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Legend of The Bloody Benders

The Bloody Benders were a family of serial killers who owned an inn and small general store in Labette County of southeastern Kansas from 1871 to 1873. The Bender family consisted of the sixty-year-old patriarch, John Bender (generally referred to simply as “Old Man Bender” in historical accounts); his wife, Mrs. Bender known only as “Ma”—just forty-two years old but with the cold-eyed, Ma was considered unfriendly and her neighbors took to calling her “She-Devil” but they were devotees of the Sunday church, so were considered peaceful folk. Their 2 children; a hulking dim-witted twenty-seven-year-old son named John, Jr., and a daughter named Kate, a young woman in her early twenties who, by default, was considered the brains of the operation. Though Kate has gone down in legend as a red-haired temptress, she appears to have been a ruddy-faced, mannish-looking female who held seances under the name “Professor Miss Katie Bender” and claimed to be a faith healer. They are believed to have killed at least a dozen travelers, but unfortunately before their crimes were discovered, the family fled, and where their about remained unknown until now.

The Bender's Shanty

 Sometime around 1870, the Bender family arrived in Labette County, Kansas, and built a home along a lonely stretch of road a few miles south of the railway town of Cherryvale. The dwelling was little more than a one-room log box, sixteen by twenty feet in size. The interior was divided in half by a canvas curtain. One side served as the family’s living quarters. The other was turned into a rudimentary inn, where a traveler could get a hot meal or drink or a bed for the night. Some visitors, however, got much more than they bargained for. Locals noticed that the Benders had an immaculately ploughed garden – but there was never anything planted. It later became clear that once the bodies were stripped they were buried on the property’s grounds.

The Benders were widely believed to be German immigrants; only the male Benders, however, were born overseas and they were not actually a family. No documentation or definitive proof of their relationships to one another or where they were born has ever been found. Pa Bender was from either Germany or Holland and is believed by some to have been born John Flickinger (unproven). According to contemporary newspapers, Ma Bender was born Almira Hill Mark, (often misreported as "Meik") in the Adirondack Mountains, she married Simon Mark with whom she claimed to have had 12 children. Later she married William Stephen Griffith and was known as Mrs. Almira Griffith. Mrs. Griffith was suspected of murdering several husbands but none of these rumors were ever proven. Kate was believed to be Almira's fifth daughter, born Sarah Eliza Mark she later married and was known as Sarah Eliza Davis. Based on an inscription in a Bible recovered from the Bender home, it was believed that John Jr. was born John Gebhardt although no other proof of his identity exists. Some of the Benders' neighbors claimed that John and Kate were not brother and sister, but actually husband and wife.

The Benders, it turned out, were really running a frontier murder-and-robbery operation. When a prosperous-looking traveler showed up, he would be ushered into the dining area and seated at the table with his back to the canvas divider. While Kate beguiled him with some dinnertime conversation, her father or brother would be lurking on the other side of the curtain with a sledgehammer at the ready.

When the unsuspecting guest leaned his head back against the curtain, the hammer would come crashing down, shattering the back of his skull. The body would then be dragged into the bedroom, where it would be robbed, stripped, and dumped through a trapdoor into the cellar. There, his throat would be slit for good measure. Later, the body would be taken out and buried in the pasture.

The dreadful truth about the Benders came to light in the spring of 1873 when a physician named Dr. William York left Fort Scott on horseback and never showed up. He was searching for his neighbor George Loncher and his daughter, who left Independence in hope of starting a new life. Apparently, all the missing victims had one thing in common – they all stayed at the Inn – and none of them were ever found again.

On March 28, 1873, Colonel Ed York (Dr. York's brother) arrived at the Bender inn with a Mr. Johnson, explaining to the Benders that his brother had gone missing and asked if they had seen him. They admitted Dr. York had stayed with them and suggested the possibility that he had run into trouble with Indians. Colonel York agreed that this was possible and remained for dinner.

On April 3, Colonel York returned to the inn with armed men after being informed that a woman had fled from the inn after being threatened with knives by Ma Bender. Ma allegedly could not understand English while the younger Benders denied the claim. When York repeated the claim, Ma became enraged and said the woman was a witch who had cursed her coffee and ordered the men to leave her house, revealing for the first time that "her sense of the English language" was much better than had been thought. Before York left, Kate asked him to return alone the following Friday night, and she would use her clairvoyant abilities to help him find his brother. Later, the men with York were convinced the Benders and a neighboring family, the Roaches, were guilty and wanted to hang them all but York insisted that evidence must be found.

A few days later, however—fearing that they were under suspicion—the Benders pulled up stakes and fled. When word got around that the Benders had absconded, the posse returned to the farm and made a horrific discovery. In the pasture were seven shallow graves containing the corpses of eight human beings. Seven were grown men (including Dr. York). One was an eighteen-month-old girl, who had been traveling with her father. The Benders hadn’t bothered to brain her. They had simply tossed her into the pit with her father’s mangled corpse and buried her alive.

Following the discovery, a state-wide manhunt was ordered. On October 31, 1889, the authorities thought they had a breakthrough when they arrested two woman for larceny in Niles, Michigan, who were identified as Ma and Kate Bender. They were brought back to Kansas but without significant evidence released two months later.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, the writer of "Little House on the Prairie" lived near Independence mentioned the Bender family in her writing and speeches. In 1937 she gave a speech at a book fair, which was later transcribed and printed in the September 1978 Saturday Evening Post, and in the 1988 book "A Little House Sampler". She mentioned stopping at the Inn, as well as recounting the rumors of the murders spreading through their community. She alleged that her father "Pa Ingalls" joined in a vigilante hunt for the killers, and when he spoke of later searches for them she recalled, "At such times Pa always said in a strange tone of finality, 'They will never be found.' They were never found and later I formed my own conclusions why." The family remained unfound and their real identities have been the source of speculation ever since.

The Serial Killers Files by Harold Schechter;;

Pic Source:
The Serial Killers Files by Harold Schechter page 147

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