Crime has its bloody history and many serial killers have roamed the earth in the past, leaving their blood-spilled trail behind. Many infamous serial killers have committed dreadful, horrendous crimes that leave a chill in our spines even today.
But most killers, either through fear of capture or the need for privacy, work alone. A few work with a partner but for an entire family to operate in this way is almost unheard of.
And then they suddenly vanished. Nobody knows where they went, or what fate befell them. What could have happened to the Bloody Benders?
A Normal Family At First?
The story of the Benders family starts with the end of the American Civil War when the Osage Native Americans were moved to Oklahoma under the Homestead Act of 1862. The Kansas region was earmarked for European immigrants who wanted to settle and realize their Great American dream.
The Benders family, of German descent, was one of the families who moved to the outskirts of Kansas. The family, John and Elvira and their two children John Jr. and Kate, ultimately settled down near Cherryvale city on a 160-acre property, intending to run an inn.
The German origin of the family was apparent from the way the men and women of the family talked. John Bender Sr. and John Bender Jr. were the first of the family to come to the property and create a small cabin. The men also converted the land into a sizeable barn so that the women of the family could follow them and settle down.
According to accounts dating back to that time, the elder Bender was a relatively old man, around 60 years of age. His son, John Bender Jr. was quite young at 25 years old. John Jr. was often referred to as a half-wit because he would often laugh incessantly and without a reason.
He could however speak fluent English with a German accent. John Sr. on the other hand, could not speak English so well which was natural for senior German immigrants.
Elvira Bender and Kate Bender arrived in 1871. Elvira Bender was the matriarch of the family and called Ma by all. She was however not hospitable and had an infamous reputation in the neighborhood.
Kate Bender, on the other hand, was quite young and had the reputation of being a psychic healer who practiced the art of the occult. She was very attractive and could be very influential on people through her speech. Many historians believe that her public speeches and looks are what brought travelers to the Bender inn, where they would fall victim to the murderous Benders.
Murder In The Family
According to many historical criminal accounts, the Bender family had erected a thick canvas curtain in the middle of their “inn” (in reality little more than a cabin) to create two different areas in the house. The back end of the cabin was the living quarters of the Bender family. The front end of the cabin was converted into a dining space attached with a small kitchen and store where travelers were greeted and given supplies for their further journey.
However, the Bender inn became the final stop for many travelers who were killed in cold blood by the family and robbed of their possessions. The fact that the inn was situated near the Osage trail in a remote, sparsely populated area did attract many travelers, who wanted a piece of bread to eat and water to quench their thirst.
As people had to travel for many miles on horses or caravans, they would often stop by the Bender inn for a night’s rest. However, many rich travelers would be unaware that the night would be their last night as a living person.
Young Kate would even impress many travelers with her words and beauty so that they would drop their guard. Then, when the guest was seated at a place of honor at the dinner table, the two men of the family would stand behind the curtain, right behind the guest’s chair, and strike his head with a huge hammer.
Often, the victim would die in one blow. In other cases, the men would promptly slice the throat of the victim, putting him swiftly to death. The Bender family would then swiftly drag the victim’s motionless body and throw it down a trap door to later bury it in the dark of night.
The astonishing observation about these crimes committed by the Bender family is that they hid the bodies so well that no one suspected the family for a long time. It is only when the disappearances in the area increased that the Bender inn came under scrutiny.
According to the records, the first suspicions were not raised until in May 1871, some months after the Bender family had settled in the area. A man was found in a creek with his throat slashed and his skull crushed.
But it was only by the end of the next year, as more and more travelers started disappearing from the area, that an investigation finally uncovered what was happening. The authorities descended on the Bender family property as part of a search of all Osage homesteads, and discovered around 10 dead bodies in the cellar of the house.
But of the Bender family themselves, there was no sign. The men of the family had last been seen three days earlier at a town meeting, where it had been agreed to search all the surrounding houses in an attempt to solve the disappearances of those passing through the area.
The tracks of a horse-drawn wagon led away from the property, and when these were followed the searchers came across the Bender family wagon 12 miles (19 km) from the house, with the starving horses still in harness. Following the trail, it seems that the Benders next caught a train to the Kansas city of Humboldt, and from there at least some of them travelled to Texas.
The lands between Texas and Mexico were a lawless place at the time and there the trail ran cold. The elder couple however were believed to have travelled north, to St Louis in Missouri. Over the following months and years several people were arrested, and several groups of vigilantes claimed to have killed the Bloody Benders. But the $3,000 reward was never claimed, and nothing was ever proven.
The Bender family together had committed around 21 murders in the span of around two years. The family had even buried an infant alive, probably to get rid of his cries while they murdered his family. The extent of the Benders’ family’s criminal history astounded everyone living around them.
Even though their crimes were discovered, the Bender family was never caught because they managed to escape before the investigators could get hold of them. There are even some accounts that will lead you to believe that the Bender family was not an actual family but professional serial killers. Whether they were a true family or not, the Benders have faded into the pages of criminal history as some of America’s most notorious serial killers.
By Bipin Dimri
Cappello, N, 2019. The Bloody Benders: America’s First Family Of Serial Killers. Available at: https://crimereads.com/the-bloody-benders-americas-first-family-of-serial-killers/
History Bones, 2022. The Bloody Benders. Available at: https://historybones.com/thebloodybenders
Deutschmann, J, 2021. The Truth About The Bloody Benders Serial Killer Family. Available at: https://www.grunge.com/470265/the-truth-about-the-bloody-benders-serial-killer-family/?utm_campaign=clip
Gibson, G, 2011. The Bloody Benders – Serial Killers of Kansas. Available at: https://www.legendsofamerica.com/ks-benders/