THE BENDER BAND
Over a year ago, says the New York Sun, the discovery was made that near the small town of Cherryvale, in Kansas, a series of atrocious murders had been committed. In a rough building situated out on the prairie a family named Bender lived and thrived, the main element of their existence being unwary travelers who, from stress of weather or other adverse circumstances, were compelled to go to their hut in order to protect themselves from the storms. We have no account of the manner in which this singular hotel was conducted, as it was a peculiarity of travelers, who stayed there never to go further, in consequence of which they never had an opportunity of relating their experience. From the local journals, however, whose remarks upon this subject we have watched with interest, it seems that one at least of the family, an elderly lady called Kate, who had a gift of fortune-telling, grew gaunt and lean, while her brothers, her father, and especially her mother, wasted away, as it were, in person, although they suddenly became plethoric in pocket. How long this kind of thing might have gone on in Kansas, the Bender family getting leaner and their pockets getting fatter every day, nobody would have known if it had been for a remarkable discovery. The brother of a Kansas Senator happened to partake of the hospitalities of the Bender family one night, and was never afterwards heard of until his brother, with some officers of justice, plowed up the Bender farm and found not only the remains of the particular missing man they were in search of, but also the skeleton of a large number of individuals of no marked characteristics, who had disappeared from society without causing a ripple upon its surface. This created great astonishment among the neighbors, who soon began to whisper that the Bender family was no better than it should be. The result was that the Bender family fled, and though nearly every day the telegraph brings news of the arrest of one of the family, no one of the murderers has yet really been seized. Neither has the murderer of Nathan ever been brought to justice, while even now the police of Philadelphia are pretending to hunt out the mystery attendant upon the kidnapping of a small child. These and many others mysterious things lead to the conclusion that the detective police service of the different cities in the United States is woefully at fault. Large rewards have been offered for the apprehension of the interesting Bender family, the members of which even now, may be, enjoying the facilities for pleasure afforded by our first class hotels. (The Elk County Advocate, Ridgway, Pa., August 6, 1874)
The Notorious Quartet of Assassins Located in Colorado - Topeka, Kans., July 23 - Four persons said to be members of the notorious Bender family, accused of committing a score of murders at their home near Galena, Kans., over a score years ago, have been located near Fort Collins, Colo., and Governor Stanley has issued requisition papers on the Governor of Colorado for their return to this State. The first steps toward bringing the suspects to Kansas were taken upon the representations of Frank Ayers of Fort Collins, who asserts that one of the quartet, Kate Bender, was once his wife. Governor Stanley issued the requisition upon affidavits of four men who went to Colorado especially to identify the suspects.
The Benders committed a series of the most atrocious crimes ever recorded. they lived on a small farm near Galena and for years, as it developed after their flight, they had lured travelers and buried their bodies in the yard around their home or under the house. All four members of the family were accused of aiding in the murders. The family consisted of man, wife, daughter and son. The parents would now be in the seventies and the children about 50 years of age. (The San Francisco Call., San Fancisco, California, July 24, 1901, front page)
By Associated Press - Fort Collins, Colo., Aug. 14 - Frank Ayres, who asserts that his wife is Kate Bender, has started for the mountains, as he said, to secure more evidence against the alleged Benders. He is accompanied by two men supposed to be detectives from Kansas. They will go into the Lone Pine country, as Ayres states, to trace up the whereabouts of Lavin, who was once married to Mrs. Ayers. Mrs. Ayers asserts Lavin is in Colorado. Lavin, so Ayers says, has in his possession some keepsakes that belonged to the Bender family. (The Guthrie Daily Leader, August 14, 1901, page 3)
Written for the Sunday Republic - Although it is a fact generally settled in the public mind that the infamous quartet of murderers, the Bender family have been tracked down, one of the family is occasionally "discovered" living under an assumed name in some part of the country. The latest report of this kind is the recent alleged discovery of Kate Bender is California, where she is supposed to have been seen and recognized by a man who knew her in Kansas.
Since this reported discovery of Kate Bender the fact has come to light that there is living at the present time in St. Louis a brother of Doctor York, the last victim of the Benders, and the man whose murder led to their flight and to the facts concerning the series of cruel murders they committed.
This man is Julius H. York, a railroad emigrant agent, of No. 3833 Russell avenue. Mr. York recalls all of the details in connection with the brutal murder of his brother and of the subsequent discovery of his dead body, which was buried in the Bender garden. He himself was a member of the posse which pursued the family. When seen at his home recently, Mr. York consented to tell the story of the Benders and of their last murder, that of his brother.
