There are many taboos out there in the disturbed and demented dark corners of the world, but none are quite so unnerving as the eating of one’s own species. I mean, of course,cannibalism. It is not by any means a new practice nor is it local to any region of the world, but it is without a doubt universally considered one of the most horrendous acts in which someone can participate. There are many stories, both modern and ancient, of cannibals throughout the world, but one stands out for its particularly devilish depiction of what could be considered a truly evil family. I refer to the tale of the cannibalistic monsters of Scottish folklore known as the Bean family.
You may be familiar with films such as “Hills Have Eyes” or “Lord of Darkness”. Well these movies were actually based off of the famous story of these Scottish cannibals. Originating in the 1800’s, the story of the Bean family has long been debated. Whether or not it’s based on fact or just a demonization of the Scots by the English, it remains a chilling tale nonetheless. The story begins with a man by the name of Sawney Bean.
There are many different versions of the early life of Alexander “Sawney” Bean, but it would appear he was born sometime between the 13th and 16th century in East Lothian. He was raised to a family of common laborers, but as he grew he showed little interest in continuing this type of life. Some sources claim that Sawney’s father was degrading and abusive, causing Sawney to become resentful of the world and eventually shun society all together. Others believe he possessed a deeply antisocial personality from birth and simply never had any interest in living a normal life. Either way, it was not long after Sawney became a man that he abandon society and traded in the life of a laborer for one of a criminal.
Shortly after leaving home, Sawney met a woman by the name of Agnes Douglas. Douglas was herself an outcast, being suspected of witchcraft and accused of human sacrifice and summoning demons, and was referred to as Black Agnes Douglas the Dark Witch of Lothian by the people of her homeland. The two shared a distaste for civilized society and after being married, moved into Bennane Cave in Aryshire, Scotland.
Bennane Cave extended a mile or so inward and contained numerous passages and caverns. It sat next to the shore and at high tide the entire front opening of the cave was flooded with water, hiding the entrance from view. It was here that Sawney and Agnes made their home.
Uninterested in honest work and already accustomed to a life of crime, Sawney began robbing travelers on nearby roads in order to support he and Agnes. Sawney’s robberies soon escalated into murders. In order to keep from being caught, he decided it was best to dispose of his victims permanently. It is said that Agnes, in her early life, had participated in cannibalism and that it was her who first introduced the idea to Sawney as a way to avoid the need to return to civilization for food. Sawney began bringing the bodies of his victims back to Benanna Cave, where Agnes would dismember them and pickle their various body parts for later consumption, discarding the unused bits into the sea.
Agnes eventually gave birth to a total of fourteen children. The children were raised as cannibals and as they grew older were taught to aid their father in the hunting and murdering of travelers. The fourteen children were also encouraged by their father to breed with one another. Sawney wanted to produce an army for his own use. The children, through incest, spawned thirty-two inbred grandchildren, some of them being fathered by Sawney himself. Every member of the clan was taught to kill and sustain themselves on a diet of human flesh.
The children were trained like soldiers to ambush travelers in coordinated attacks. However they were so completely feral by nature that they often dismembered and devoured victims before ever getting them back to the cave.
The number of missing persons in the area, combined with mutilated body parts washing up on the seashore, gave birth to rumors of monsters residing in Aryshire. Most frequently the disappearances were attributed to Red Caps, which are murderous goblin-like creatures from Scottish folklore.
These grisly murders continued for twenty-five years before the Beans finally made the mistake that would lead to their end. One evening the family ambushed a man and his wife, who were on their way home from a nearby fair. They pulled the wife off her horse and began to disembowel her. The husband, however, managed to fight off the vicious attackers for long enough that another group of people, coming from the same fair, came upon the scene. The Beans, being then outnumbered, retreated back to their cave, leaving the dead woman behind.
The traumatized husband, along with several witnesses, went straight to the Chief Magistrate of Glasgow and told him of the attack. The Magistrate immediately connected the murder to the incredibly long list of missing persons, along with reports of pickled body parts found washed up on shore, and took the case to the King. King James I organized a small army of four hundred men and took them, as well as a pack of tracking dogs and a group of local volunteers, to Aryshire and began a manhunt for the attackers.
The initial search found nothing, but eventually the hounds picked up the scent of decaying human flesh coming from Bennane Cave. The army waited until low tide and then stormed the cave. Once inside, the soldiers were horrified by what they found. The walls of the cave were covered in all manner of gore. Body parts hung from hooks and blood covered everything. There were caverns filled with stripped bones piled up to the ceiling and clothing and jeweling.
The family themselves were huddled in the back, ready to fight. They were filthy and wild, appearing more like animals than humans. They engaged the army in a brief battle before being overtaken and arrested. There were forty-eight members of the family living in the cave when they were finally arrested. Do to the horrendous nature of their crimes, all forty-eight Beans were sentenced to death without a trial.
The twenty-seven men had their arms, legs, and genitals cut off and were left to bleed out while the women were forced to watch. The women were then hung and set on fire while still alive. It’s said that not a single member of the clan showed any fear during the executions and rather spat and cursed at their captors and onlookers. Sawney himself was reported to have repeated a single sentence over and over until his death saying only, “It isn’t over, it will never be over!”
After the family was executed, the cave was searched further. Inside was found the Bean’s family ledger, which contained the names of two members of the Bean family that had been unaccounted for during the arrest and execution. No one knows what happened to those two missing Beans. Some people think they likely died in the cave long before the arrest, and may have even been eaten by the family. However, there are those who believe that the two Beans escaped the arrest and fled. They say that they continued to breed, and that their descendants still survive to this day, keeping the family traditions alive with them.