Halloween Serial #2: “Sawney Beane, The Man Eater”

This story is incredibly popular in Scotland, where the supposed crimes of Sawney Beane took place.

Interestingly, this one reads more like a news article than a Penny Dreadful. Instead of  suspense there is simply a statement of “facts.” And if you google the legend of Sawney Beane, you’ll find that people can’t agree whether or not these events are true…

Welcome, to the story of two very lazy individuals.


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Charles Whitehead begins the story by claiming that truth is stranger than fiction. It’s not clear if he’s using this as a literary device to scare his audience or if he actually feels he’s writing a story based on the undeniable truth of the past. I think it’s more scary not knowing.

Sawney Beane, a man too idle (Whitehead’s theory) to build himself a proper house or acquire proper employment, finds himself an equally idle wife, and together they find a giant cave by the sea to live in.

Apparently, this was the H. H. Holmes mansion of caves because it went a mile deep into a hillside and contained many twists and turns. Whitehead even describes the cave as, “the habitation of horrid cruelty.”

What’s really creepy is that this cave exists. Historians who’ve attempted to locate Sawney’s cave found a contender and described it as being incredibly difficult to enter, especially at high tide. Well, Whitehead describes Sawney’s cave much the same way: “their dwelling was a cave of about a mile in length, and of considerable breadth, so near the sea, that the tide often penetrated into the cave above two hundred yards.”

So, Sawney and his wife now have a home but they’re desperate for food and they rob every traveler that passes by their cave. And to avoid being found out, they kill every person they rob. They quarter them, (basically cut em’ up) and cure their limbs to make dried meat that they use for food.

This goes on for 25 years. And in the span of that quarter of a century, Sawney and his wife have 46 children. All of them cannibals, all of them the products of incest.

Can you imagine what these children must’ve looked like? Whitehead doesn’t describe them but they’ve lived in a cave their entire life and consumed only human flesh. They must have been papery thin from malnutrition and chalk-white, as well as deformed from the constant in-breeding. And they had no social skills or formal knowledge. They were probably utterly horrifying.

These children help their parents secure their food supply by jumping and killing large groups of people on a regular basis. But no matter how large the Beane family grew they always had an over-abundance of food. Apparently, their cave was just vomiting surplus body-parts.

The Beanes killed so many people that Whitehead uses the word “depopulated” to describe Scotland.

This one guy and his family ate so much people that they made a dent in an entire country.

Whitehead mentions that Sawney lived near Edinburgh, and the population of Edinburgh during the Sawney Beane murders was estimated to be 10,000 people. Let’s do some math here. The Beanes killed an estimated 1000 people during their spree, so if you lived in Edinburgh during the murders, there is roughly a 1 in 10 chance you would have been Beane’s dinner.

That’s how many people this guy killed and ate.

When the inhabitants finally locate the Beanes, the Monarchy slaughters the entire family without trial. The Beanes were deemed, “avowed enemies of all mankind and of all social order.”

That… that’s fair.

The men Beanes were disemboweled and quartered until they bled to death. The women and children Beanes were forced to watch before being burnt alive themselves.

Whitehead’s last lines really got me,  he says that the children didn’t “display any signs of repentance or regret but continued, with their last breath, to pour forth the most dreadful curses and imprecations upon all around.”

48 people were slaughtered that day while the majority of Scotland watched. And instead of screams and death throes, the inhabitants of Edinburgh received screeches and curses from these burning devil-children who had killed and eaten most of their family and friends.

This was the 13th century so these people were undoubtedly devout. What must they have been thinking about the state of their country if something that atrocious happened in the heart of it? And did they feel they had come face to face with the devil? I would have.


What did you guys think of this story? Was it Halloween enough? Was it too Halloween? Did I make you puke? Do you have a worse story to share?

Check out yesterday’s post, “The Adventure of the German Student,” and come back tomorrow for “The Apparition of Lord Tyrone to Lady Beresford.”

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