Doctor W. A. York Began His Fatal Journey in March, 1875
"It was in the month of March, 1875, that my brother, Doctor W. A. York, left his home in Fort Scott, kas., to go to the home of his parents in Independence." said Mr. York. "He traveled on horseback and was mounted on one of the finest animals that was ever brought into the State of Kansas. The horse was one which was ridden by him during the four years of his service as surgeon in the army. It was a fine animal, and in those days, when good horses commanded a high price, was worth quite a figure. When my brother left his house he gave his wife some money, together with his gold watch, as he did not feel altogether safe with the valuables on his person."
"About three weeks before my brother commenced his journey one of his neighbors in Fort Scott had borrowed his wagon and together with his little daughter, had gone on a trip the route of which had taken them in the same direction which he intended to take in his journey to Independence. The man and his daughter had been gone some two or three weeks, and as nothing had been heard from them since their departure their absence was causing much comment. As my brother rode away he remarked that he feared his neighbor had met foul play, and that he intended to make inquiry about him along the road."
"With that remark he rode away. Some three weeks passed before our family began to grow suspicious regarding his unexplained absence. His wife thought that he had arrived at Independence and our family supposed that he had not yet left his home at Fort Scott. Letters were finally exchanged, however, and his mysterious disappearance at once became known. Search was instituted to ascertain his whereabouts. A party composed of my two brothers, Edward and Colonel A. M. York; myself and quite a number of others, went to Fort Scott and took up the route which my brother had taken. We followed him until we got within fifteen miles of Independence, when we could find no further trace of him. The last news we learned of him was at the house just the other side of the Bender home, were the family living there remembered seeing him. All trace of him was here abruptly lost. The Benders, when questioned, professed to know nothing about him. We did not at that time suspect them of any knowledge of his disappearance.
Bender Family Fled While The Search Was in Progress - While we passed on and commenced our search in another direction. A week or so passed and the neighbors of the Benders commenced to notice something wrong around the Bender premises. Not a member of the family had been seen since our visit there, and the stock at the place was uncared for. A horse and cow lariated out in the yard had eaten a circular plot of grass in which they were tethered bare to the ground and had evidently had no water for several days. An investigation was made. Some of the neighbors called at the house and found the doors locked. The Benders had escaped."
"This fact was reported to us and our suspicions were at once aroused. We went to the Bender home, broke down the doors of the house and entered. What we found there had been told over and over again. We saw the blood stains upon the wall and found the fatal trap door. We saw the black curtain which hung behind the chairs at the dining table and behind which Kate Bender had stood with hammer in hand when she beat out the brains of the victims who were decoyed into the house and seated at the table."
"In the cellar under the trap door we found blood upon the walls and floor, but there was no further trace of any crimes. We were certain that we had located the place where Doctor York had disappeared, and accordingly commenced a search of the premises. One of the party passed through the garden near the house and noticed a sunken spot in the ground which looked like a grave. Going to our wagon, he took out the end rod and stuck it in the top of the sunken place. It struck something hard a short distance below the surface and a spade was secured. After a few moments work we uncovered the body of Doctor York, which had been crowded into a small box. His head had been beaten with a hammer and the features were almost unrecognizable."
"After this discovery we continued our digging, and the result was that we unearthed seven other bodies, two of which were the bodies of my brother's neighbor and his little daughter. They had been buried in the same grave. The whole neighborhood at once formed itself into an armed posse and the search for the missing Benders was commenced."
Members of Family Were Traced To Walnut - "We traced them to the small town of Walnut, a few miles distant, where they had driven in a covered wagon. They had left their team and wagon tied in the streets and had then boarded a train. We were never able to find any further trace of them. Stories that have been told and retold about their being caught on the banks of a small stream in Indian Territory and of their being killed and buried there, are all false. Nobody ever heard of the Benders after they boarded the train at Walnut. True, they have been reported found a thousand times since, but the stories are not true. Of course, I have my own theory as to what became of them, but it is merely a theory."
"In disposing of the plunder which they got from their victims, it is my theory that they had a string of confederates all the way from Kansas to Indian Territory. When their exposure was brought about they fled to some of these confederates. When the search for them became too hot they were killed by their confederates to avoid exposure. I am certain that Kate Bender escaped and may be living today. About twelve years ago I was in Chicago, and was on board a street car when I saw the face of a woman I am absolutely certain was Kate Bender. Before the car could be stopped she had disappeared."
"I knew all the members of the Bender family well. I stopped at the house a number of times, and talked with all of them. The family consisted of four persons: Old man Bender, his wife, Kate, the daughter, and a son, John. They looked like criminals. Kate was a tall, angular type of woman with the hardest face I ever saw. She was as strong and muscular as a man. The older woman was gray-haired and her eyes were set far back in her head, giving her a wicked expression. John, the son, looked to be a villainous character. The old man was rarely seen around the place."
