It was shortly following the Civil War that the Bender family decided to move West, to the freshly settled Osage Township in the state of Kansas. The family consisted of John Bender and his wife Kate “Ma” Bender, as well as their son and daughter. Though John Jr. and their daughter Kate were believed to have been brother and sister, some say that they may have actually been husband and wife.
The family quickly settled into their new home and opened up a little roadhouse know as the Wayside Inn. It wouldn’t be long thereafter that travelers began to disappear without a trace.
May of 1871 was when the first body was discovered. A man known as Jones had been drug out of the depths of Drum Creek. His throat had been slashed and his head had been bashed in. Though the creek’s owner was suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Jones’ death, very little investigation was conducted on the matter.
Just as the locals had forgotten about Jones’ macabre death, two more bodies were found in the area in February of 1872. Both men were found to have suffered a fate similar to Jones.
Many other travelers had stopped at the Wayward Inn along their journeys West, and very few made it out alive. This was especially true for wealthy men who stopped in for the night. Kate would create a distraction, while John bashed them in the head. A trap door leading to the cellar is where the victim would be thrown until a more opportune time in which the family could strip the unfortunate gentleman of his valuables and dispose of the body. It wouldn’t be until the winter of 1872 that the locals would become suspicious.
By now the trail had been awarded such a notorious reputation for highwaymen and mysterious disappearances that many had chosen to avoid the trail at all costs. Vigilante groups were set up to patrol the trail, but even that did little to stop the murders. Many were taken into custody by these groups, but most were ordered to be released by authorities shortly thereafter.
It wouldn’t be until the disappearance of Dr. William York that suspicions began to turn to the Benders.
George Loncher and his daughter left the town of Independence in order to resettle in Iowa after the death of his wife. Dr. York was a neighbor of the Lonchers and had gotten word that the pair had disappeared somewhere along the trail. Dr. York set out to find George and his daughter, going door to door in order to question their whereabouts at homesteads located along the trail. After fruitless efforts to find his former neighbor he informed his brothers that he was planning to make his way back to Independence. Dr. York never returned.
Dr. York’s brother, Colonel York, along with the company of 50 armed men set out to find his missing brother. Every traveler and homesteader along the trail was questioned, eventually leading them to the Wayward Inn. The Bender’s told Colonel York that Dr. York had stayed there for a night, but warned that he may have found himself in trouble with some of the area Native Americans.
Colonel York accepted the explanation and agreed to stay for the night. The following day Colonel York and his men set back off on the trail, when they heard reports of a woman fleeing the Wayward Inn after Ma Bender threatened her with a knife. When Colonel York and his men returned she claimed that the woman was a witch and had cursed her. She told Colonel York to come back alone that Friday and she would use her psychic powers to tell him where his brother was.
By now York and his posse were convinced that the Benders were behind his brother’s disappearance and wanted to hang them, as well as the neighboring Roach family, on the spot. York insisted that first they must stand a fair trial.
That night a townhall meeting was called in order to discuss the murders and the disappearance of the prominent Dr. York. Also in attendance that night was John York, John Jr. and Colonel York. It was agreed that a warrant would be obtained and every homestead within the settlement of Osage would be subject to search.
Though many eyes were on the Benders, no one seemed to notice that they packed up and left town that night. Several days later a cattle driver noticed the inn had been completely abandoned. A volunteer search party was assembled of roughly 300 people in order to inspect the home and the neighboring property.
A foul stench initially led volunteers to uncover the trap door to the cellar. Pools of blood had soaked into the concrete, but no bodies were ever uncovered there. The land around the property, particularly the garden and the orchard, were other areas of interest. It would be there in the orchard that the body of Dr. York was found, in addition to 8 other unfortunate souls including the Lonchers.
The Benders were never officially caught. Some believe they may have went to the border of Texas, where lawmen rarely made it back alive. Others believe that vigilantes caught up with them and killed them all. For 50 years the story of “The Bloody Benders” remained a legend along the trail and many women were accused of being Ma and Kate Bender.
In 1889, a Mrs. Monroe and a Mrs. Davis were placed under arrest in Michigan. Witnesses identified Mrs. Monroe as Ma Bender and Mrs. Davis as her daughter. The two were extradited to Kansas in order to face trial. The county later decided that it was fiscally impossible for them to be able to house the women for several months and had little other choice but to release them.