In 1870 the Bender family, German immigrants, settled in Labette County, Kansas. The family consisted of John Sr., Ma Bender, John Jr., and Kate. They settled on a plot of land that sat directly on the Osage Mission-Independence Trail, it was the only trail open for travel at that time, and built a one-room cabin. Inside, the cabin was divided by a large canvas with the family's living quarters in the back and a small inn and general store in the front. Travelers would stop in to buy provisions, grab a hot meal or sometimes bed down for the night in the inn. Some of these travelers would be carrying large amounts of cash or brought horses to trade for supplies or land. It was not long before travelers starting turning up missing along with all their personal possessions.
Kate Bender was very attractive and outgoing. She also professed to be a psychic and a healer. When a traveler who appeared to be wealthy would show up at the inn the family would graciously offer him a meal and seat him with his back to the canvas that divided the cabin. While Kate distracted the men by flirting or using her "psychic" skills to entertain them, either John Sr. or John Jr. would sneak up behind the canvas with a hammer and knock the men senseless. They would then slit his throat to make sure his was dead and strip his body in search of money and valuables. They would then drop the body down a trap door into a pit below the cabin. During the night the bodies were drug out to the orchard behind the house and buried.
In the spring of 1873, Dr. William York made a return stop at the inn on his way back to his home in Independence, Kansas he was never seen or heard from again. His brother Colonel A.M. York decided to search for his missing brother. On May 4, 1873 he arrived at the Bender's inn. At some point he was left alone in the front room and he noticed a gold locking peeking out from one of the beds. When he opened the locket he stared down at the pictures of his brother's wife and daughter. He slipped out of the inn and returned the next morning with the sheriff, several deputies, and men from the town. When they arrived at the Bender's cabin they found it emptied. The Benders had fled along with all of their possessions. When they search the grounds they found 12 suspicious looking mounds in the orchard and began digging. In the first mound they uncovered a man who had been buried head first. He was identified as Dr York by his brother. By the time the men had finished searching the orchard and surrounding area more than two dozen bodies had been found including a woman and child.
A substantial reward was offered for the capture of the Bender family. The money was never collected. Although rumors of their death have circulated these stories have never been substantiated. Officially the Bender's got away with murder.