Sawney Bean | Killers That Inspired Movies

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May 25, 2019


The tale of Sawney Bean inspired Wes Craven's 1977 horror movie The Hills Have Eyes. The Hills Have Eyes earned 25 million dollars and there have been sequels and remakes since the original was released. The movie became a franchise and there are graphic novels and merchandise available too.

So, who was Sawney Bean? Sawney Bean was the leader of a clan in Scotland. His clan was a good size and it had 45 members in total. They were active in the 16th century and were executed for the mass killing and cannibalisation of around 1000 people.

It's not known if Sawney Bean ever existed as there is no documentation to prove it, but it's a well-known story in Edinburgh and has become part of the tourism.

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The Tale of Sawney Bean


Alexander "Sawney" Bean was born in East Lothian, Scotland. His father was a ditch-digger and Bean tried to follow in his father's footsteps. However, he lost interest in labour and realised it wasn't for him.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
He met and fell for a woman called Agnes Douglas who had been accused of being a witch by the locals. The couple left, began robbing and cannibalised one of their victims.

On their travels, they found a cave on the coast and decided to live there. In their 25 years living in the cave, they had 8 sons, 6 daughters, 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters. Various grandchildren were products of incestuous intercourse between the children and their parents.

To feed their growing clan they would ambush people at night to rob them, and then take the bodies back to their cave to eat them.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
The locals noticed people were disappearing and body parts were washing up on the coast. They would leave body parts to be found so the locals would blame it on a beast. This meant that they had no idea that the clan lived so close.

Several searches took place to find the person or animal responsible for the murders. They found the cave but they never searched the cave because they didn't believe anyone could live there. Some locals even believed it was a goblin-like creature. As a result, several innocent people were accused and killed, but the murders didn't stop.

They were discovered one night when they attacked a young married couple. Unfortunately for them he was skilled in combat and fought them off with a sword and pistol. His poor wife was not so lucky, and when she fell the clan attacked her.  Before they could finish off the husband a group of people from a fayre nearby appeared, and the clan had to flee.

Sawney Bean's Cave. Image credit: Mary and Angus Hogg
Now their existence was known they were hunted. 400 men with bloodhounds searched for the clan on behalf of the king. The eventually found the cave, and when they got inside they found a horrifying scene. They found human remains hung and dried, the cave reeked of decay, and there were barrels of pickled and salted body parts. They also found stolen goods which consisted of gold, silver, watches, rings and weapons. 

What Happened Then?


The ending of this chilling story has 2 versions, and it's unknown which of them is true. 

Version 1:

This version tells how the clan were captured alive, and they put up no fight. They were taken to jail in chains and executed without trial. The clan showed no remorse for what they did.

Sawney and the other males had their genitalia removed and thrown into a fire. They then had their feet and hands severed and were left to bleed to death. Sawneys last words were:

"It isn't over, it will never be over."

Agnes and the girls watched the men die before they were burnt at the stake for their crimes.

Version 2:

In this version, the cave entrance was blown in using gunpowder. This left the Bean clan to suffocate inside with no way to escape.

Final Thoughts


Cannibalism is horrific but has been around since prehistoric times. However, this does not excuse what this clan did. This tale is gruesome from beginning to end, and I have never been one to enjoy movies that involve cannibalism, such as The Hills Have Eyes.

I had never heard of this tale before, but I found it very interesting to read about! Even though there is no proof the clan actually existed.

What do you think of this tale? Do you think it could be real or is it just a myth? Please let me know in the comments!
22 comments on "Sawney Bean | Killers That Inspired Movies"
  1. I had never heard of this before! Very chilling recount of this.

    - Nyxie

    nyxiesnook.com

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    1. I was shocked by the tale myself and had no clue it inspired a film. Thank you for commenting! x

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  2. I've heard of the Sawney Bean legend, but then, I like a lot of weird and creepy stuff. I like to think it ended with the first version happened. It sounds a bit more poetic and dramatic, especially to a tale with one involving cannibalism! I'm not sure if it's totally true though, because apparently consuming human flesh can cause a fatal brain disease, so it's kind of surprising that so many of Sawney Bean's family survived!

    Anyway, this was an awesome post and I am currently in love with your blog! It's right up my alley, especially the supernatural and true crime stories! Love love love it! Keep up the great writing!!

    xoxo Emily

    https://www.thatweirdgirllife.com

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting! You are so sweet. :) I know that over the years tales can be exaggerated and they may never have happened, but like you I am fascinated by the weird and creepy. Thank you again! x

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  3. This is a GREAT story - I never knew it!

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  4. Ugh. I don't like watching movies with cannibalism. People must have been like the movie for it to hit a huge milestone, though. I hope this is just a myth. :D

    Glaiza | www.glimmerofhappiness.wordpress.com

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post! :) x

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  5. Interesting tale. Myself I'm not a fan of people exhibiting cannibalistic tendencies though. I did enjoy reading btw.

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  6. Hey, thanks for sharing a link to this via twitter. Im glad to have found your blog! I've followed you here so I can read more from you

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting! I am so glad you enjoyed my blog! :) x

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  7. Yikes! What a gruesome tale!

    www.poutineandprada.com

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  8. I'm never quite sure what to make of these legends and whether they are fact or fiction. I seem to remember listening to an autobiography of a scottish GP in the 60s where people thought that bones were still being washed up and he went to look and they were cattle bones so who knows for sure?

    https://thatautisticfitchick.com

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    1. You can never really know as the stories do tend to get exaggerated over time! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. :) x

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  9. I’ve never seen the film so didn’t know it was based on a killer! That’s so horrendous what they did. Interesting though that there was no proof of the clan and that there are two alternate endings to them!

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting! I am glad you enjoyed the post! :) x

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  10. I've never heard of this before! But then again, I'm not a big fan of cannibalism either. Never seen the Hills Have Eyes.

    You ask if I think it could be real... yeah, unfortunately. There are just so many stories about this kind of thing.

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting and taking the time to read! :) x

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  11. It was really interesting reading about this!

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