"The fine horse which my brother rode was never seen again, and probably was disposed of by the Benders through their confederates. I have often thought that robbery may not have been the motive for which he was killed. He may have made inquiries about his missing neighbor, which led to his murder. The Benders may have killed him to ally suspicion of former crimes. My brother's widow and son are now living in Southern Texas. (The St. Louis Republic, September 1, 1901, front page)
Rio Vista, May 4 - Was Mrs. W. Peters, whose lifeless body was found today in her dwelling on the river shore, the notorious Kate Bender, who with her parents and brother, was implicated in June, 1873, at Cherryvale, Kan., in the murder of 12 men.
Living alone and avoided in a dilapidated house the woman had few friends in her last days, but it is told today over her remains that 10 years ago she confessed to General John Collins that she was Kate Bender.
It is said that she admitted that her part in the horrors was to lure men to the Bender tavern. After the family crimes were discovered, the alleged confession continued, Kate Bender escaped from the Kansas town, went to Chicago, then made her way to the Atlantic seaboard and came to San Francisco in a sailing vessel around Cape Horn.
Dr. R. H. Endicott, formerly of Rio Vista, now living in Oakdale, has been mentioned as knowing the story of the woman's career. In a telephone interview with a call correspondent tonight Doctor Endicott said that he knew nothing of any confession that Mrs. Peters might have made and nothing that would tend in any way to connect her with the Bender family.
Married Sea Captain
About 30 years ago the woman came to Rio Vista, after having lived in San Francisco, where it is said she was employed as a nurse by Dr. C. C. O'Donnell. She married Captain John Gavin, a whaler and arctic sealer, but was separated from him and resumed the name of Peters, which she said was her maiden name.
In Rio Vista the woman kept a roadhouse. Ten years ago she was taken seriously ill and it was then that she is alleged to have made her confession to General Collins.
The Bender murders were peculiarly atrocious crimes and the fate of the murderers has been a subject of continual speculation ever since the crimes were discovered. One story was to the effect that the four members of the Bender family were lynched at the scene of their outrages in 1873.
The Benders - father, mother; John, a son, and Kate, the daughter - ran a tavern at Cherryvale, near Galena, Kan. The place was regarded with suspicion by the countryside. One day in June, 1873, Dr. William York disappeared after having been seen traveling in the direction of the Bender tavern.
Later a search was made of the Bender place and in the cellar the man's glasses were found. The search was continued and the bodies of 12 victims were found buried in the yard. Nothing definite was learned of the Bender family after that.
Family Lynched, He Says
On July 24, 1901, a Kansas family traveling near Denver, professed to identify a Mrs. Frank Ayres of Fort Collins, Kan., as Kate Bender. In August of the same year cornelius Stone, a resident of Linn County, Ore., declared that he was one of a party of men who first discovered the crimes of the Benders and that he assisted in the lynching of the entire family including Kate Bender.
The woman who died in Rio Vista was about the age that Kate Bender would have been had she lived.
The old woman, Mrs. Peters or Kate Bender, had been dead several days before her body was discovered. (The San Francisco Call., San Francisco, Calif., May 5, 1910, page 3)
Rio Vista, Cal., May 5 - That a woman who lived here nearly 30 years under the names of Mrs. Gavin and Mrs. Peters, who died recently, was really Kate Bender, of the notorious Bender family of Kansas murderers, is a statement made by Jack Collins, a resident of this place.
The woman was found dead in her home near here last Monday. She had been conducting a resort of ill repute for several years and lately had been living alone, according to Collins, a close friend of the woman.
Tells Story of Life
Mrs. Peters revealed her identity to him several years ago while believing she was on her death bed, Collins declared. He said she gave him a detailed account of many murders she and her brothers had committed in the Bender home at Cherryvale, Kas., in the seventies.
During the investigation of the murders, the woman escaped to Chicago, afterward going to New York and sailing around the Horn to San Francisco.
There she became a trained nurse, married John Gavin, a whaler, and 10 or 15 years later began a life of shame.
The dead woman was 76 years of age. A reward of $5,000 at one time was offered for her capture.
History of Benders
Kansas City, Mo., May 5 - It is not known how many murders the notorious Bender family committed while living in Labette County, Kansas, but after they fled nine bodies were found on the place. The family consisted of William Bender, aged 60; his wife, aged 55; Kate, aged 25 and John aged 23.
Kate Bender professed to be a magnetic healer. The Bender house was situated on the main highway between Independence, Kansas, and the Osage mission. The Benders kept a little store and hotel, but it was said to be a decoy for weary travelers more than anything else. The fate of the Bender family after their crimes were discovered, has never been definitely known. Some have said the entire family was killed by a pursuing posse. Others have said Kate escaped. (El Paso Herald, El Paso, Texas, May 5, 1910, front page)