I wrote this years ago for Halloween and I keep recycling it every year. This post also gets more views (from all over the world) than anything else I’ve ever written. I did quite a bit of research for this piece. I wish I had listed my sources at the time. Be assured that this story is as accurate as any you’ll find about the Benders. ~ sekanblogger
The old Bender property is haunted. A mere decade after the gruesome killings, nothing was left of the cabin and outbuildings on the property, the only thing that remained — an empty hole that had once been the cellar, has long been filled in. From these depths come the souls of those murdered on the site, wandering about the property and making moaning sounds that can be heard by any passersby. Of those most often reporting seeing glowing apparitions on the property are those who come to the site in search of some long lost souvenir of the grisly murders. Quickly, the scavengers are frightened away by the dead souls to spread their ghostly tales.
As the legend of the haunting continues, people say that Kate Bender, herself, returns to the property, doomed to roam the land where she had committed so many atrocities. Whether folklore or fact, many believe that the trapped souls of these century-old ghosts continue to lurk at the site today, looking for the cabin, well, and shallow graves they were left in. Of those who were mistaken for the Bender family, and murdered by vigilantes, they continue to roam Southeast Kansas, seeking revenge! The old Bender property is approximately 10 miles west of Parsons Kansas.
Through the Treaty of 1870, the Federal Government moved the Osage Indian tribe out of the state of Kansas completely and finally. The Osage defense of the best of their territory had become impossible, due to a flood of European immigrants. Prior to 1870, the immigrants were entirely illegal, but the State refused to accept that fact, while the Federal Government simply turned a blind eye. The Osage had been promised the land, literally “As long as the wind blows and the grass grows.” This was the actual wording in one of the treaties. However, the Osage saw the future, and had capitulated long before 1870, in heart and mind, if not in writing. One well used Osage trail led from Ft. Scott Kansas, to Independence Kansas. It was mid-point along this stretch of trail, near a mound that still bears the name “Bender’s Mound”, that our sordid story ensues.
At about the same time, and just a few miles from the now famous Ingalls family (Little House On The Prarie), a family of Germans, consisting of four persons – a man, his wife, son and daughter – moved into southeast Kansas, at Osage township. The man was known as William or John Bender, the son and daughter as John Jr. and Kate. In reality, none of them were named Bender, and the woman and daughter were the only ones actually related.
Pa Bender was actually found to have been a man named John Flickinger, from either Germany or Holland. Some believe that Ma and Kate murdered him when he tried to get away with their “blood money”. Ma Bender was born in the Adirondacks as Almira Meik and married as a teenager to a man named George Griffith. After bearing him twelve children, including Kate, Mr. Griffith suddenly died of a “bad place on his head,” resembling a “dent”. Afterwards, she remarried several times, killing those husbands too, as well as three of her older children so they could not testify against her. John, Jr. was actually named John Gebhardt. Though most were led to believe John and Kate were sister and brother, others said that they sometimes passed as man and wife. The two were known to have had a relationship and rumours abounded that when Kate became pregnant, they would simply bash in the baby’s head once it was born. Kate was the fifth child of Ma Bender and was born as Eliza Griffith.
They had moved into Osage township with several other families, all of which claimed to be ‘spirtualists’. Little is known about the other families, and most of what is known about the Benders is disputed to some extent. Kate traveled around the county, giving spiritualistic lectures and claiming to heal even the worst malady, but never raising suspicion of wrong doing. Ma Bender claimed to be a ‘Medium’ who could speak to the dead.
Some say that Kate was prostituted by her mother. The two young people were said to be quite affable and attended church. The men also frequently attended public meetings in the township.
They erected a small frame house which was divided into two parts by studding, on which hung an old wagon-sheet for a partition. In the front part they had a few articles for sale, such as tobacco, dry goods, candies, powder, and shot. Hung outside the door was a sign, “Groceries.” In the front room were also two beds. They also pretended to furnish lunch and entertainment for travelers. In the back room a hole just large enough to let a man down had been cut in the floor, the door to which was raised with a leather strap. Under this, a hole had been made in the ground, some six feet in diameter and about the same in depth. It was supposed that when a victim was killed in the daytime he was thrown into this hole until night, when he would be taken out and buried.
During 1871 and 1872 several parties had traveled the road, making inquiries for persons who were missing, who had last been heard from at Fort Scott, Independence or the Osage Missions. In March 1873, a public meeting was held at Harmony Grove school-house, to discuss the new cattle herd law. In further discussion, the matter of so many people being missing, and the fact that suspicion rested upon the people of Osage township,was spoken of. It was decided that a vigorous search should be made, and a search warrant was drawn up. Both of the Bender men were present. The men present gave their consent for searches of their properties. Old man Bender and his pretend ‘son’ made no reply.
