "It isn't over, it will never be over."

Are Members of the Bean Clan Still Out There?

Many years after their execution, the Bean family ledger was finally found, mixed in with the loot and jewelry from their rampage now safely locked away in the King's vault. It wasn't until reading the journal that anyone realized two members of the Bean family were unaccounted for on that day of retribution.

Since the missing person reports had almost completely stopped in the area, no one was ever sent to investigate the cave again. They simply assumed the two must have already died at an earlier date. Who knows what really happened to the missing members of the Bean clan? Some say they're all dead, but many believe there are still descendents of the family around today keeping their numbers small so as to remain undetected and feeding on the bodies of vagabonds and tourists unlucky enough to cross their path.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is cannibalism illegal every where?

Answer: Yes cannibalism is illegal everywhere.

Question: Cannibalism isn't illegal everywhere, why do you think that?

Answer: It is illegal everywhere that has laws that I know of. If I’m wrong then you tell me where it isn’t illegal.


DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on August 04, 2020:

Thanks Drew, if you have any luck getting Forbidden History involved, I’d love to hear the details. Thank lol you again for the kind words

Drew.... on August 04, 2020:

This is brilliant !

I have tried to get the series Forbidden History involved in carrying out an investigation and a proper exam of the caves......

I await in anticipation.....

Jacqueline on May 10, 2019:

I just heard a few days ago about these people. I really enjoyed the way you bring the players up front and center from the start..

Paula Gonzalez on April 02, 2019:

Amazing and grotesque story! Folklore stories from long ago are usually the best. You do a great job, especially in detail, of this macabre story!

Lisa from Texas on May 07, 2018:

Amazing article. I’ve been reading different versions (small differences) on the web since yesterday as I just found out about this through my daughter. As sickening as this unfolds, it’s addicting to want to know more. Thanks for sharing.

Andre House on August 08, 2017:

Im an advid study of serial killers and residing in philadelphia i had the misfortune of living very close to the infamous serial killer gary hydnik and i am aquainted with 2 of his victims family members and the things he was said to have done were horrible so this story isn't hard to believe as cruel and brutal murder has been a part of humanity since the beggining of mankind as kids we fear all kinds of make believe monsters that lerk in the darkness with all kinds of terrifying features however the real monsters walk in broad day light walk talk and look like us HUMAN BEINGS

Jake on May 18, 2017:

thanks for the interesting story. I was led here by a show called Attack on Titan

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on February 15, 2016:

Feel free to link it here if it's not allowed I won't be able to approve it but I'll still be able to see it.

Marina from Clarksville TN on February 15, 2016:

This is an excellently written story about the Sawney Bean legend. I also wrote about this and will put your blog into my writing so people can view yours also. The one I wrote is on another site and I won't mention it here because I think it is not allowed but if the writer wants to know where my blog is let me know. :-)

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on February 12, 2016:

Thank you

Sherry Ann on February 12, 2016:

Wow...just powerful.

Gipsy Dianic on June 28, 2015:

The Hills Have Eyes Director Wes Craven was inspired by the legend of Sawney Bean indeed!

kayla on November 01, 2014:

Omg!! This is the craziness story ever... I could see people doing this though. sad for all those poor victims :(

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on October 21, 2014:

Actually I haven't seen the movie, it was released after I wrote the article. But from what I understand it was a lot of grunting and little dialogue lol. I did here it was graphic though.

Marina from Clarksville TN on October 21, 2014:

I think this is a true story since the king had them executed. There also is a movie that I saw on Chiller about this Sawney Bean clan. The movie was very graphic and scary and it ended scary too. I am sure you have seen it.

Rebecca from US on September 14, 2014:

I've never heard this story before. Very unsettling, but even then I could not stop reading. Thank you for sharing!

FreakyV from Canada on September 14, 2014:

I enjoyed this read, thanks for writing it.

Katharine L Sparrow from Massachusetts, USA on September 14, 2014:

Never heard this story before! Very creepy! I think the story sounds like it was probably at least based in fact, perhaps blown out of proportion a little as the centuries passed. The Scottish sure do have some great stories! Nice hub.

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on June 25, 2014:

Sounds like a fictious horror story, too sick to be true, but I know it probably is true and happened similar to your hub. Thank you for sharing this history. What picture are you using ? Have a great week.

Mackenzie Sage Wright on April 15, 2014:

Wow, that is very dark and disturbing, but fascinating! It's hard to imagine people living like that. Nice work, what a great hub.

