In the 1870s a family began to travel to the southeastern corner of Kansas and insights of building a new life. They settled in Cherryvale, a very small town in Labette County. This family was the Benders. They were comprised of John Sr.; his wife; son, John Jr.; and daughter, Kate. John Sr. chose a 160 acre section on a western slope of a mound that was directly located on the Osage Mission-Independence Trail, that operated from Independence to Fort Scott. At the time the southeastern part was very dangerous. Settlers were very easy prey for robbers and it was not uncommon for people to go missing.
The Benders build a small one-framed house and outfitted it furniture and supplies, which they divided these two rooms up with a huge canvas. The front half they turned into an inn and a grocery store, where travelers from the nearby trail could stop and get supplies and rest. To all of the travelers and homesteaders the Benders appeared to be simply struggling homesteaders who worked hard for their earnings.
Mrs. Bender claimed that she could speak with the “dead” and declared that she could cast charms and wicked spells. The family members had to fear her for that she ran the household. Daughter Kate was the friendliest out the family and very beautiful. She often proclaimed she was a healer and a psychic. She gave lectures of spiritualism and conducted séances. Kate and her brother attended Sunday school and were gladly accepted into the community.
In 1871, the Benders opened store and inn. Many travelers, who were carrying frequently large sums of cash, began to go missing around the same time the Benders first opened their doors. Friends and family members of the missing travelers began to look for them and could only trace them as far as Big Hill Country in southeastern Kansas.
In March 1873, one of the disappearing travelers was William York, who was a well-known local doctor. He was visiting family in Fort Scott and headed home on horseback and was never seen again. When he did not return home, his wife began to contact his brothers. The farthest they could trace his appearance was to the Bender Inn. The family did admit that Dr. York had stopped in but he soon went on his way.
In early May, a young man noticed that the Bender Inn appeared to be abandoned. As he examined the homestead he realized that they family had been gone for some time. The only things that remained were three hammers, a knife, a German Bible, and a clock with a compartment containing jewelry.
The local residents began to examine the homestead and discovered a trap door in the home that lead to a cellar whose floor was covered with dried pools of blood. They also discovered well-cultivated orchard that contained graves of the Benders’ victims. The back of the victims’ skulls were smashed and their throats slashed. In total, the locals discovered eleven bodies.
After an investigation the travelers who were able to escaped described being forced to sit at a table with their back against the canvas curtain. Investigators assumed that Kate distracted the visitors while one of the family members hit the travelers on the back of the head with a hammer. The Benders then dropped the body into the cellar and sliced their throat to ensure death, and later buried the body in the orchard. The Kansas’ governor issued a 2,000 dollar reward for the Benders, but to no avail. The stories of the “bloody Benders” still live on and even to this day no one knows to what actually happened to the family.
Biographical information drawn from:
McDowell, J.E. “Bender Knife.” Kansas State Historical Society . Unavailable. http://www.kshs.org/cool2/benderknife.htm (accessed 10 21, 2009).
Weiser, Kathy. “The Bloody Benders of Labette County.” Legends of America. September 2006. http://www.legendsofamerica.com/OZ-Benders.html (accessed 10 21, 2009).