It may sound morbid, but some people have a deep interest in serial killers. We are horrified by the crimes they commit yet fascinated by their bizarre, and often shocking, motivations. It’s why the true crime genre is so enduringly popular.

Yes, when it comes to history’s most horrifying killers, somehow the stranger the circumstances, the more compelling we find them.

It doesn’t get much stranger than America’s first serial killers: the “Bloody Bender family.” Over a three-year period in the 1870s, these four individuals worked together to kill more than a dozen people. But that’s not even close to the whole story…

Believe it or not, the beginning of the story of America’s first serial killers—the Bender family—doesn’t seem that strange at all. When you first learn who the major players were, you’d find it difficult to think they could ever be anything other than upstanding American citizens.

However, appearances can often be quite deceiving. For example, the Benders—consisting of John, Elvira, John Jr., and Kate—owned and ran an inn and general store in Labette County, Kansas, between 1871 and 1873. Seems normal, right?

benders-1Youtube / CreepyNews

This wasn’t your ordinary family-run business. At that time in Kansas, particularly in Labette County, there weren’t many options for people looking to shop or to stay the night, which allowed the Benders to get away with some pretty outrageous behavior.

What might have seemed like an ordinary business run by homesteaders was anything but. The Benders weren’t exactly very generous hosts, and they exhibited behavior a lot more damning than you’d find on an ordinary Yelp review today!


Sure, not every business is perfect, but the Benders didn’t receive standard customer complaints. In the two years they were in business, they were suspected of killing over a dozen guests at their inn!

People who would come to either stay at the inn or to make purchases from the general store would walk in—and never walk out again. To this day, no one is sure how the Bender family managed to hide the truth for so long.


The Benders apparently had murder down to an art. The prevailing theory as to how they captured their victims was that a guest would be asked to sit in the seat of honor at the table. In those times, it was pretty much impossible to refuse such a polite gesture.

benders-3Flickr / masstravel

The guest of honor would then feel obliged to take the seat that was being offered to them by their hosts. Better that to seem rude, after all! However, what they didn’t know was that this so-called position of honor was located directly above a trap door…

Once their potential victim was seated, John Bender would hit the guest in the head with a hammer, and one of the others would slit his or her throat. The body then would be dumped down the trap door to be buried later, under cover of darkness.

There are few things more disturbing than the idea of an entire family made up of killers. In “whodunit”-style murder mysteries, the killer is almost always an isolated figure—not several members of a family as was the case with the Benders! That wasn’t even the most eerie part of their story, either.

The Bender family was hiding countless secrets. For example, the “family” may have been connected to each other by blood, but it certainly wasn’t their own. The family wasn’t even 100 percent genetically related.

To outside observers, the Benders may have seemed like the perfectly cohesive family unit. However, while they all shared a surname, they weren’t actually related at all. Their story only became more unsettling from there…

ca. 1867-1880, Vienna, Austria --- An Austrian father poses with a whip and leads a team of 'horses', his daughters, in a photographer's studio. Vienna, Austria-Hungary. ca. 1867-1880. --- Image by © Scheufler Collection/CORBISWikimedia Commons

The story of the Bender family actually began across the ocean and far away from Kansas. John Bender was originally from Germany, and his wife, Elvira (real name Almira), had several previous husbands, whom she likely killed.

Kate may have been Elvira’s real daughter, but John Jr. was probably Kate’s husband rather than her brother. Chances are the family lied about their relationships in the hopes of making their inn seem more innocuous than it really was.

Not long after the Benders set up their operation, people passing through the town began to vanish. Their families or detectives would come through trying to find them, but to no avail. For years, no one could explain the strange disappearances.

Initially, investigators thought they had everything figured out when they blamed indigenous Osage people for the disappearances, but once the county began a formal investigation, the Benders packed up and disappeared without a trace…

benders-4Wikimedia Commons / Library of Congress

This strange decision of the family to run away from authorities made them all the more suspicious. The authorities decided it was time to search their businesses. But when their property was searched, officials made a horrifying discovery…

Once inside of the house, authorities soon discovered the trap door, which was covered in dried blood. Further investigation uncovered multiple graves in addition to several bodies thrown down the family’s well…

benders-5Flickr / synx508

It didn’t take long for news of the family’s evil antics to travel all over the state. People were horrified, and rightly so. Although their crimes had finally been revealed, this was one group of serial killers would who would get away with murder.

After they fled, the Bender family was never heard from again. Some people believed that they split up and adopted new identities, while others had their own theories about what happened to them. Sadly, nobody knows for sure—and it seems justice would never be served.

Can you believe that the Benders managed to escape justice and were never heard from again? Good thing this happened so long ago. Otherwise you might still have to worry about who was running the next hotel you visited…

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