LABETTE COUNTY — A 162-acre tract of land in Labette County that was once the site of several murders by the infamous Bender family, known as the “Bloody Benders,” will be auctioned in February.
The Bender killings, “were considered some of the more gruesome perpetrated on Kansas soil,” according to the Kansas Historical Society, and occurred in the early 1870s.
The Bender family — consisting of John Bender Sr., his wife Mary, and their children John Jr., who was in his twenties at the time of the killings, and teenage Kate — moved to southeast Kansas at the beginning of that decade. Although author Diana Lambdin Meyer has written that “there’s significant speculation” that the Benders “were not even related,” Larry E. Wood writes in a more recent account published last year that it’s more likely the four really were family members.
Not long after their arrival, a man’s body was found near where the Benders had set up a grocery store and an inn on the land that’s now going up for auction. The man’s skull was smashed in and his throat slit. Though locals were concerned about the grisly death, it would be another two years before growing suspicions about a series of disappearances led the Bender family to flee the area.
When their abandoned property was subsequently searched, 11 bodies were discovered. Upon discovering the bodies, authorities realized the Benders had lured guests who stopped at their business to sit down for a meal with their back to a curtain that divided the sleeping quarters from the eating area. One of the Benders would then sneak up behind their victim and attack them with a hammer. A trap door would then open and the victim would drop into a cellar where their throat would be slashed.
Though the Bender murders made headlines across the country and rumors of their whereabouts continued for decades, they were never caught. In 1889, two women suspected of being Mary and Kate Bender were brought from Michigan to Kansas to face charges, only to be exonerated when it was learned that one of them had been incarcerated at the time of the murders. Some suspect the Benders may have had as many as 10 more victims beyond those initially discovered, some of whom may have been buried elsewhere on the property.
Brent Wellings, manager of the auction for Indiana-based Schrader Real Estate and Auction Co., told the Wichita Eagle he is “pretty confident” that the land has not been scanned with modern tools to look for additional bodies. Another possibility that doesn’t seem to have been attempted would be to use modern technology to try to find the exact former location of the Benders’ house on the property.
Wellings said although the owners who are now selling the land bought it in the 1950s or ‘60s, it is his understanding that the Bender home was gone long before then, having been demolished and picked apart by souvenir hunters shortly after the murders.
Acquiring the land could be “a neat opportunity for somebody who’s interested in that type of history,” Wellings said.
“Properties like this are not offered to the public very often,” he said. “It might be an opportunity that only comes up once every 100 years.”
The auction is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Cardinal Event Center in Parsons, and is open to the public. The land will be open for inspection the day before the auction, from 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 10. For more information, visit www.schraderauction.com. The Bender land is listed with the names “Farm 2” and “Tract 9” under a larger listing that includes 15 tracts in Montgomery and Labette counties.