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Owner of Bloody Benders' land searching for clues in Kansas serial killings

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Benders-Historical-Marker 2
Max McCoy
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Courtesy of Max McCoy
A historical marker near Cherryvale, Kansas tells the tale of the Bloody Benders, a family suspected in a string of serial robberies and killings.

The remains of 11 bodies were discovered on the southeast Kansas property in 1873, but the suspected killers had fled. The latest owner of the property is asking for help in mapping the site.

The Benders, an immigrant family who settled northeast of Cherryvale, Kansas, operated a roadside inn along the Osage Trail for weary travelers.

As guests disappeared, suspicion arose and a search party converged on the Bender property to discover a gruesome crime scene with the family of four having fled.

The 1873 murder-mystery has attracted plenty of interest over the years.

"The Bender story was up there with the stories of Billy the Kid and Jesse James in terms of commanding national attention," said journalist Max McCoy, who wrote about the Benders in the Kansas Reflector.

McCoy, who grew up not far from Cherryvale, became interested in the story at a young age.

"The Bloody Benders has all the elements that would fascinate a young kid growing up in Kansas," McCoy said.

For Kansan Bob Miller, a tour of a replica of the Bender cabin sparked a fascination with the mystery. That led him to an auction of the property where the original cabin once stood.

"I went there just to check it out and not actually thinking I'd buy it," Miller said. "But I actually ended up buying it."

The property has been farmed for more than six decades and bears no trace of the Bender Inn or the orchard used as a graveyard. Nevertheless, Miller is determined to pinpoint the location of the crime.

"I'd love to unravel the mystery of where all this stuff happened," Miller said.

Journalist McCoy enjoys the intrigue of the Bender story and is torn about whether he'd like to see the mystery solved.

"There is some, I think, intrigue to not knowing what happened to them." McCoy said. "I'm afraid it might diminish the interest in the story a bit."

"I suspect that the answer to this story is either beneath the ground at the Bender site," McCoy said, "or it's a piece of information tucked away in a story that was written 150 years ago."

Welcoming the help of universities and archeologists, Miller hopes advanced technology will unveil ground disturbances where the cabin, orchard and well once stood.

The two men agree it's unlikely to determine the whereabouts of the Benders, but Miller said undiscovered remains could be analyzed and traced to living descendants of the victims.

"I figure if they can find King Richard whose been buried under a parking lot for 500 years, why can't we find out where things happened at that Bender property," Miller said.

  • Max McCoy, journalist
  • Bob Miller, owner of the site of the Bloody Benders killings

Archeological experts interesting in assisting Bob Miller can contact him at 620-331-3545.

When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
Elizabeth Ruiz is a freelance producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz