Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kansas’s Bloody Benders

A small community of spiritualists and farmers came together in Osage township in the early 1870s. This area in west Kanas was located along the main trail that headed further west. This location also attracted a family that saw it as an opportunity to increase their finances--but not by farming.

Bender store and inn
A man by the name of John Bender and his supposed son John Jr. claimed 600 acres adjacent to this main trail. They built a cabin, corral, and well. His wife Kate known as “Ma” and her daughter Kate joined them later, and these two planted two acres of vegetables and an apple orchard.
Kate "Ma" Bender

John "Pa" Bender
The Benders * ran a small general store and inn on the homestead--called the Wayside Inn. This inn was seedy at best. 

Ma quickly gained a reputation among the neighbors as being unfriendly. She became known as the “she-devil.” Pa Bender barely spoke English, and when he spoke, it was in guttural tones. The neighbors were given the impression Ma could not speak much English either--but she actually could.

John Jr. was considered handsome with his red hair and mustache, but his constant laughter gave him the reputation as being a “half-wit.” The daughter Kate was pretty and claimed she had psychic ability. She also claimed she was a “healer.” The family used her to lure their victims to the inn.

John Jr.
Kate Bender
The Benders racket was to Kill travelers with means and then steal their property. They did this by seating them at the head of the table in the inn. Pa then would approach them from behind and hit them on the side of the skull with a hammer. Then either Ma or Kate would cut the victims throat to ensure they were dead.

They then pushed the body down through a trap door below the chair into the home’s cellar. Later they stripped the body and disposed of it. One body was found in the Drum Creek by a passer-by but most of the bodies the Benders buried on their homestead.

So many people disappeared in the area between 1871-73 that travelers began to avoid it. A local vigilante committee arrested several people that they suspected only to find they were mistaken. 

They didn’t suspect the Benders because they were a part of the community and the two adult children attended the local church, etc.

The Benders were finally exposed when a relative of one of the victims traveled to the area and started asking questions. He even questioned the Benders. 

Knowing they were about to be exposed, they left the area quickly. But it wasn’t until a month later the community became aware the Benders had abandoned their homestead and store.

When the hammers the Benders used to kill their victims and the bloody foul-smelling cellar were discovered, the homestead was then searched. The home was even moved so the earth beneath it could be dug up, but nothing was found.

Later, over eleven bodies were unearthed, including a large number of body parts. Most were found buried in the orchard. One female child was found. She had no marks on her body, so it was speculated that she had been strangled or buried alive.

Bodies of Bender victims

The Benders were never caught. One story stated that were tracked down and killed, and another said they boarded trains and then disappeared into the west, but these were just speculation.

As the story of the Bender’s escape spread, many joined the effort. This search continued for the next fifty years.

By 1886, the cabin the Bender’s had lived in was reduced to just a hole. Souvenir seekers had carried off every last remnant of the building--they even took the stones that lined the cellar.

This area would have been left to just dark memories except for the fact it is haunted.

Stories started to circulate the ghosts of the Bender’s victims haunted the ruins of the house, and what was left of the cellar. Many people who visited the old homestead to collect a gruesome relic reported being frightened off by glowing apparitions.

Witnesses stated they heard moaning and keening sounds that came out of nowhere. Even today, this spirit activity is still reported. Apparitions are seen wandering the mounds near where the cabin once stood. People avoid the area at night.

A legend states that one ghost that haunts the old homestead is Ma Bender. It is believed she is doomed to haunt the desolate land where she took so many lives. 

Click to enlarge
* The Benders neighbors believed them to be German immigrants. John “Pa” Bender’s real name was John Flickinger, he was born in Germany or Holland. 

John Jr.’s real name was John Gerhardt, he also was born overseas. He was not Kate’s brother. In fact, many at the time felt the two were actually married.

Kate “Ma” Bender was born in the Adirondack Mountains--her real name was Almira Meik. She was initially married to a man by the name George Griffin with whom she had twelve children. Kate--whose real name was Kate Griffin-- was one of her daughters from this marriage. 

Ma was married several times, all her former husbands died from head injuries.

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