Wednesday, January 4, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The Bloody Benders Part 1


  
   The Bloody Benders were a savage crew. A cult, you might even say. Slashed and pounded their way through a host of victims out there in the Weird West. Merciless serial killers and yep, I said serial killers. Might be thinking Jack the Ripper is the Man in this case, but no sir. That was 1899 and H. H. Holmes came before, 1893 (and that one did business well before that.) Serial Killing goes back real far, Roman Times even and well before that. Hell the term itself is only 30-some years old. Early 80’s word some fed or other came up with.
   Back in the day, it was just called killing. Lots and lots of killing. In 1871, it was ol’ John Bender, his lady Kate and their two kids, John and Kate Jr. Some say the kids weren’t siblings at all but husband and wife. Or maybe the husband and wife were actually brother and sister. Some go further and say the whole damn family wasn’t ‘related’ as such. Not a lotta records on those folks. Plenty on their doings, though. There’s no missing any o’ that.
   Now, things for the Benders got started after the Civil War. The feds moved some Indians off Kansas land and down to what would become Oklahoma. That left the vacated premises open to homesteaders and the Benders were one of a handful of families decided to make their mark. Ol’ John took a liking to a piece beside the Great Osage Trail, which happened to be the only western road for folks headed to the frontier.
   They put up a cabin and split it in two, back half for the family, front for a little store and area where travelers could get a night’s rest. Even had a little garden and an apple orchard. Real quaint-type setup. The Benders were spiritualists but this ain’t what set ‘em apart. Spiritualism was new, but not unheard of and them homesteaders came to that Kansas land were all of a like-mind. No, what did it was the cultural deal going on with the family.
   Pa Bender was possibly German and didn’t speak much English. What he could say, couldn’t be understood. Ma Bender was locally branded a she-devil for her pissy, vicious ways. The two kids were the cherry on top. John Jr. liked to laugh to himself for no reason at all and Kate Jr. claimed to be a psychic with healing powers. She used to canvass the area with fliers advertising same and also did a few séances. She gave speeches about Spiritualism and even pushed for Free Love. This was obviously popular for a number of reasons and drummed up some real good business for the Bender Family Inn.
   Fact, so good, apparently the Benders had to start ‘gettin rid’ of all them guests. One was a man by the name of Jones. Head bashed, throat cut, found up in nearby Drum Creek. Mining site – a claim anyway – and they thought the man who lived there did it, but no. Year later, 1872, two more found, bashed and slit. Two men. By the next year reports of missing folks got so common people stopped using that part of the Osage Trail.
   It was already considered a “bad part of town” enough that Vigilance Committees (soon to be their own post here, that’s certain) made it a practice to start rounding up their own suspects for the murders. A few they gave to the local law, a few they ran out of town. A few others, who can say. Vigilance Committees…well, anyone keeps watch over the Weird West long enough, it does strange things to you.
   Any rate, one of those “missing persons” the Committees were so fired up on, George Longcor and his baby girl, had a friend name of Henry York. George dropped off the planet winter of ’72 or so, York came looking for him that next year. Stopped along the trail asking after them, but no, no sign. And soon after, no sign of Mr. York. Now, ol’ Hank had two brothers, Ed and Alex and they didn’t like this one bit. Ed, a Colonel in the Army, figured fifty stout soldiers would be just the thing to suss out Hank’s whereabouts.
   March 1873, Ed darkened the door at the Bender Inn, asking after ol’ Hank and where the hell was he. The Benders said ‘Sure, Hank, we know that fella. He was here, then he left. You know what probably happened? Injuns.’ Now remember, the Old West was a tough place and murder happened. Even serial murder but without a proper internet and good ol’ tube, well, folks were more naïve.
   ‘You know what?’ said Ed, ‘That’s a right possibility. Got any dinner?’ And that woulda been that.
   Ed ate, he left with his boys and continued his search. That is, until a few days later when a woman ran screaming from the inn, Ma Bender hot on her trail with a carving knife. The lady got away, but the tale took shape and soon enough, Ed was back with his crew, arms crossed tight and foot tapping, I’ll wager.
   ‘You said you didn’t kill nobody, start talkin’.’
   ‘She was a witch!’ Ma Bender said. ‘She cursed my damn coffee! What else was I gonna do?’
   Oh, yes. That was Kate Sr.’s claim. Coffee witches.
   ‘Coffee witch,’ said Ed. ‘That’s your deal.’
   ‘Sure is,’ said Ma Bender. ‘But I’ll tell you what. Come back in a few days, my daughter will use her psychic powers and find your friend.’
   ‘Hm,’ said Ed. ‘Let’s do that, then.’
   And off he went with his boys in tow.
   ‘I think that went well,’ said ol’ Ed.
   But his men didn’t agree. ‘Hang ‘em all’ was the general consensus.
   ‘Y’think?’ asked Ed. ‘I mean, they weren’t just…folksy?’
   No, said his men. There is some weird shit going on in that place.
   Ed probably sighed.
   ‘Oh fine, then. Let’s get some damn evidence…’

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