Sawney Beanís early history is murky; it is believed that he was born in East Lothian, son to a hedger and ditcher. Although he started following his fatherís trade he did not enjoy working long hours outside in all weathers and thus ran away from home when he was a teenager. He eventually arrived in Ballentrae where he met a woman after his own heart Ė Black Agnes.
People were aware of a darkness of sorts in the woman Sawney Bean took up with and named her a witch; it was this accusation that led the couple to take up residence in a remote cave. The two were not fans of hard work and realised they could survive very well by waylaying the odd traveller, murdering them, divesting them of their belongings and eating the remains. They were to live this way for twenty-five years, expanding their operations as their family grew in size. Legend has it that the clan were all children or grandchildren of Sawney and Agnes, meaning that incest was rife in the family.
Over time local people knew that something was amiss for people of all ages would disappear without trace. There was also the disturbing occasional finding of a body part washed to shore. The authorities tried unsuccessfully to catch the culprits, focusing on travellers and people who had contact with them such as innkeepers; they took suspects in to custody and in their zeal to pursue justice executed innocents they believed had committed the crimes.
Sawney Beanís downfall came one day when a victim managed to escape. His wife was not so lucky Ė the poor man witnessed her murder and saw some of the female Beans start to feed on her blood. He had the good fortune to be in the path of a group of locals who witnessed his wifeís ravaged body and saw the murderers; the latter fled as soon as they realised they had been seen.
This time the search for the criminals was led by the king. He and his men knew that the cannibals must be somewhere in the vicinity and searched and researched the area, determined to hunt the Beans down. Eventually their efforts paid off when they came upon a cave full of booty from years of criminal activity; there were also numerous body parts. Sawney Bean and his family were all apprehended.
The wheels of justice were not kind to the family - however bad their crimes nobody would wish their fate on another human being. The menís limbs were chopped off and they were left to bleed to death in front of their womenfolk. The women, having witnessed these horrific scenes, were put to death by fire.