A Horrible Kansas Murder Dem.
Through special dispatches the readers of the Times have already gained some idea of the atrocious murders recently perpetrated by the Bender family near Cherryvale in Southeast Kansas. It is now known that the Bender family fled in this direction. A detective, Mr. Thos. Beers of Independence, Kan., who has done more than any one else to ferret out the mystery, arrived yesterday morning, having traced the Bender's to St. Louis. A Times reporter called upon Mr. Beers during the day and obtained the inside history and full particulars of the Benders bloody career.
For several months different persons have been disappearing very mysteriously on the route between Independence and Osage Mission. Nearly a dozen people had suddenly dropped out of sight in this way and the matter was exciting a great deal of talk throughout southeast Kansas.
About a month ago, Dr. William A. York, a brother of Senator York, who exposed the machinations of Pomeroy, disappeared in the same way and all efforts to find him were in vain. Dr. York lived in Fort Scott and had gone out on a collecting tour, riding a valuable roster. He finally rode down to Independence and visited his father, then started home, passing along the treacherous route to Osage Mission and nothing more was ever seen of him.
The York family is one of considerable influence in that part of Kansas, and the affair caused great excitement. The other disappearances were recalled to memory and the people began to talk of the existence of a gang of murderers and robbers somewhere between the Mission and Independence.
On the route between these places is a dismal stretch of prairie, sparsely settled. Two of the landmarks of this prairie are Drum Creek and Big Hill. Midway between them lived the Bender family, consisting of the old man and the old woman, a young man who passed as a son of Bender and a young woman who passed as the daughter of the old woman. The young people passed as married, although the younger Mrs. Bender bore a very slippery character on the point of morality.
Bender had a frame house of several rooms, which he had built upon a claim. He professed to keep a grocery in the front room of the house and an eating room for travelers. The place was considered a kind of half way stopping place. The house stood in the midst of a prairie, with nothing to break the view for a mile around.
The younger Mrs. Bender professed to be a spiritual medium and held occasionally séances. She also had a card in one or two of the country papers, inviting calls from those who desired to have the future revealed.
About two weeks ago or more, Senator York organized a party and scoured the country far and wide to find some trace of his brother. In the course of their ride they halted at the Bender place to feed. Young Bender when he heard of their mission volunteered his services to aid in the search. This visit occurred on Wednesday. The younger woman also called Senator York aside and telling him of her power, proposed to hold a séance on the next Friday night, saying that if he would come she would reveal the whereabouts of his brother.
York paid little or no attention to this, and the party soon passed on.
About two weeks ago, Mr. Thomas Beers, who has been a Kansas detective for ten years or more, was urgently requested by Senator York to take hold of the case and did so.
Day and night he travelled the route between Osage Mission and Independence, seeking to solve the mystery. He soon struck the trail of a desperado with whom he was acquainted. The man had served several terms in the penitentiary and there was nothing to show that he had reformed. Beers found that this man was travelling back and forth between the Mission and Independence and he shadowed him closely. Wherever the man stopped Beers waited and then learned his conversation. He found that the villain was talking freely about mysterious disappearances.
At one place he told a woman about the murder of
a little girl seven or eight years old, and when the horrified listener exclaimed, "How could they do it?"
he replied, "Why they strangled her." This was told to Beers and he knew he had a clue.
Beers heard this, too, and some other things. Then he learned that the Benders had suddenly disappeared and he began to see light. He went back to Independence, told York his suspicions and asked him to go with him in order to identify anything that might be found, that had belonged to his brother. York put out little confidence in the detective's suspicions, and sent a younger brother with him.
Beers went from Independence to Cherryvale by rail and then taking a wagon rode out to the Bender claim, a few miles off. The place had been deserted hastily, but there were plain evidences that great efforts had been made to burn clothing, pieces of harness and papers. There was a small stock of groceries in the front room. Between this and the next room only the joists had been put up and a sheet was hung upon these for a screen.
The Benders had gone, apparently taking nothing but a little wearing apparel with them. As they searched the house Beers told young York to keep a sharp look out for anything that might have been his brother's. He did so, and before they had gone far he picked up a piece of his brother's bridle.
Then the search began in earnest. In groping about
in the room back of the grocery, Beers found a little trap door and raised it. There came up a sickening stench,
peculiar to decomposing human remains. Almost nauseated, Beers and his little posse examined the place. The trap
opened into a pit about six feet deep and this had a passage opening out under the foundations. They made a careful
examination of the pit and found the soil saturated with what was plainly human gore. Back of the house was a piece
of ground, perhaps an acre and a half in extent, which had been broken up and apparently recently ploughed.
The detective at once began the examination of
this ground and taking young York with him, started diagonally for the southwest corner, intending to begin a systematic
search, looking carefully for any appearance of subsoil or disturbance.
The others, who had in the meantime been rummaging
the house, were summoned and digging was commenced. About four feet below the surface they came upon a body partially
decomposed, and lying face downwards. They then stopped the disinterring and began to dig down a trench two feet
wide on one side of the grave, toward which the face was turned a little.
The trench was lowered below the level of the bottom of the grave and the earth dug away carefully from the face and head of the body. Then the detective seeing that from the condition of the corpse the utmost care would be necessary in order to insure recognition, told the doctor he must detach the head from the trunk. It was done, and having been carefully cleaned, was lifted out and placed on a sheet brought from the house. The countenance was exposed to view and in an instant the features of Dr. York were recognized.
