In the 1870s, John (age 60) and Elvira (age 55) Bender and their two adult children, John (age 25) and Kate (age 23), lived on the frontier lands of southeastern Kansas and made a living by running an inn and grocery store for travelers. They mysteriously vanished, and locals suspected they were among the many victims of the unsolved disappearances that plagued the area. Later, 11 bodies were discovered buried on their property and the authorities claimed the Bender family was responsible. The family fled and became known as America's first serial killer family, the Bloody Benders.
The Bender family was one of the many who took advantage of the US government's offer to settle in the western frontier in the 1800s. They built a house on the Osage Trail in Labette County, Kansas in 1871 and opened an inn and grocery store. The community the Bender family lived in was known for its unorthodox practices, such as belief in spiritualism, where they believed that the spirits of the dead remained in the world even after death and engaged in seances to communicate with them.
Kate Bender was renowned for her social skills and abilities as a psychic and healer who communicated with the dead. However, her practices were considered even stranger than those of the unconventional community of Labette County. She was accused of being satanic due to her lectures on free love and justification of murder. John, the son, was also considered strange due to his unexplained laughter, leading many to believe he was mentally unstable. Mr. and Mrs. Bender were known to be stern and less friendly than their children, often speaking in German.
The Bender family's inn and personal quarters were divided by a cloth curtain. Whenever a guest arrived to check in, Kate would charm them with her social skills and conversation, while one of the other family members would sneak up behind the guest and kill them with a hammer. The body was then disposed of through a secret door in the basement.
There, the Benders stripped the corpse of its clothing and valuables and dumped it in a mass grave in the garden. Although their actions were partly motivated by money, the fact that most of their victims were poor suggests that they simply enjoyed killing.
As more and more people went missing after visiting the Bender's inn, the community became increasingly suspicious. After an entire family disappeared, Dr. William York came to investigate, but he too vanished. When his brother arrived searching for him, the Benders claimed he was likely abducted and murdered by Native Americans in the surrounding lands.
Dr. York's brother was not satisfied with the Bender family's explanation and decided to continue his investigation. He learned of more people who had gone missing after visiting the Bender inn and others who had reported being threatened by the family. When he returned to the inn to confront the Benders, he found the house deserted.
At the time, many people thought the Bender family was among the victims of the multiple disappearances in the area. However, Dr. York's brother conducted a comprehensive search of the inn and found a secret door in the basement smeared with blood. He and his team continued their search and uncovered a mass grave containing eleven bodies, all with similar head injuries.
The authorities launched a manhunt for the Bender family as soon as the bodies were found in the mass grave. A search party scoured the area until they found the Benders' family wagon a few miles from their home, but the family was nowhere to be seen. Despite the reward of $2,000 offered by the authorities (equivalent to over $50,000 today), the Benders were never found.
Over time, the evidence of the events that took place at the Bloody Blenders' inn has been erased from the land. The cabin is long gone and the exact location of the home and mass grave is now unknown. While most reports indicate that the Bloody Blenders had 11 victims, some believe the number could be as high as 21.