Bloody Benders : biography
The Bloody Benders were a family of serial killers who owned an inn and small general store in Labette County of southeastern Kansas from 1871 to 1873. The family consisted of John Bender, his wife Mrs. Bender (later referred to as Kate, Sr., since no one knew her given name), son John, Jr., and daughter Kate. While Bender mythology holds that John and Kate were brother and sister, contemporary newspapers reported that several of the Benders' neighbors have stated that they claimed to be married, possibly a common law marriage.
They are believed to have killed about a dozen travelers before their crimes were discovered and the family fled, with their fate uncertain. Much folklore and legend surrounds the Benders, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Several weeks after the discovery of the bodies, Addison Roach and his son-in-law, William Buxton, were arrested as accessories. In total twelve men "of bad repute in general" would be arrested including Brockman. All had been involved in disposing of the victims' stolen goods with Mit Cherry, a member of the vigilance committee, implicated for forging a letter from one of the victims, informing the man's wife that he had arrived safely at his destination in Illinois. Brockman would be arrested again twenty-three years later for the rape and murder of his own 18-year-old daughter.
On October 31, 1889, it was reported that a Mrs Almira Monroe (aka Mrs. Almira Griffith) and Mrs Sarah Eliza Davis had been arrested in Niles, Michigan (often misreported as Detroit) several weeks earlier for larceny. They were released after being found not guilty but were then immediately re-arrested for the Bender murders. According to the Pittsburgh Dispatch, the daughter of one of the Benders' victims, Mrs Frances E. McCann, had reported the pair to authorities in early October after tracking them down. Mrs. McCann's story came from dreams that she had about her father's murder which she discussed with Sarah Eliza. Their identities were later confirmed by two Osage township witnesses from a tintype photograph. In mid October, Deputy Sherriff LeRoy Dick, the Osage Township Trustee who had headed the search of the Bender property, arrived in Michigan and arrested the couple on October 30, following their release on the larceny charges. Mrs Monroe resisted, declaring that she would not be taken alive but was subdued by local deputies.
Mrs Davis claimed that Mrs Monroe was Ma Bender but that she herself was not Kate but her sister Sara; she later signed an affidavit to that effect while Monroe continued to deny the identification and in turn accused Sarah Eliza of being the real Kate Bender. Deputy Sherriff Dick, along with Mrs McCann, escorted the pair to Oswego, Kansas where seven members of a 13-member panel confirmed the identification and committed them for trial. Another of Mrs Monroe's daughters, Mary Gardei, later provided an affidavit claiming that her mother (then Almira Shearer), under the name of Almira Marks, was actually serving two years in the Detroit House of Corrections in 1872 for the manslaughter of her daughter-in-law, Emily Mark. Records of the incarceration back up this affidavit. At her hearing, Mrs Monroe denied any knowledge of Shearer or the manslaughter charge and remained incarcerated with her daughter. Originally scheduled for February 1890, the trial was held over to May. Mrs. Monroe now admitted she had married a Mr Shearer in 1872 and claimed she had previously denied it as she did not want the court to know that her name was Shearer at that time and that she had a conviction for manslaughter. Their attorney also produced a marriage certificate indicating that Mrs Davis had been married in Michigan in 1872, the time when several of the murders were committed. Eyewitness testimony was given that Mrs Monroe was Ma Bender. Judge Calvin dismissed Mary Gardei's affidavit as she was a "chip off the old block" however, he found that other affidavits supporting Gardei's were sufficient proof that the women could never be convicted and he discharged them both. The affidavits and other papers are missing from the file in LaBette County so further examination is impossible. A number of researchers question the ready acceptance of the affidavit's authenticity and suggest that the county was unwilling to accept the expense of boarding the two women for an extended period. While the two women were certainly criminals and liars, as their own defense attorney admitted, the charges were weak and many people doubted their identification as the Benders.Michael Newton The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes Infobase Publishing 2004 Pg 33 - 35 ISBN 0-8160-4981-5 Scan of Pittsburgh Dispatch November 1, 1889 Pg 5 Library of Congress] January 12, 1890 pdf]Laurence J. Yadon, Dan Anderson 200 Texas Outlaws and Lawmen 1835-1935 Pelican Publishing Company 2008 Pg 55 - 56 ISBN 1-58980-514-3 Kansas Historical Society (The Iola register April 18, 1890)
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