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

Updated on January 11, 2018
A cannibal family
A cannibal family

Where It All Began

Alexander "Sawney" Bean was born in the later part of the fourteenth century in East Lothian, Scotland. Bean was raised in an agricultural community and came from a rather poor family of laborers. The home life of Bean was said to be, at best, a horrible upbringing. Often being beat by his father for never quite being a good enough son.

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. Due to his reckless attitude, a natural born urge to disobey the rules, and a deep hatred for actual work, Alexander completely failed in his attempts at earning an honest living, once again disappointing his father.

Eventually 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. This relationship would soon lead to both Agnes and Alexander fleeing from their homeland after locals began to make accusations of Agnes being a witch, claiming she had been involved in human sacrifices and conjuring demons. From that point on she was known as Black Agnes Douglas the dark witch of Lothian.

Alexander's First Taste

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.

Being outlaws it was to risky to enter into the villages and attempt to spend their stolen loot on food, so facing starvation, the witch Agnes convinced Alexander that cannibalism was the solution. It was rumored that Black Agnes Douglas had already been practicing this unique form of dining long before her relationship with Bean ever started.

Not wanting to draw any unnecessary attention to themselves they kept their feasting to a minimum. They would only eat when they absolutely had to and they would dispose of the remains in a fashion that would make it look as if the cause of death had been an animal attack. I guess in a sense it was, Agnes and Alexander were already on their way to becoming real life monsters.

Cave entrance
Cave entrance | Source

Home Sweet 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.

The couple had discovered the cave during the low tide but soon realized once the tide had risen that the entrance was no longer visible, being completely submerged in water. Being as the cave was nearly a half mile deep at a steady incline it had all the makings of a perfect hide out and home for the couple to raise a family.

Alexander Sawney Bean at the entrance to his cave.
Alexander Sawney Bean at the entrance to his cave. | Source

Earning A Living And Raising The Babies

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 but were sure to never leave a witness. They would stick to only taking on a single person and bringing the entire body back to their cave to be pickled and preserved.

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

At some point Bean and Agnes began having children. They would eventually have 8 sons and 6 daughters, all of which were raised to be part of this cannibalistic cult-like lifestyle. As the children would grow they would be incorporated into the killings, sometimes hunting as a large group and other times splitting up into smaller groups to cover more ground and increase their profit.

Eventually Bean wanted to expand the family even more and encouraged the children to breed with each other and build him an army. According to the Bean family ledger, found many years later, these incestuous acts brought Bean and Agnes a total of 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters, now bringing the Bean clan to a total of 48 inbred, cannibalistic monsters.

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 began to become so numerous that the town folk from the surrounding areas began to make accusations and spread rumors against each other.

The Rumors Start Flying

The number of missing persons in the area, over that 25 year span, were said to have been over 1000. The rumors of what was happening went from reasonable possibilities to just plain insane accusations, little did anyone know at the time just how close the later was to the truth.

One very common story was that local innkeepers had been robbing and killing the missing people. This rumor was so widespread that many of the innkeepers actually left the business to move on to new careers out of fear of being lynched

Another rumor claimed there was some kind of 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 claim 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, and comes onto land to appear to you 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, and so 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 that looked to be easy targets.

To the surprise of these cannibal inbreeds, the man was not about to go down without a fight. They began to do battle right in the middle of the road, and the man armed with both sword and pistol was well trained and 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 by the skin of his teeth.

Another larger group of people had been traveling farther back down the road and came upon the mayhem just in time to save the man from his own death at the hands of the Bean family. When they heard the crowd approaching they began to scatter in every direction. Running frantically, they eventually made their way back home to their cave.

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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 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. 46 people were captured, bound in chains and marched into Edinburgh that day to await their execution.

The women and children were hung on stakes, and temporarily left alive, to watch the men of their clan be 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 spit 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".


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 kings 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 really knows what really happened to the missing members of the Bean clan. Some say they're all dead, but many believe the family is still around today keeping their numbers small so they're not detected and feeding on the bodies of vagabonds and tourists unlucky enough to cross their path.

DS Duby

Questions & Answers

  • Is cannibalism illegal every where?

    Yes cannibalism is illegal everywhere.

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

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


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    • profile image


      14 months ago

      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..

    • profile image

      Paula Gonzalez 

      15 months ago

      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!

    • katt361 profile image


      2 years ago from Texas

      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.

    • profile image

      Andre House 

      2 years ago

      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

    • profile image


      3 years ago

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

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      4 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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.

    • Marina7 profile image


      4 years ago from Clarksville TN

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      4 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you

    • profile image

      Sherry Ann 

      4 years ago

      Wow...just powerful.

    • Gipsy Dianic profile image

      Gipsy Dianic 

      5 years ago

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

    • profile image


      5 years ago

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

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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.

    • Marina7 profile image


      5 years ago from Clarksville TN

      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.

    • rebeccarave profile image


      5 years ago from US

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

    • FreakyV profile image


      5 years ago from Canada

      I enjoyed this read, thanks for writing it.

    • Sparrowlet profile image

      Katharine L Sparrow 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      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 profile image

      Carrie Lee Night 

      6 years ago from Northeast United States

      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.

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

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

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      6 years ago from Tennesee

      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 profile image

      Mike Robbers 

      6 years ago from London

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

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 

      6 years ago from Austin, Texas

      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!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      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 profile image

      Lacey Taplin 

      7 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO

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

    • surfer1969 profile image


      7 years ago

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

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Yes it was based on Ed Gene an American serial killer

    • surfer1969 profile image


      7 years ago

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

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      My thoughts exactly Peternehemia thanks for reading and commenting

    • peternehemia profile image

      Peter Nehemia 

      7 years ago from Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia

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

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      7 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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 profile image

      Miss Mimi 

      7 years ago from On the road again

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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 profile image


      7 years ago 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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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.

    • chika-nicholas profile image

      Jude Ibemere 

      7 years ago from Lagos,Nigeria

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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 Mc Bride profile image

      Kate McBride 

      7 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      7 years ago from California, United States of America

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you very much Mejohnson!

    • mejohnson profile image


      7 years ago

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      7 years ago from Carson City

      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 profile image


      7 years ago from San Francisco

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

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      7 years ago

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

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 

      7 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

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

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      7 years ago from Lancashire. England.

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


    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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 profile image

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you Jp993 I appreciate your comment and visit!

    • JP993 profile image


      7 years ago from England

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

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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.

    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S 

      7 years ago from Danville, VA

      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.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 

      7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

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

      Up and everything!

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 

      7 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      7 years ago from United States, Illinois

      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 profile image


      7 years ago

      very good read

    • Georgie Lowery profile image

      GH Price 

      7 years ago from North Florida

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

    • snoblet profile image

      Dave Rogers 

      7 years ago from New York

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


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