The Bloody Benders

By Tim Lambert

The Bloody Benders were a family of four who murdered people and robbed them in Kansas in the 1870s. Unfortunately, there are many versions of what happened and we can’t be sure which is the truth.

Little is known for sure about the Benders. In late 1870 they settled on land south of the township of Cherryvale near the Osage Trail. The Benders built a wooden hut consisting of one room divided into two by a heavy canvas curtain. Under it, they dug a small cellar. The Benders hut was an ‘inn’ in which people travelling along the Osage Trail could pay to stay the night. They also ran a small grocery store where their neighbors could buy supplies.

The Benders were German. Their family consisted of Pa Bender, aged about 60 in 1873. Ma Bender was about 50. Their son John Bender was about 27 and their daughter Kate was about 24. Kate Bender was supposed to be a spiritualist healer. She even printed a bill claiming she could cure many diseases. (She called herself Professor Bender).

Its believed the Benders killed their victims by getting them to sit with their back to the canvas curtain. One of the male Benders was standing behind it and he smashed the back of the victim’s head in with a heavy hammer. The victim’s throat was then cut and the Benders robbed him. Obviously, nobody ever witnessed the murders but it seems likely. The Benders probably hid bodies in their ‘cellar’ before disposing of them.

The last victim of the Benders was Dr William York. There are different versions of how their crimes eventually came to light. In one version Dr York mentioned he intended to stay at the Bender’s place before he went on a journey. When he disappeared his brother, Colonel York led a party of men to look for him. The Benders either denied ever seeing him or claimed he stayed the night and left unharmed the next day. Colonel York went in search of him but, of course, the trail went cold. Meanwhile, the Benders realised the game was up and they fled. Colonel York and his party of men returned and found the Bender’s place empty. Someone climbed into the ‘cellar’ and found congealed blood. People then noticed slight depressions in the land nearby. On digging up one of them they found the body of Dr York. Altogether 7 graves were found but one contained 2 bodies. A girl aged about 8 was found buried with her father. In the end 5 of the men were identified but 2 of them never were. People also remembered the 3 men who were killed and dumped in the area in 1871/72.

The Benders were never caught. They took a train but where they went is unknown. A reward was offered for their capture but it was never claimed. What happened to the Benders is a mystery.