The Bender family consisted of husband John Sr., wife Elvira, and their children, Kate and John Jr. The family settled in Kansas in 1870, near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail), and began murdering unsuspecting travelers shortly thereafter. Pioneer settlers would often offer travelers food, supplies, and a place to sleep for a night. The Benders offered all of these services in order to lure their victims inside their home.
The family would invite their victim to sit in a seat of honor for supper, right in front of a huge curtain. Unbeknownst to the victim, a member of the family was waiting behind the curtain to hit them in the head with a hammer. Once they had been hit, their throat was slit and their body dropped into a cellar via a trap door. The family murdered countless victims in this way, attracting little attention.
However, after killing a well-known doctor, the family fell under serious suspicion by the doctor's brother and their neighbors. By the time local investigators searched the Bender home, the family was long gone. During their search, investigators found 10 bodies buried in the garden, but they concluded that the family had murdered a total of 21 victims. Though reward money was offered for their capture, the Bender family was never found, likely because it was suspected that Bender was not their real name.
The "Bloody Benders" cabin became a spectacle to see for journalists and curiosity-seekers alike from all over the country. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported over 300 people at the crime scene. The cabin was carried away piece by piece as souvenirs, leaving nothing to mark the horrors that occurred there.