In 1977 Wes Craven’s terrifying and realistic film “La Colline à des yeux” was released, telling the story of the Carter family who took the desert road to California. But something goes wrong and they find themselves prey to a family of cannibals who are particularly sadistic and incestuous. The film was a commercial success and shocked public opinion, then gave rise to two sequel and a remake of Alexander Aja in 2006. However, the story is based on a real fact in Scotland in the 17th century with the Bean family.
(Image : engraving by Sawney Bean)
The case was made public with the publication of The Newgate Calendar, a magazine highlighting the worst crimes of the time. It tells the very special story of the Bean family, who were sentenced to death for crimes of cannibalism and murder.
Alexander Bean was born in the 17th century near Edinburgh. His father was a farmer and sacrificed everything for his son who did not have the same character: Alexander, whose best-known nickname, Sawney (Sawney = the Scotsman), wanted to live on the margins of society and he already had dark vices with resentment towards the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. Rumours indicated that he was then the victim of mockery and intimidation.
He met his future wife (his name is currently unknown) before leaving near the Galloway coast to find himself in a dark and humid cave, almost 1500 meters deep. The entrance to the cave was dark at first sight and in the rock, no one could believe that people lived in this very gloomy place. Not having the means to find a home to live together, the couple then decided to use it as a habitat and spot at the same time.
Alexander therefore began to gradually trap people who passed not far from his cave and on the coast to steal them. But the money raised during these flights was not enough to feed the family that was beginning to grow. People were often penniless travellers and Sawney did not want to sell the stolen items for fear of being caught. As time passed, the more the robbers became victims, corpses…. It was therefore necessary to find a solution to hide the bodies that accumulated then. So, it was then decided to feed on the corpses so as not to lose the meat.
(Image : Sawney Bean, source Real Unexplained Mysteries)
The couple had eight sons, six daughters and fourteen grandchildren, the result of incestuous relationships between family members. The children grew up in the cave without any education through theft and cannibalism.
Some bodies were so damaged that they disposed of pieces of rotting bodies. The authorities could not at that time estimate the dates of death, but above all, the identification of the bodies was impossible because only limbs or pieces of flesh were found. Nevertheless, the list of missing persons was beginning to grow sufficiently for the authorities to ask themselves questions.
For 25 years the Bean clan has reigned with immense terror and meticulous organization while hiding from being caught. The terror ended when, once too often, the family members came across the wrong people: on that day, it was a couple leaving the fair in the neighbouring village. The attacked man who by chance fought hard enough to stay alive until the carnies arrived who had heard the man’s cries of despair. However, his wife did not survive his injuries.
The Beans were then unmasked and on the orders of James VI, an armed group of between 100 and 300 men, then went to hunt Sawney Bean and his family. Thanks to the dogs that smelled blood and decomposition, they discovered the cave. So they eventually found the place and clear evidence of their guilt: bones, corpses, pieces of flesh, clothes and objects that belonged to their victims.
The family was taken to Toolbough Prison in Edinburgh and then to Glasgow where they were executed without trial. The men were castrated and bled to death, while the women and children had to watch before they were burned alive.
Featured Image Credit: The Hill Have Eyes (film)