|Also known as:||Bloody Benders|
John Bender Jr.
|Number of victims:||11 Known|
|Span of killings:||1872 – 1873|
|State(s):||Labette County, Kansas|
The Bloody Benders were a family of serial killers who owned a small general store and inn in Labette County, Kansas from 1872 to 1873. The inn was a dingy place called the Wayside Inn. The family consisted of John Bender, his wife, son, and daughter Kate. They were apparently German; the older Benders spoke English with some difficulty. Kate was very attractive and outgoing, and thus became a large draw for the Benders' establishment. She proclaimed herself to be a healer and psychic who could cure sickness and contact the dead. In popular lore, Kate is said to have been the driving force behind the Bender family killings.
The Bender family home had a large room that was divided by a curtain. If a guest appeared to be wealthy, they would give him a seat of honor, with his back to the curtain. Kate would distract the guest, while John Bender or his son would come from behind the curtain and strike the guest on the skull with a hammer. The victim's throat was then cut to ensure his death. The body was moved behind the curtain and thrown through a trap door that led down into a cellar. Once in the cellar, the body would be stripped and later buried somewhere on the property, often in the orchard.
In the spring of 1873, Dr. William York, who was returning from the western Fort Scott to his home in Independence, Kansas, arrived at the Benders' inn, which he had visited on his trip westward. York had told his brother, Colonel Ed York, about the inn prior to the trip. Dr. York never arrived home.
On May 4, 1873, a short time after Dr. York's disappearance, Colonel York arrived at the inn, explained to the Benders that his brother had gone missing, and asked if they had seen him. They said they had not and suggested the possibility that he had run into trouble with Native Americans. Colonel York agreed that this was possible and was served dinner.
According to one story, after dinner, Colonel York was sitting in the front room when he noticed a gold locket under one of the beds. He opened it and was surprised to see images of his brother's wife and daughter. He slipped out and returned the next morning with the sheriff and several deputies, only to find that the Benders had fled. After a search of the Bender property, twelve mounds of earth were found among the trees and as many as two dozen bodies were reported to have been found. The first grave revealed the body of Dr. William York, who had been buried head downward with his feet nearly exposed.
The search of the home resulted in the recovery of three hammers that had been used as murder weapons. These hammers were given to a museum by the family of a victim in 1967. The hammers were displayed at the Bender Museum in Cherryvale, Kansas from 1967 to 1978.
It is not known what happened to the Benders after they fled. Colonel York used his military status to organize an extensive search but found nothing. Several groups of vigilantes were formed to search for them as well. Many stories say that one vigilante group actually caught the Benders and shot all of them but Kate, whom they burned alive.
The story of their escape spread, and the search continued on and off for the next fifty years. Often, groups of two traveling women were accused of being Kate Bender and her mother. Two women in Detroit were reportedly extradited on this charge, but the case was never brought to court.
The Bender Family is the subject of the Western novel The Benders (1999) by Ken Hodgson. In Lyle Brandt's novel Massacre Trail (2009) the Benders are responsible for several homestead killings, and are brought down by Marshal Jack Slade. The novel Cottonwood (2004), by Scott Phillips, features Kate Bender in a supporting role; the second half of the book takes place during the trial of two alleged surviving members of the Bender Family. They are also the subject of the historical novel Candle of the Wicked (1960) by Manly Wade Wellman and appear in the short story "They Bite" (1943) by Anthony Boucher. A nonfiction graphic adaptation of their history is part of Rick Geary's Treasury of Victorian Murder series. The Benders are also mentioned, though not by name, in Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel American Gods, as a cult apocryphally said to worship the Slavic god Czernobog.