Beth Perry from Tennesee on April 14, 2014:

What a very creepy story! To be fair to the Bean family, as atrocious as their crimes were, I think the description of what befell them certainly speaks for a general disregard for human life at that time and place. I can imagine what kind of everyday human atrocities may have psychologically damaged Bean and his wife. And the execution of children -officially sanctioned or not- is for me, as horrendous a crime as cannibalism.

Thanks for sharing this very interesting story. Voting up.

Mike Robbers from London on November 22, 2013:

Very creepy story but great hub in general.Thanks for sharing!

Treathyl FOX from Austin, Texas on October 30, 2013:

Born in the 14th century? Well let's hope the killing tendency isn't a character transmitted in the gene pool. I suppose if you eat your victims, it's hard gathering criminal evidence. In Texas there's the story about Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Only they didn't eat their victims. They sawed them. Sick stuff!! This HUB gets a Thumbs Up!

james on June 08, 2013:

interesting enough there is a story of tall redheaded people somewhere in USA i believe that may have ate native's a link

though they call them giants i believe they were 6 to 7 foot tall not giants by modern standards ....but to an ancient civilization of short people they may have looked like giants.

Lacey Taplin from Colorado Springs, CO on June 06, 2013:

This post fulfilled my love of the macabre and all things Scottish. Very fascinating.

surfer1969 on December 11, 2012:

I find that to be very scary In Itself really.I also heard he took a bunch of feds down too.

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on December 10, 2012:

Yes it was based on Ed Gene an American serial killer

surfer1969 on December 04, 2012:

I read about the Texas chain saw gang too a while back.They say the movie was base on a true story.

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on October 23, 2012:

My thoughts exactly Peternehemia thanks for reading and commenting

Peter Nehemia from Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia on October 23, 2012:

Oh my God. Cursed family. Probably the two unaccounted members were breeding and their descendants are living and eating men.

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on October 09, 2012:

It's true AND they are making a movie? Yeah...I'll wait for it to hit the RedBox so I can hide behind a pillow and no one will laugh at me. :) Voted up and sharing. :)

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on October 07, 2012:

Thanks Miss Mimi, I just read today that there is a movie being released in Europe this month based on this legend and filmed in Scotland. Unfortunately it won't be released in the U.S. until early next year.

Miss Mimi from On the road again on October 07, 2012:

Creepy! But in really interesting. My in-laws are Scottish, they've told me about a few other spooky local legends, I'll have to talk to them about this one and find out how the legend evolved in their area; it seems like these stories are all told just slightly differently depending on what town you grew up in. Voted up and interesting!

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 21, 2012:

You are way to kind my friend, I sincerely appreciate your words, I only hope that now I can live up to them. It was certainly worth all the research to receive such praise.Thank you again for reading, commenting and sharing my work Epigramman.

epigramman on September 21, 2012: of the most fascinating stories I've ever read and one in which I am familiar with - possibly because my dad who came from Scotland had told me about - you have put together a world class presentation here and wrote with such relish (pardon the pun), enthusiasm, intelligence and passion - in short you are a dream for all of us budding historians here at the Hub and I sincerely thank you for your time and effort - will link your terrific hub to a couple of FB groups - the Hubpage group and the Music/Writing group - and sending you warm wishes and good energy from the epi-man at lake erie time ontario canada 10:16am

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 21, 2012:

Thank you chika-nicholas, Bean and Douglas were definitely insane and now that you mention it, their story does resemble Bonnie and Clyde's just a whole lot creepier and deranged lol. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Jude Ibemere from Lagos,Nigeria on September 20, 2012:

Very engaging story.Cannibalism is one interesting theme to explore.

Bean and Douglas sure remind me of the Bonnie and Clyde story.

The couple went more crazier by initiating their children into the circle of crime against humanity*And then the incest part*

Phew!Awesome story.

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 20, 2012:

Thank you very much Kate Mc Bride that is very kind of you. I do spend a lot of time on research, sometimes it feels like to much time, but receiving such comments like yours definitely makes it worth the time spent. Thank you again for reading, commenting and sharing.

Kate McBride from Donegal Ireland on September 20, 2012:

This is the one of the best stories I have read since I joined Hubpages. It is so well researched it was a pleasure to read.Voted it up and interesting and shared it on facebook. Thanks :-)

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 20, 2012:

Thanks Nate, it is one of the most detailed legends I've ever researched, it made it very easy for me to fall into the storyline as it just kept getting stranger. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on September 20, 2012:

Very fascinating story, got more and more bizarre as it went along; from cannibalism to inbreeding, to the family's own macabre executions. Very interesting stuff.

