In 1870, homesteaders John and Elvira Bender (originally from Holland or Germany) and their adult children Kate and John Jr. arrived by wagon in Labette County, Kansas, and built a cabin that served as their personal living quarters, as well as a store that sold goods to travelers who were passing through the area and an inn that provided lodging to people who were heading out west.
The Benders were spiritualists who believed they could communicate with the dead and Kate Bender claimed to be a skilled psychic and healer, which, along with their store and inn, attracted a number of visitors to their home on the Osage Trail. Unfortunately, few travelers realized the danger posed by the seemingly harmless family of four, and many of the people who set foot inside the cabin were never seen alive again.
Historians believe John, Elvira, Kate, and John Jr. brutally murdered at least 12 victims, earning this family the terrifying nickname of the Bloody Benders.
The Bender family lived on the Osage Trail, a very popular route with travelers, so lots of people stopped at their cabin on their way out west. Sadly, not everyone made it to their destinations. George Loncher and his infant daughter vanished when they took the trail on their way to Iowa, causing Dr. William York to go searching for the pair.
However, York also went missing while traveling on the Osage Trail, and his brothers, one a senator and the other a colonel, began diligently investigating the mysterious disappearances.
Following the discovery of the crimes, the authorities determined that when someone stopped at their cabin to eat, purchase supplies, or stay the night, the Benders would get their guest to sit at the table with their back to a canvas wagon-cover that served as a room divider. Then, one or both of the Bender men would strike their unsuspecting victim in the back of the head with a hammer through the partition. In order to guarantee the person was dead, the Benders would also slit the victim's throat with a knife, making certain they didn't survive the attack.
Near the chair they encouraged their guests to use, the Benders had constructed a trapdoor which allowed them to easily move the bodies of their victims to the cellar. After removing a victim's clothing and stealing anything of value, the Benders would drop the person's body into the cellar using the trapdoor, stashing the corpse until they could bury it in their orchard or vegetable patch under the cover of night.
When searchers visited the Benders' home to look for evidence related to the disappearance Dr. William York, George Loncher, and Loncher's young daughter, they found the family had abandoned their cabin and left their animals to starve to death. In addition to leaving behind their livestock, the searchers realized the Benders' wagon was missing, causing them to suspect the family might have fled when they learned people were looking into the mysterious disappearance along the Osage Trail.