Dr. William York had left his home on Onion Creek, in Montgomery county, in search of a man and child by the name of Loucher, who had left Independence for Iowa during the previous winter and had never thereafter been heard of by their friends. Dr. York reached Fort Scott, and started to return about March 8th, but never reached home. In the fore part of April, Colonel A. M. York, with some fifty citizens from Montgomery county, started from Independence to make a thorough search for his brother. They went as far as Fort Scott, but could get no clue to the missing man. On their return they visited the Bender place and tried to induce Kate, who professed to be a clairvoyant, to make an effort to help discover the Doctor. Kate pretended to cooperate and avoided causing any suspicion on herself. That night the Bender family left their place, went to Thayer, where they purchased tickets to Humboldt, and took the north-bound train the following morning. A day or two thereafter their team was found hitched a short distance from Thayer, and apparently nearly starved.
On about the 1st of May, a man passing the Bender place noticed the stock wandering around as though lost. He went to the stable and found a calf dead in a pen, starved to death. He found the house abandonded and notified the township trustee, who returned and broke into the house, finding everything in usual order. Only clothing was missing. A sickening stench almost drove them from the house. The trap-door in the back room was raised, and it was discovered that in the hole beneath was clotted blood which produced the stench. The house was removed from where it stood, but nothing further was found. In a garden nearby, a depression was noticed, and the body of Dr. York was found buried, head downward. His skull was smashed in, and his throat cut from ear to ear. On searching further, ten more bodies were found. Six, were identified by their friends: Loucher and his little girl, seven or eight years old, buried in one hole. Other bodies were never identified. It is said that up to twenty people had ‘went missing’, probably murdered, whose bodies were never found.
More gruesomely, though the little girl’s body was found to have multiple injuries, none of them would have caused death and it was speculated that the poor lass may have been buried alive. Of the discovery of her remains, the Kansas City Times reported:
“The little girl was probably eight years of age, and had long, sunny hair, and some traces of beauty on a countenance that was not yet entirely disfigured by decay. One arm was broken. The breastbone had been driven in. The right knee had been wrenched from its socket and the leg doubled up under the body. Nothing like this sickening series of crimes had ever been recorded in the whole history of the country.”
Bodies found in the garden were those of Henry McKenzie’s mutilated remains, three men by the names of Ben Brown, W.F. McCrotty, and John Geary, as well as an unidentified male and female. Johnny Boyle’s body was found in the well. Dismembered parts of several other victims were also discovered, but could never be identified. Four other bodies with crushed skulls and slit throats were also found outside the property in Drum Creek and on the surrounding prairie.
From the known victims the Benders seemed to have obtainedthe following money and property: From Boyle, $1,900; from McCratty, $2,600; from Brown, $37, a team of horses and a wagon; from McKenzie, forty cents; from Loucher, $38 and a good team and wagon; from Dr. York, $10, a pony and saddle. Some of the property was found and returned to the friends and falilies of the murdered.
After the fact, this much was pieced together: The ‘Benders’ took the train at Thayer and all went as far as Chanute, where John and Kate got off and took the M. K. & T. train south, to Dennison Texas on the Red River, in the Indian Territory. There they were joined by the old folks, who had gone to St. Louis after John and Kate left them at Chanute. Detectives thought they were able to trace their wanderings through Texas and New Mexico.
People who were thought to be the Benders were apprehended in many parts of the country, and several were brought back to this county for identification. They proved to have little if any resemblance to the mudrerous gang. Two women, supposed to be the old woman and Kate, were arrested in Michigan in 1890, and brought to Labette county. On habeas corpus proceedings they were released, the court not having enough evidence to establish their identities. However, some who were acquainted with the Bender family still assert that these were the real Bender women.
Several families who lived near the Benders were implicated with them in their crimes, and some of them were arrested, and released, there not being sufficient evidence to hold them for trial.
A hysteria of sorts seemed to consume the people of Southeast Kansas, all in the name of bringing ‘justice’. One vigilante group claimed to have shot down the men and Ma Bender, and burned Kate alive, as the witch they believed her to be. Another group claimed they had caught the Benders while escaping to the south and lynched them before throwing their bodies into the Verdigris River. Yet another group claimed to have killed the Benders during a gunfight and buried their bodies on the prairie.
Only the Lord knows how many were killed, thought to be the Benders; further victims who probably never stopped at “Bender’s Mound”!
- BLEEDING KANSAS and Murder on the MARAIS DES CYGNES (kansasmediocrity.wordpress.com)