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Alexander 'Sawney' Bean


14th C. - 15th C.

Cannibal and mass-murderer. Born in the late 14th C. in East Lothian, the son of a ditcher and hedger, Bean is said to have been work-shy and dishonest and he took a similarly-minded wife. The couple were forced to leave the area, settling in a deep cave at Bennane Head, near Ballantrae (South Ayrshire; although then Galloway), where they lived for the next 25 years. They rarely visited the nearby villages and thus their existence was effectively unknown. They had many children and, through incestuous relations, the family grew to a gang of 46 people.

Travellers began to go missing and, while the authorities accused and even executed several inn-keepers and vagrants, the problem persisted, with possibly several hundred disappearances. Having robbed their victims, the Beans would drag them back to their cave where they were eaten or their flesh smoked to preserve it for future consumption. The local villagers became suspicious when body parts started washing up on beaches nearby. The Beans had apparently thrown the remains of the carcasses into the sea. However, it was only when one man escaped and reported an attack to the authorities in Glasgow that a full-scale search for the ruthless killers was instigated. The reports were so horrific that it was King James I (1394 - 1437) himself who led a troop of 400 soldiers, with several blood-hounds, to undertake a systematic search. The cave was discovered, along with money, stolen possessions and human remains. The Beans, who had become utterly accustomed to their life of cannibalism, the children having known nothing else, could not see the error of their ways. The entire family were taken to Edinburgh in chains, where they were kept in the Tolbooth jail, before being taken to Leith to be executed. Their execution was a particularly gruesome affair; the men had their limbs amputated and where allowed to bleed to death, while the women and children were burned at the stake.


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