The Reign of Terror

East Lothian to Ballantrae.
Sawney Bean was born in East Lothian just before or during the early reign of James VI of Scotland. His parents earned an honest living at ditching and hedging, but Sawney soon learned that an honest living involved hard work, for which he had no liking. The young Sawney, dishonest and lazy, took a wife of similar breed and they moved to the west coast of Scotland. On the shores at Bennane Head near Ballantrae, in the county which was then called Galloway, but which today is known as South Ayrshire, they found a cave, which stretched deep into the cliffs. Here they settled and reared a family of fiends who would become infamous in folklore.

The Early Years.
In the early years Sawney and his wife survived on the plunder taken from travellers that they attacked and murdered, but it did not take long before they realised that the meagre amounts they usually got from wayfarers would not sustain them – in those days few travellers carried much money on their persons. They could not run the risk of selling the valuables of their victims for fear that they might be recognised. With insufficient food supplies they would not survive. To Sawney Bean the answer was simple: if they could not survive on the spoils of their victims – then perhaps they could live off the flesh provided by them! It would cost nothing and provided a safe means to dispose of the corpses in a way that ensured none would be found to lay testimony to their evil doings.

The Years of  Terror.
For the next twenty-five years they lived, surprisingly undiscovered, in their cave, murdering and practising cannibalism on the corpses of their victims. After killing their quarry they would drag the corpse to the cave, disembowel it and butcher the cadaver. The butchered parts, preserved by smoking or pickling in brine, made a useful hoard when human supplies were scarce. Occasionally, when they had more of their bloodthirsty provisions than they could use, they would remove some of the preserved limbs and body parts from their unholy larder, replacing them with fresh meat taken from their latest prey. Under cover of darkness these would then be transported for several miles before being tossed into the sea. Sometimes these discarded limbs and body parts would be found, causing a great stir amongst the local folk – superstition was commonplace in those days, and rumours of ghouls and monsters prevailed. The courts of the day hanged several innocent people for the murder of some of Beans victims, often on the basis that they were the last persons to see the victim alive. These poor wretches were dragged to the gallows screaming their innocence.