Stranger Than Fiction: A Family of Inbred Cannibals Once Preyed on Hundreds of Scottish Travelers
01.31.13 by BJSprecher
Of all of the ways that humans have proven their capacity to act inhumanely towards one another, the most terrifying, the most taboo, is anthropophagy, more commonly known as cannibalism. A practice that has existed since well before recorded history, cannibalism still exists in isolated pockets of the world today. Certain Melanesian tribes of Oceania are known to engage in cannibalism as a ritual of war, as do the Korowai of Papua, New Guinea. In Western society, however, the practice is virtually unheard of, save for those extreme cases where it was necessitated by survival and in a few horrifying cases of serial killer predation. However, several popular horror movies today are inspired by the horrific story of an inbred clan of murderers who ambushed, robbed and consumed hundreds of travelers as they made their way along the coast of Scotland.
The Strange Truth
According to The Newgate Calendar, a crime catalog originally published by the notorious Newgate Prison in London, travelers along the western coast of Scotland went missing in increasingly greater numbers over a period of twenty-five years during the 1500s. Local villagers would occasionally find body parts washed up on shore, giving rise to all manner of wild speculation about murderers and monsters, but several organized searches of the surrounding failed to turn up any evidence of who or what might be responsible.
One night, a married couple riding along the coast on their way home from a fair were attacked by a group of people. The husband happened to be a skilled combatant and he held off the attackers with a sword and pistol. Unfortunately, the man's wife fell to the ground and she was immediately butchered and dismembered right before his eyes. The man continued his losing fight, saved only by the timely arrival of a large group of fairgoers traveling along the same path. The man returned home and told his story to the local authorities and King James VI of Scotland personally organized a manhunt comprised of some 400 men and several bloodhounds to hunt down the attackers.
After a long period of searching, the bloodhands tracked the attackers to an isolated cave in Bennane Head, where they found a feral family living amongst the remains of countless human beings. The head of the family, Alexander "Sawney" Bean, had been living in the cave for decades with his wife, "Black" Agnes Douglas, and they had produced an incestuous clan of 48 children and grandchildren. Completely cut off from society, the Beans subsisted by robbing travelers and then carting their bodies back to their cave to be eaten. They managed to evade detection for so long because the cave entrance was closed off by the tide half of every day and because they only ventured out at night.
Sawney and his entire family were taken to the tolbooth in Edinburgh and they were eventually executed in Leith. For their heinous crimes, the Beans were punished in a truly Draconian manner: the male members of the family were bled to death after having their genitalia removed and their hands and feet cut off, while the female members were burned at the stake.
The Hills Have Eyes(1977), The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Just as he drew inspiration for his 1984 horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street from the story of Asian
immigrants who died in their sleep, Hollywood horror master Wes Craven borrowed from the tale of the Sawney Bean clan when writing the script for his 1977 exploitation-horror movie. Initially titled Blood Relations: The Sun War, the script that would become The Hills Have Eyes originally told the story of an incestuous clan of cannibals who lived in a forest and preyed on travelers, just as in the Sawney Bean tale. Craven eventually changed the locale of the story to the Nevada desert and the large clan of inbreds to a small family of deformed cannibals. The story would be altered even further for the 2006 remake, turning the family into mutants living on an abandoned nuclear testing village.