Bender Family.About the close of the year 1870 a family of HoIlanders, or Germans, consisting of four personsfather, mother, son, and daughtermoved into Osage township, Labette county. The father was William Bender, and the son and daughter were John and Kate. 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, crackers, sardines, candies, powder and shot, and just outside the door was a plain sign, "Groceries." In the front room were also two beds. The family pretended to furnish lunch and entertainment for travelers. Little was known of them generally, and they repelled rather than invited communication with their neighbors. Kate traveled over the country somewhat, giving spiritualistic lectures and like entertainments, but created very little stir or comment. The two young people occasionally went to church and singing school, and the men frequently attended public meetings in the township. The place was on the road, as then traveled, from Osage Mission to Independence.
During 1871 and 1872, several parties traveled the road, making inquiries for persons who were missing, and who had last been heard of at Fort Scott or Independence. A public meeting was held at Harmony Grove schoolhouse to discuss the herd law, about March 10, 1873, when the matter of so many people being missing and the fact that suspicion rested upon the people of Osage township were discussed. It was decided that a vigorous search should be made under the sanction of a search-warrant. Both of the male Benders were present, but when others expressed a willingness to have their premises searched the father and son remained silent. About ten days before this meeting Dr. William York had left his home in Onion creek, 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 8, but never reached home. In the early part of April, Col. A. M. York, with some 50 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. But Kate was able to elude their efforts without throwing any suspicion on herself. That night the Bender family left the place and went to Thayer, where they purchased tickets to Humboldt and took the north-bound train at 5 o'clock on the following morning. A day or two thereafter their team was found hitched a short distance from Thayer, apparently nearly starved.
It was about May 1 that a man passing the Bender place noticed the stock wandering around as though wanting care. On going to the stable he found the team gone, and a calf dead in a pen, evidently having starved to death. He then went to the house, but found no one there. He notified the township trustee, who, with other parties, went to the premises and broke into the house, where they found nearly everything in usual order, little if anything aside from clothing and bed-clothing been taken. A sickening stench almost drove them from the house. A trap-door in the back roam was raised, and it was discovered that in a hole beneath was clotted blood which produced the stench. The house was removed from where it stood, but nothing further was found under it. In a garden near by a depression was noticed, and upon digging therein the body of Dr. York was found buried, head downward, his feet being scarcely covered. His skull was crushed and his throat was cut from ear to ear. On further search seven more bodies were found, all of whom, except one, were afterward identified by their friends They were Mr. Loucher and his little daughter, seven or eight years old, buried in one hole; William Boyle, and three men named McCratty, Brown, and McKenzie. The other body was never identified, and it is altogether probable that other parties were murdered and their bodies never found.
It seems that in the back room of the house, almost up against the partition studding, a hole just large enough to let a man through had been cut in the floor, the door to which raised with a leather strap. Under this an excavation had been made in the ground, leaving a hole some 6 or 7 feet in diameter and about the same in depth. It is 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. From the victims the Benders seem to have procured, so far as could be ascertained, about $4,600 in money, two teams of horses and wagons, a pony and a saddle. The Benders made good their escape and were never apprehended, although detectives thought they were able to trace their wanderings through Texas and New Mexico. Parties supposed to be the Benders were apprehended in many parts of the country and several were brought to Labette county for identification, but they proved to have little if any resemblance to the persons sought. Two women, supposed to be Mrs. Bender and Kate, were arrested in Michigan in 1890, and brought to Labette county on requisition, but on habeas corpus proceedings they were released, the court being satisfied that they were not the Benders, and these horrible crimes remain unavenged.Pages 172-173 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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