The 1800s serial killer family of Kansas: “Bloody Benders”, notorious for murdering travelers and whose fate is unknown to this day

During the late 19th century, there was a family of four who was notorious for at least a dozen murders of unwary travelers who approached them looking for food and shelter. They inspired such a morbid curiosity among the population that it became a popular visiting site after the crimes were committed and the family fled. Here is the murderous story of the Bloody Benders, and faithful to the victorian mood, it is filled with gory details and folklore.

The Benders were believed to be German immigrants who set up a farm, a general store, and an inn on the Great Osage trail in Kansas. Though they claimed to be a family, no documentation was ever found proving their relationships to one another or where they were born. 

Sketches of the Bloody Benders
Sketches of the Bloody Benders. Image Source: scaredyet

The family consisted of the husband John (Pa) Bender Sr., the wife Elvira Bender, the son John Bender Jr. and the daughter Kate Bender. Pa Bender was thought to be either from Germany or Netherlands and had a different name. Elvira Bender was known to have married several times and it was rumored that she murdered her husbands. Having been thought to be the leader of the group, Kate was believed to be Elvira’s fifth daughter, and her father was one of Elvira’s husbands. The neighbors claim that Kate was the wife of John Bender Jr. and not his sister. Kate was also a self-proclaimed healer and psychic. Furthermore, she gave lectures on spiritualism and conducted seances.

Kate Bender
Kate Bender. Image Source: murderpedia

The Benders bought 160 acres of land beside the Great Osage Trail of Labette County, Kansas, and built a cabin, a barn, and a well there. They planted a vegetable garden and an apple orchard, as well. Then, they divided the cabin into two rooms with a canvas wagon-cover and used the front half as an inn for travelers and a general store.

Suspicion arose when Dr. William Henry York who went searching for his missing neighbor, George Newton Longcor, and his infant daughter never returned home. York’s brother, Colonel York, who knew his travel plans, soon assembled a search party to look for his brother.

Benders Inn After Abandonment
Benders Inn After Abandonment. Image Source: megacurioso

William Henry York was a prominent doctor who also had two prominent brothers: Colonel Ed York and Alexander M. York, a member of Kansas State Senate. Upon finding that Dr. York, who went looking for his neighbor, hadn’t returned home, his brother Colonel York led about fifty men on the trail of Dr. York. They visited all homesteads, questioned every traveler, and finally arrived at the Benders’ inn on March 28, 1873. The Benders admitted that Dr. York stayed there and suggested he could have run into trouble with Indians.

The Benders Inn
Image Source: mentalfloss

On April 3, upon hearing that a woman fled from the inn after being threatened with knives, Colonel York returned with armed men to investigate the matter. Though the men were convinced of the Benders’ guilt, York made no arrests saying they needed evidence to do so. Hence, he acquired a warrant to search all the homesteads in the county, but the only thing he found was that the Benders fled, split up, and changed their names.

When York and some people from the town searched the cabin, they found a room under a trap door with clotted blood. Then, a large number of volunteers started digging outside the cabin and more than eight dead bodies were found buried in the vegetable garden and apple orchard. 

Digging Up Dead Bodies - Bloody Benders
Digging Up Dead Bodies. Image Source: murderpedia

Because of the bad weather, it took several days before the inn could be investigated. A large number of volunteers turned up for the search, including Colonel York, but they found the cabin completely empty of possessions. They noticed a bad odor coming from a trap door in the floor, behind the canvas curtain, which opened to a small room with clotted blood at the bottom.

Digging Up the Bodies
Image Source: murderpedia

Having found no bodies inside, they soon began to search the ground around the cabin by probing with metal rods. They found Dr. York’s body, buried barely below the surface in the apple orchard. They also found eight other bodies including that of a young woman who had no injuries, which means she must be probably either strangled or buried alive.

Based on the injuries, it was conjectured that the Benders would make the victim sit with his/her back to the canvas, then, John Bender would strike the skull with a hammer, and one of the women would cut the throat to ensure the death.

Kate's Healer Advertisement and the Weapons of Murder
Kate’s Healer Advertisement and the Weapons of Murder. Image Source: murderpedia

Dr. York’s other brother, State Senator Alexander York, offered a reward of $1,000 ($19,786 as of 2016) for catching the Benders and on May 17, 1873, Kansas Governor Thomas A. Osborn offered a $2,000 ($39,572 as of 2016). However, the only result was several vigilantes and vigilante groups claiming to have killed one or all of the Benders.

Reward for Catching Bloody Benders
Image Source: murderpedia

Though several arrests were made in relation to the Benders murders, no proper evidence could be found proving the identities of those people to be that of the Bender family members.

Historical Marker of Bloody Benders in Kansas
Historical Marker of Bloody Benders in Kansas. Image Source: youmustbetrippin

Several weeks after the bodies were found, two men were arrested as accessories along with ten others for being involved in disposing of the victims’ stolen goods. In 1889, two women were arrested for larceny and then released but were arrested again for the Benders murders. Though several people signed affidavits claiming or disclaiming that the older one of the two to be Mrs. Bender, the Judge found that they could never be convicted based on the affidavits and discharged them. (source)

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