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 19, 2012:

Thank you very much Mejohnson!

mejohnson on September 19, 2012:

This is a great legend, creepy and chilling, and you wrote about it so well. I can't wait for your next hub.

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 19, 2012:

Thank you Glimmer Twin Fan, MickiS, and fpherj48 I don't know how much of the story is real and how much has been distorted over the last 600 years but I'm guessing there is at least some truth to it if not most of it. Most legends start off from a true story but get embellished so much through the years that they are sometimes unrecognizable as being the same story. What I do know is that several movies have been based on this old legend and that Scotland still to this day gives tours of beans cave to tourists, we can only hope that the 2 missing members were eaten if the story is true cause I would hate to thing there are ancestors to this family still out there. Thank again for reading and commenting and all of your kind words.

Suzie from Carson City on September 19, 2012:

DS Duby......WHAT??!! No way....C'mon, these were REAL people? This is a true tale? OMG, DS, I like TRUE CRIME, but this is toooo much!

The 2 missing family members were probably Sunday dinner for the rest of the family.......INCEST? Good grief.....they were not only psychos......they had to be mentally retarded and physically deformed....What a lovely Clan they had to be...

I was hungry before I read this. Thanks....I need to diet anyway.

Loved your capsule heading...."Bit off more than they could chew." LMAO!..................UP and GRUESOME!!

MickiS from San Francisco on September 19, 2012:

Gruesome! What a great read that was, DS Duby.

Claudia Porter on September 19, 2012:

Whether I believe the legends or not, this is a fascinating story. Thanks for a great read! Voted up!

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 19, 2012:

Thank you Suzie HQ the legends of Scotland are amazing, since writing this article I've been researching more about that area of the world and all I can say is wow! Such rich history! Thanks again for your kind words.

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on September 19, 2012:

Hi DS,

What a captivating story! I love these gruesome tales and this one of "Beany" and his clan is totally transfixing - great job in relaying this, you have such a great way with words. I was thinking myself touch of hills have eyes about it, as you mentioned.

I love hearing these stories on Scottish folklore, myths and legends as my mums side of the family can trace back to Robert the Bruce of Scotland. My mum's middle name was Bruce in memory of this guess!

Awesome read voted up, interesting, awesome and shared!

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 16, 2012:

Thank you Graham I appreciate the compliment and you reading and commenting

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on September 16, 2012:

Hi DS. What a horrifying story. I have never heard of this before. A chilling story so well paced and presented.


DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 16, 2012:

Thank you Nell Rose after this story I don't think I even trust the comedy movie character from England named Mr. Bean, he may be an ancestor and he is kinda creepy lol. thanks for reading and commenting

Nell Rose from England on September 16, 2012:

Fascinating story about the Bean family I remember reading about them years ago, not somebody you would want to meet on a dark night! really interesting, thanks, nell

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 16, 2012:

Thank you Jp993 I appreciate your comment and visit!

JP993 from England on September 16, 2012:

That a chilling Hub! Couldn't stop reading it though!

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 16, 2012:

Thank you SHolland10, RealHousewife and ithabise, this legend intrigued me more than most that I have heard in my life. Scotland has been sharing this story for nearly 600 years and many swear it to be the truth at least for the most part. Thank you all for reading and commenting.

Michael S from Danville, VA on September 16, 2012:

Uh, whoa. I've never heard of this guy. Creepy but fascinating! Makes you wonder about folks' mental state and how parenting affects the trajectory of one's life. I can only hope this is legend. Thanks for an interesting article.

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on September 16, 2012:

Yeah great read Scott! Wow that is nuts! I was wondering where the other two were! Yikes!

Up and everything!

Susan Holland from Southwest Missouri on September 16, 2012:

I couldn't stop reading. This is a morbidly, interesting story. In the beginning when Agnes drew him in, I thought of the witch in Hanzel and Gretal. This has all the makings of a great movie for those who enjoy horror and fear. Oh my gosh!

Great research! TERRIBLY interesting! Voted and shared!

DS Duby (author) from United States, Illinois on September 16, 2012:

Thank you snoblet, I actually heard that the descent and hills have eyes are both loosely based on this legend. thanks for reading and commenting.

Thank you Georgie Lowery and qeyler it is a very old and creepy legend, thank you for reading and commenting as well.

qeyler on September 16, 2012:

very good read

Georgie Lowery from North Florida on September 16, 2012:

Man, that is some creepy stuff. Good read, though! :)

Dave Rogers from New York on September 16, 2012:

For some reason this reminded me of that movie The Descent, with those cannibals and cave settings. Freaky stuff , very interesting.