The Bloody Benders

While many Spiritualists and Mediums were sincere, many were also frauds. They preyed on victims’ needs to be reassured about their loved ones, who had passed away to another world. The Bloody Benders, however, used Spiritualism to commit mass murder.

During the 1870s, Kansas was still a developing area. Pa, Ma, John Bender, Jr., and Kate moved in and opened an inn and store in the front room of their home. Much remains mysterious about the Benders. It is not known if Pa and Ma were really married, or if John Jr. and Kate were brother and sister. Some people though Jr. and Kate were married. [1]

In any event, Kate posed as a medium, and indeed, she advertised her services as a medium and a healer. People were lured into the inn, and Kate distracted them. Visitors were then brutally hit with a hammer on the side of the head by one of the male Benders, and then dropped to the basement through a trap door. The Benders would then cut the visitor’s throat, rob him or her of any possessions, and bury the unfortunate victim in the back yard.

People began to report that their loved ones were missing. At a town meeting, neighbors demanded that a search be made for the missing relatives. Pa and Jr. attended this meeting, and shortly thereafter, it was noticed that the Benders’ animals were not fed or watered.

Neighbors went in to investigate what might have happened to the Benders, and soon discovered a basement full of blood. No bodies were discovered in the basement floor, and so the search moved outdoors where the local townsfolk found more than they could have ever imagined.

Benders' yard

A reward of $3,000 was offered for the capture of the Benders. It is believed that Pa Bender was arrested for a murder (the murder weapon was a hammer) in Montana in 1884. He cut part of his foot off to escape and died from loss of blood. Jr. committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884.

What happened to Ma and Kate Bender? We can’t know for sure, but it is believed the two were found in Niles, Michigan under assumed names. They were arrested and extradited to Kansas. The judge believed their identities could never be proven and dismissed the case. The women were set free.

Many questions remain:

  • Were any of the Benders related in any way? If not, were they serial killers who banded together?
  • If it was Jr. who committed suicide, why did he?
  • What happened to Ma and Kate?
  • Was Kate really even a medium?

Cherryville, Kansas, opened a Benders Museum in 1961. One thing we know for sure is that these Spiritualists offered more than a message from the other side.

[1] All information taken from:


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