The Bloody Benders were a family of mass murderers active in Labette County, Kansas in the 1870s. The Benders ran a grocery store and inn along a popular trail for people heading out west between 1871 and 1873. They'd sell supplies and meals to travelers, and offer to put them up in a room for the night. If a stranger seemed wealthy, they'd murder him and take whatever he had. They certainly didn't get rich this way, however, with their total take being estimated at less than $5,000, two wagons and a few horses. It would seem instead that they probably killed people for the sick thrill of it.
There were four members of the "family"
- Pa Bender, aka John Bender Sr aka old beetle-browed John aka John Flickinger - A tall, hairy man in his 60s, with a gutteral German accent that was almost incomprehensible.
- Ma Bender, aka the She-Devil - A mean-tempered heavy-set woman. Like Pa, she had a thick accent and coarse voice. Claimed to be a psychic medium, and to brew potions and cast spells.
- John Bender Jr aka John Gebhardt - A tall, thin, mustached fellow in his 20s. Spoke fluent English, but with a German Accent. Prone to laughing at odd moments, which the neighbors took to be a sign that he was stupid or mentally handicapped.
- Kate Bender aka Eliza Griffith - A beautiful young woman in her 20s. She had great social skills, but her she liked to be shocking or risque, often bringing up subjects such as free love and justifiable homicide. She also claimed to be a psychic and a healer. She conducted seances, gave speeches on spirituality, and distributed fliers touting her psychic powers.
By some accounts, John Jr and Kate were brother and sister. Others thought they were married. Later investigation suggested that Kate was Ma's daughter, but neither of the two men had any blood relation to the two women.
The family's modus operandi involved young Kate chatting up a traveler, or conducting a seance for them. While the stranger was so distracted, Pa would approach from behind a canvas that divided the common room in half. He'd smash them over the head with a heavy metal hammer. While the victim was incapacitated, they'd drop him through a trap-door into a space beneath the floor, and Kate would descend to slit his throat. After nightfall, they'd bury the body in the family apple orchard.
After several years, it became obvious that something weird was going on in the community, as outsiders would come through town asking about the people who had disappeared on the trail over the years. A town meeting was held, and it was decided to search all the properties in the area. That night, the Bloody Benders fled under cover of darkness. The trap door was found, and eventual search revealed 10 whole bodies and an assortment of unidentifiable partial remains. They may have killed over 20 travelers, all told.
Pursuit of the Benders was never really successful. They abandoned their ill-gained horses at a nearby railroad. Ma and Pa took a train to St. Louis. Kate and John Jr took a train south to an outlaw colony along the border of Texas and New Mexico. Sightings occurred over the years, and three different vigilante groups claimed to have killed the Benders in different parts of the country. None were able to produce proof enough to collect the award. Two women in Detroit were accused of being Ma and Kate, and extradited, but were eventually set free for lack of evidence.
Tradition holds that the old Bender property is haunted, either by the ghosts of those they killed, or by the ghost of Kate Bender.
Game and Story Use
- A game set in The Old West might feature an Adventure Town with the Benders' grocery and Inn. This could be in Kansas in the 1870s, or some other town in another state or territory before or after where they did the same thing without every tipping off the locals.
- One thing left open for the GM to determine is the dynamic within the family. Who's in charge? The charismatic Kate is the natural choice for Big Bad, but domineering Ma or bloody Pa could be the driving force just as easily. John Jr's odd laughter could just be a disguise - perhaps he's the Evil Mastermind behind it all.
- A modern game set in Kansas might feature a ghost or mythago based on the Legend of the Benders.
- Kate and John Jr supposedly fled to an outlaw colony in New Mexico or Texas. What if they ended up in El Rey, or, better yet, what if their experience at such a colony caused them to later found El Rey?
- Perhaps the whole problem with whether or not the Benders were related to one another - and in identifying them later - was that the actual Benders were something other than human - a group of spirits possessing four random people, or perhaps some kind of shape-shifter.