One evening in 1872 in Kansas, USA, Julia Hestler stopped at the Bender family’s inn. The carriage dropped her off and left, leaving her alone on the prairie, in front of a lone, decaying log house.
When “self-proclaimed psychic” Kate Bender invited Julia inside for a necromantic session, she smelled a strong stench and humming flies. Julia sat across from Kate, and they held hands to begin.
When she closed her eyes, Julia felt despair. She looked up and saw three members of the Bender family suddenly standing quietly behind Kate. Pa Bender holds an instrument that shines in the candlelight. Terrified, Julia jumped up and ran away. She fell down the steps in front of the house and got up, running for her life and death across the dark plains.
Julia was lucky to survive. The following spring, her fears were confirmed when eight bodies were found buried beneath the Bender apple tree. The Bender family goes down in American history as the most notorious serial killers.
In the mid-1800s, Kansas was a lawless place. This place is known as “Bloody Kansas” because of the terrifying battles between the pro- and anti-slavery factions. The territory is part of the United States, but it’s largely not administered by police or judges. Instead, legal disputes are resolved according to the law of the jungle.
But Kansas is also a place that gives people the opportunity to change their lives. The Housing Act of 1862 provided hundreds of acres of land to men, for a small fee. Many refugees from East Coast or European cities have come here to build new lives. Among them is the Bender family. They settled near Cherryvale, an unincorporated town.
The Bender family.
The past of this family is very mysterious. Ma and Pa Bender are middle-aged, speaking English with a thick German accent. Mr. Pa Bender had a scornful look and Mrs. Ma had a scowl on his face.
Two Bender children, Kate and John, have American influences. John is considered a simple person who laughs after every sentence. Kate is more complicated, sometimes seductively flirtatious, sometimes absent-minded, empty. Neighbors don’t know who they really are. The people around were rumored that the young couple were married or incestuous siblings. However, the Benders never spoke about this.
The Benders put up a “grocery store” sign and turned their bungalow into a stop and inn. Spiritualism was very popular at the time and Kate claimed to be able to talk to the dead. Visitors flock to them, even as the Bender family is accused of stealing jewelry and money from a guest.
In 1872, 3 men were found dead on the Osage Trail. Their horses, carriages and belongings were all stolen.
Locals believe that the perpetrators of the murders are a roving horse thief gang. The journey in the West is perilous, so when the Osage Trail travelers disappeared over the next six months, it was no longer news. However, in the spring of 1873, when about 10 people went missing, including a famous doctor from nearby Independence, people began to worry.
When Dr. William York disappeared, his brother Alexander used his connections to investigate. He recruited 75 men to come to the state to report. When Alexander visited the Bender family, the people who greeted him were John and Kate. He quickly removed them from the list of suspects and referred to them as “dumb villagers”.
After Alexander left, the Bender family frantically packed up their things and fled. It wasn’t until a month later that neighbor Billy Tole discovered the men had fled after seeing the Benders starve to death. Walking around their abandoned house, Billy was almost stunned by the smell of illness, so he entered town to notify the authorities. Leroy Dick, the area manager when he arrived, smelled the wooden house with a deadly smell. When he found a homemade mallet and two hammers hidden behind a wood stove, he guessed he had found the murder weapon.
The victims’ bodies were found under an apple tree.
Locals began to search the house. The Benders’ cellar was full of blood, but there were no bodies. However, under the luxuriant apple orchard, eight corpses were discovered. First Doctor York, then Hank McKenzie, Leroy Dick’s cousin. Next came Benjamin Brown, William McGrotty, James Feerick and John (Boyle or Geary. Finally, George Longcor, a widower who was returning to Iowa with his 1-year-old daughter, Mary Ann, was found. At her father’s feet, the most horrifying thing was that the doctors believed the little girl had been buried alive.
Mr. Leroy theorized that Kate was conversing with the guests when the rest of the Benders struck them with a mallet. After striking the victim’s throat, the bodies were dumped in the cellar.
So what is the motive of these murders? Everyone guessed it was money. These victims all brought a lot of money and on the savannah anything could be sold to make money.
As news of the murders spread throughout the area, many curious people flocked to Bender’s house. Authorities have offered a reward for information on the Bender family. However, the amount of money was so small and their escape time was so long that it was like finding a needle in a haystack.
The Benders fled Kansas southward, through tribal lands. There, white people were not prosecuted. In Denison and Texas it’s even more lawless. The inhabitants there are mainly horse thieves, cattle thieves and prostitutes. Denison is under the jurisdiction of the Arkansas County Court. However, the court’s judges are notorious for corruption and have few resources to track them down Crime. So the Benders here are very safe.
At first, Kate and Ma dress as men and use fake names, but the family quickly realizes they are “Kansas monsters” that the country wants to destroy. The people of Denison did not care much for them.
In the decades that followed, the Benders were found throughout the Southwest, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado. They lived on tribal lands, in outlaw camps and in barren gorges and kingdoms only the daring would enter. They always arm themselves with their own weapons. It is known that each member of the Bender family carries a Sharps 50 rifle capable of killing a buffalo.
In Oklahoma, a Pinkerton detective confidently announced that he would soon catch fugitives. However, upon tracking them into the Wichita Mountains, the detective disappeared almost instantly and was never heard from again. A sophisticated bounty hunter in Texas suffers the same fate as he follows the Benders to Red River Station.
In the end, the Bender family was never punished. Their final outcome is unknown and to this day, the story is still told by Americans as a legend.
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