THE BLOODY BENDERS OF KANSAS

By Tim Lambert

The Bloody Benders were a family of murderers in Labette County, Kansas, USA in the 1870s. Its not known exactly how many people they killed. At the beginning of 1871 a family of Germans called the Benders arrived in Kansas. At that time settlers were arriving and claiming plots of land. The Benders claimed an area of land about 2 miles south of the township of Cherryvale near the Osage trail (named after the Osage people). The Bender family consisted of a man named John Bender, his wife, Elvira Bender their son, also called John Bender, and their daughter Kate Bender. A wanted poster of 1873 described John (Pa) Bender as about 60 and 5 feet 8 or 9 inches tall. He spoke little English. His son John Bender was about the same height with blue-gray eyes and brown hair. He had a mustache. Ma Bender was said to be about 50 with blue eyes and brown hair. She was described as heavy set and speaking 'broken English'. Kate Bender was said to be about 24 with dark hair and eyes. She was described as good looking.

The Benders built a wooden shack divided into two rooms by a heavy canvas curtain. They sold groceries to their neighbors and people could pay to stay the night in the Benders inn. (It was close to the Osage trail so plenty of travelers passed by). Under the Bender's inn was a cellar. It is believed the Bloody Benders killed their victims by inviting them to sit down to a meal with their back to the canvas curtain. Behind it stood one of the Bender men holding a heavy hammer. At a signal he would smash in the back of the guest's head. They Benders then cut the victim's throat to make sure he was dead. They then robbed the victim and hid the body in the cellar till it could be buried. A number of people disappeared in the area. Their disappearance was, of course, noticed but there was nothing to pin it on the Benders.

Kate Bender also claimed to be a spiritualist healer. In 1872 she had a leaflet published calling herself 'Professor Kate Bender' and claiming to be able to supernaturally heal all manner of illnesses. It is said that two men visited the Benders inn, one of them suffering from neuralgia. The two men were given food and asked to eat with their backs to the curtain but the men sensed their was something wrong and they insisted on eating from a stall the Benders used to sell groceries. Kate Bender then became abusive so the two men left.

The Bloody Benders Flee

The murders by the Bloody Benders came to light in May 1873. Dr William York went travelling. He told his brother Colonel Ed York that he intended to stay at the Bender's place. When Dr York failed to return Colonel York and a party of men went looking for him. They went to the Benders inn but they denied seeing him. Dr York moved on but the trail went cold. So he returned to the Benders inn but the family had fled. Inside the inn, in the cellar they found congealed blood. They then discovered the grave of Dr York on the Bender's land. Altogether 7 graves were found. One of them contained two bodies, a man and a little girl. Inquiries revealed that the Benders had fled in a wagon then boarded a train at the nearby town of Thayer. A body of men pursued them but the trail went cold. The governor of Kansas offered a reward of $2,000 dollars for the Benders but nothing more was heard of them. Rumors circulated that vigilantes caught the Bloody Benders and killed them but that may be wishful thinking. Nobody ever claimed the reward. Meanwhile the Bender inn was destroyed by people taking pieces of it as souvenirs.

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