A new documentary on what historians say is America's first family of serial killers is being released today. The serial killers were part of one family who lived more than 100 years ago in Southeast Kansas.
The Bender family.
The new film is available on DVD, cable on demand, and online through iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. It's called "Bender."
Historians say the Bender family almost defines a nightmare. They robbed early settlers and set the stage for other serial killers. As chilling as that is, perhaps the unknowns of what happened are equally scary.
A simple corn field is a drastic change to how things looked back in the 1870's.
"Kind of weird, thinking what happened there," says local historian Crystal Harper.
The corn field was gone, and the Bender family had a small building with a "grocery" sign outside advertising necessities and a home-cooked meal to pioneers.
There was "Ma" and "Pa" Bender, also daughter and son Kate and John, Junior.
"There was a curtain that divided the house," says Harper.
Visitors may have been lucky to get a few bites of their meal.
"They would sit down at this table, and Kate would stand there and talk to them and entertain them. Pa would stand behind the curtain with his hammer and he'd hit them over the head," says Harper.
Harper works at a museum in Cherryvale, Kansas, where you can see hammers that were used by Pa Bender to kill. Bodies were dumped into a hole in the Bender's home floor, before being buried outside.
The new documentary explains how the Bender family was exposed. People in Southeast Kansas became suspicious of other people disappearing near the Bender's homestead.
The Bender family left before they could be arrested.
Thousands of Southeast Kansans gathered to see the aftermath: The bodies of 11 people (a number many historians agree on) found on or near the Bender's property. No one knows for sure what happened to Ma, Pa, or John, Junior. But many historians say Kate lived out her life in Michigan.
The Bender family definitely has mystery.
"It attracts people's attention," says Harper.
...It attracts film makers.
But Harper says above all, people should better appreciate how the West was settled.
"They suffered while they were trying to establish a home," says Harper.
Historians say more bodies could still be buried in the corn field.
We also talked off camera with a man who lives near where the Bender family used to live. His grandfather was part of a posse that looked for the Benders. But the man says his grandfather refused to talk about what happened; if the Benders were caught or never found.
...A lot of mystery for movie makers.
KOAM - Licensed to Pittsburg, Kansas