Some of the men there sat down and cried like children, others turned away sickened, while others the sight only nerved them to continue the search.
While the detective was telling this heart sickening story to the Times reporter, he would stop as he came to this horrible scene at the finding of Dr. York's body, and seem to forget the present and go back in his agitation to that terrible morning of the 5th of May.
The work went on and other bodies were found, until in all, nine had been unearthed when Beers left. In every case except that of the little girl, the skull was broken in the back of the head.
The detective is of the opinion that the murders were done in the following manner:
The parties either came or were enticed to the house where the young woman engaged them in conversation, for she had the reputation in all that part of the country of being a good talker. Then one of the men would strike the visitor on the back of the head, felling him to the floor, when the other would strike him with a heavier sledge like instrument. Then it would be but the work of an instant to drag the victim to the trap door and cut his throat. In every case except that of the child these terrible wounds were found in the back of head, and the throats were gashed from ear to ear. Two hammers were found in the house, which had evidently been used in the manner described.
There was also something very peculiar about the manner of burial. The graves were all from three to five feet deep. The bodies were straightened out with the right hand drawn up and laid flat upon the right breast. The left hand and arm were stretched straight beside the body. This Mr. Beers informed the reported has been a pass sign between a large gang of cut throats and horse thieves working along the route from the Mission to Independence.
The news of finding York's body spread like wildfire, and before night scores of men had flocked to the place to aid in the search. Among them came a German wholly innocent of wrong, but because he happened to be of the same nationality as the Benders, the crowd strung him up three times to make him confess and finally desisted upon Beers declaration that the man was innocent.
About a year ago there was another member of the Bender family, a young man, but he all at once disappeared. The supposition is that in attempting to dispose of some victim this Bender was either killed or mortally wounded and then secretely buried.
Of the bodies found thus far nearly all have been missed since last October. H. Longehor, was one of victims was a farmer in Howard county. He sold out his claim and taking his little girl about eight years old he started for Iowa with his team. The last known of him was when he camped on Drum Creek. He could be traced no farther, and the finding of his body in Bender's field with remains of the child a little way off, only solved the mystery. A day or two after Longehor was lost his team was found about sixteen miles south of the Bender place. It had evidently been driven there in great haste, and abandoned. At several points on the line between the Bender place and the spot where the team was found several persons have told of seeing the team go past at a furious rate and on this line were found at intervals the end board of Longehor's wagon and his guns, which had fallen out in the hasty drive.
The Benders talked boldly about the disappearance
and insinuated that the man must have been shot down on Drum Creek.
B. F. McKensie was a farmer from Ohio, who was looking about for lands. He had $6,000 or $7,000 and disappeared as mysteriously as the others. His body was also found.
Another man named Boyle, who started from Independence
to the Mission with $700 in his possession was also found.
Nearly all of the victims had teams or saddle horses. In two instances the wagons were found on the prairie and in one instance a horse which had been peculiarly marked was left with the wagon.
In other cases the horses were run off by some members of the gang and disappeared as mysteriously as their owners. Dr. York when he disappeared had with him a very fleet and valuable roadster.
It seems that after the visit of Senator York and his party the Benders took the alarm. The next morning the old man ploughed the field and shortly afterwards they hitched up and drove to Thayer, a station on the Gulf road, twenty or twenty five miles away where they were not known, arriving there in time to take a night train. It seems that they stopped a little way out of town, unharnessed the horses and tied them to the wagon. Then leaving the dog with the team, they went to the depot and left.
The team remained out of town two or three days, no one knowing to whom it belonged. Finally the town marshal went out and brought it in.
A day or two after that some country people were in town, and one of them noticing the dog which had been left with team, exclaimed: "Why, there's old Bender's dog!"
This led to some explanations and the team was readily identified. This led to a visit to the Bender place, and then it was discovered that the whole family had departed. This was just before or about the time that the detective made his visit to the claim.
As soon as the bodies were unearthed, Beers entered upon his search for the criminals. He found that the Benders were cooperating with a band of thieves, and just before he left Kansas, had sworn out warrants for the arrest of twenty two parties, many of them professedly farmers, holding claims in Southern Kansas.
Beers himself has assumed the difficult task of hunting down the four members of the Bender family. He succeeded in tracing them until they left the state, and then had an interview with the Governor of Kansas, who authorized him to go ahead and hunt down the murderers regardless of expense.
With this understanding he started and arrived in St. Louis yesterday, having followed a clear trail to this place.
The Benders left Kansas with about $10,000 and Beers thinks they have gone straight to the seaboard with the intention of hiding across the ocean.
He will follow as fast as the trail can be picked
up. Chief McDonough will render every assistance possible. Information has been received already of parties here
who have told more about the murders than they ought to know as innocent people.
The claim upon which the bodies were found, he says, is being visited by hundreds and thousands, who come from many miles. The lot was carefully and deeply ploughed over before all the bodies were found, and it is not known yet but that there may be other victims buried near the bloody home of the Benders.
Beers is almost worn out with the terrible strain
he has been under for two weeks and when visited yesterday by the Times reported were trying to recuperate a little.
He will set to work this morning in full earnest. (The Lincoln County Herald, Wednesday, May 21, 1873, front page)