The Douglas Archives

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Alexander "Sawney" Bean was said to have been born in East Lothian, far away from the remote Ayrshire coast where he achieved infamy. The son of a hedger and ditcher, he followed in his fathers footsteps, but soon discovered an aversion to hard work and absconded from his parents to Ayrshire. It was here he fell in with a woman as disinclined to honest living as he was, Black Agnes Douglas. Legend puts it that they had settled in Ballantrae until Black Agnes was denounced as a witch, whereupon the couple left town and took up residence in a remote cave on the coast just north of Ballantrae.

This cave was to become their home for the next twenty five years, as they began on their dark and gruesome path. They began to ambush travelers on the road, at first only robbing them of their possessions, but then they took to murdering them and eating their remains.

They flourished with a good supply of valuables and 'food' and soon they were surrounded by with an incestuous tribe of up to forty five, all brought up in the ways of murder and cannibalism. Investigations were reportedly carried out into the many disappearances and some of those falsely accused were hanged, most of those being innkeepers or the last to see the victims alive.

The couples luck ran out however, when they set upon a young couple returning from a fair. The wife was quickly butchered and dismembered by the tribe but this horrible sight only emboldened the husband and he bravely fought off the attackers until a crowd arrived from the same fair, forcing the Beans to withdraw.

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The supposed cave the Beans occupied

The crime was reported to the authorities and a search party of over 400 men with bloodhounds and led by King James himself set out to find and apprehend the monsters.

After a long period of fruitless searching the bloodhounds eventually stumbled onto the cave and let out such a furious burst of yelping that the search party became convinced that, unlikely as it may be, this must be where the family was hiding.

The King and his guards edged into the cave, and, as they descended further inside, lit torches. The light showed a horrific sight. Body parts hung on the cave walls, limbs lay pickled in jars and the possessions of the victims lay in huge piles around the cave.

Sawney and his family were imprisoned at the Tolbooth in Edinburgh and met their ends in Leith, where, in an act of cruelty to match their crimes, the menfolk had their limbs removed and were allowed to bleed to death. The women got off lightly in comparison, being burned at the stake.

Story provided by ScotClans - A guide to the Clans and Tartans of Scotland: From Scottish Clan Information to Clan Merchandise, Handmade Kilts, Highland Outfits ... everything a true Scot should need and know.

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