Sawney Bean—possibly one of the most horrifying figures in Scottish history. He was born in East Lothian near Edinburgh, son to a hedger and ditcher. Running away as a teenager, Bean traveled Scotland, before finally settling in Galloway with a woman who shared his desire to live lawless and free, without morals. Living in their home in a cave only accessible at low tide, the Bean family grew over the next twenty-five years until Sawney had not just children, but also grandchildren, probably through incest, with the family being cut off from society.
The family survived on robbery, murder, and cannibalism. People living nearby became increasingly afraid as people were disappearing with disturbing regularity, with the discovery of limbs washed up on the shore-line days later. Locals and travelers, men, women and children were all disappearing, sometimes without trace.
So regular were the disappearances that the government sent spies into the area to investigate, who investigated ferociously and with zealous efficiency, interviewing suspects, mostly innkeepers and travelers, the majority of the missing people being travelers themselves. People were often detained without reason and on several occasions executed, despite the lack of evidence against them.
The Bean family's downfall was brought on not by the governments agents but by a nobleman who was traveling home with his wife from a faire when he was set upon by members of the Bean family. Although the man managed to fight off his assailants, his wife was dragged off her horse and had her throat cut by a number of women who proceeded to drink her blood. The nobleman was spared the same fate by a group of travelers who were returning from the same faire and who, upon arriving on the scene, scared the Beans into a retreat. Upon seeing his wife's corpse and hearing the nobleman's account of the incident, took him immediately to Glasgow, where he recounted the incident to the local magistrate. Word was sent to London, and King James himself led a force of four hundred men on Galloway, combing beaches in search of the Beans' hideout. Eventually at low tide, the family was discovered in their cave, surrounded in jewelry stolen from their victims. The forty-eight members of the Bean family were rounded up and taken to Edinburgh, where all members of the family—men, women and children—were put to death immediately without trial. The men were dismembered and left to bleed to death. Then the women, after being forced to watch the men bleed to death, were burned at the stake.