Sawney Bean - A Famous Scottish Cannibal/Mass Murderer
Alexander "Sawney" Bean ( sometime during the reign James VI of Scotland / James I of England) was born somewhere around Edinburgh. Sawney Bean was a strange man said to be lazy and dishonest, early in his life he set up home, with his wife, in a seaside cave at Bennane Head, near Ballantrae (South Ayrshire; although then Galloway). Over the next 25 years the family grew to number at least 46 through incestuous relationships. Feeding a family of 46 would be difficult, even today, and it wasn't long before Sawney Bean started robbing travelers by setting up ambushes, and to hide his guilt he would murder them. Shockingly the Bean family would then feast upon the carcass of the poor soul. It is believed that the gang also cured some of the flesh by smoking it.
Many travelers went missing, there have been estimates that several hundred people disappeared in the area near Sawney Bean's cave. However initial suspicions were laid against other locals including inn keepers. Unfortunately some of the accused were executed but the deaths/disappearances continued. Obviously this must have lead the Beans to believe that they could continue without risk of capture. It could also be assumed that they murdered more than they actually needed to survive as there are many reports of people during that time making the macabre discovery of severed limbs and other body parts washed up on the shores around Sawney Bean's cave.
Even though it could be considered a crime that they were not discovered sooner it was not until they were nearly caught red-handed that suspicions started to point towards the Bean gang. However it is clear that the local people were totally unaware that anybody lived in that area. Somehow the gang of 46 had survived for approximately 25 years totally undetected! Obviously thier reign of terror would come to an end one day but it was when they attacked a husband and wife returning from a fair on a horse that they made the prescence known to others. Fortunately the husband and wife managed to hold off their attackers for some time as the husband was armed with a sword but overwhelmed by such a large gang the wife was dragged from the horse and killed her. The husband fled, closely followed by the gang but luckily another party, also returning from the fair, had caught up and the gang was chased but escaped. The man reported the incident to the authorities in Glasgow
The public outcry must have been astounding as a search party including several hundred soldiers, led by the King himself, set about finding the gang. Aided by the use of blood-hounds they found the gang and their cave. At the cave they found the remains of many souls together with a mound of stolen possessions including money. The gang were led off to jail. As the majority of the family had only ever known cannibalism they failed to see the reasons for the disgust of their captors. Found guilty of their crimes Alexander "Sawney" Bean, his wife, eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grand-sons, and fourteen grand-daughters were all executed.
The execution, held just outside Edinburgh, must have been a gruesome spectacle as all the men had their limbs hacked off and were left to bleed to death while the women and children were burned alive at the stake.
In a style similar to Hollywood today there was a play " Sawney Bean, the Cannibal" and a a book, written by Ronald Holmes; The Legend of Sawney Bean . I suppose it will get the full hollywood treatment one day as the image of Hannibal Lector licking his lips would compare nothing to the image of a group of 46 gorging themselves upon the body of a young family. It is suspected that the total number murdered would have been in excess of one thousand.