The Bloody Benders were a family of mass murderers who lived in Kansas in the late 19th
century. In 1871, they settled in Neosho County near the village of Galesburg. The family
consisted of John Bender, a wife, a son, and a daughter named Kate. Kate was supposedly a
practicing medium and would conduct psychic readings for locals and passers-by. The family
also set up something of a roadside inn: the son would wait by the road for travelers and convince
them to stay the night with the family. Here’s where the "bloody" part comes in.
The Bender house was basically one large room, with a table, some chairs, and the stove in
the front, and the living quarters in the rear of the house separated by a canvas curtain. If the
traveler looked like he had any money, the family would seat him with his back to the curtain.
While he was caught up eating his meal, one of the family members (most versions say Kate)
would sneak up behind the curtain and hit him over the head with a large mallet. If there was
more than one traveler, two or three family members would have to participate in the
bludgeoning. Kate would then slit the victim’s throat and dump the body into the cellar
through a trap door. Later, after the family had collected his valuables, John would drag the
body outside and bury it. (A variation on this story is that Kate would perform a seance for the visitor and have him kneel with his eyes closed as if in prayer, and she'd bonk him over the head at that point.)
All went smoothly for the Bender family for about two years until they killed someone who
was really missed. This particular victim was supposedly a man from Arkansas whose wife (or
brother, depending on the storyteller) knew his exact route and went to investigate. The wife
stayed at the Bender house and came to no harm, but as she was readying herself for bed, she
noticed a locket discarded in the corner. At close inspection, it turned out that the locket held a
picture of her and one of her daughter; it had been her husband’s. The wife escaped to rouse the
neighbors, but by the time they got there, the Benders were gone.
A group of neighbors went after the Benders, but when they returned, they would tell no one
whether they had even found the family, much less what became of them. A search party later
found twelve bodies buried in the Bender orchard, including one child. Nobody knows how
many total victims there were. The house was torn down and every stone was carted away by
curiosity seekers. All that remains to mark the spot is a depression in the ground where the cellar
was and a few mounds of earth. The Kansas State Historical Society erected a historical marker
on Route 160 in Labette County to mark the site where the "Bloody Benders" lived.
Source: Topeka Daily Capital, January 13, 1886.