The History of the “Bloody Benders” of Southeast Kansas


A spooky experience during a recent trip to southeast Kansas while I was editing the manuscript.

Welcome back.  The 170,000 square foot River Spirit Expo Center at the Tulsa Fairgrounds was completely sold out with 513 exhibitors this past weekend and over forty thousand people expected to attend the annual Tulsa Home & Garden Show so as you can imagine parking was at a premium. I’m here to tell you that’s not a bother any longer as I found several trolleys picking people up from all corners of the fairgrounds property. The friendly drivers work for tips and they will take you right to your vehicle which is even handier if you are carrying parcels or are handicapped.

The Tulsa Home & Garden Show started in 1949 when it was the first new home products show in the country. It has always drawn a crowd and on Saturday the organizers told me that attendance records might be broken. Spending a few hours walking down row after row of exhibits of every imaginable home products, the show is always a reminder to get my summer to do list ready.

The hot tubs are always a big attraction for me and there had to be a dozen different dealers there. Of course if I got one there would be a brick sidewalk to be laid leading to the tub and landscaping around that would also mean additional lawn maintenance. An electrician would be needed to wire the tub itself and then install lighting around it and then finally a storage shed to keep all the supplies it. If I had the cash I wouldn’t have to worry because all the people I needed to help were right there at the show. It was a great start to the summer and as for me, I hope that old lawnmower of mine will start and maybe next year I’ll get that hot tub.

This past week I also had the opportunity to spend time at a place just west of present day Parsons, Kansas. It is still remote in the area where I was camping and I’m going to end this week with a story that could have been the fate of any weary traveler like myself.

Back in the early days of Kansas settlement, this southeast corner of the state was a busy crossroads for travelers passing through, somewhat as I was last Wednesday. It was getting dark when I reached the camping spot I’d been told about. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as the sun went down and with water close by I wasn’t surprised to see a cabin on a hillside surrounded by trees. The lights were on and I could smell smoke coming from the chimney. The big sign reading “Benders Store Supplies for Sale- Strangers Welcome” reminded me of something but tired as most travelers are at the end of the day, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Sometime in the middle of the night I must have awoken because the next morning I could remember my experience as clear as day. I remembered that a man and his wife lived in the cabin with their two grown children and they had offered me a meal. While the couple seemed overly friendly, their muscular son was obviously mentally challenged and kept to himself. The buxom daughter was in her early twenties and she sat right beside me no matter where I moved in the room. She was very inquisitive about my travels, seeming to hang on my every word. When it was about time to eat she led me to the table and sat me down with my back to a hanging blanket that divided the room. I’m not sure if it was her perfume, the attention she was giving me or just plain exhaustion but all of a sudden I realized we were alone and she was pushing me back against the blanket. The blow to the back of my head from the sledgehammer that came from behind the blanket felt almost real before I opened my eyes and understood that I had been dreaming.

Was it the spirits of the dead calling to me? I don’t know but the story of the Bender family is true. Known as the “Bloody Benders” the family operated a small general store in Labette County and were known to have murdered at least a dozen travelers before their crimes were discovered and they fled from the area.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……………….