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Death for Dinner: The Benders of (Old) Kansas: The Biography of a Family of Mass Killers, by Phyllis de la Garza, Silk Label Books, Unionville, N.Y., 2014, $14.99

The Bender family, motivated by greed, got away with mass murder on the early 1870s Kansas frontier. They looked like any other homestead family and were right neighborly, serving home-cooked meals to travelers who stopped at their farm. They weren’t satisfied with a thank-you and a generous tip, however. They murdered (hammers came in handy for this purpose) the diners, stole their clothes, money and horses, and buried their victims on the farm. The four Benders—supposedly a mother, father, brother and sister—then disappeared before authorities could nab them. It’s an irresistible story (and one told well here) for those who like a helping of the macabre.

Arizona author Phyllis de la Garza’s Death for Dinner was originally published in 2003, and at that time she thought the mystery of what became of the Bender family would never be solved. In fact she titled the last chapter “An Unsolved Murder.” Now comes the first paperback edition, with a new afterword and a 13-page addition titled “Solving the Bender Mystery.” Well, part of it, anyway. “While I still have no new information regarding the whereabouts of Ma and Pa Bender, I think we found Katie and John,” the author writes. “If we have solved at least part of the Bender mystery, perhaps the tormented spirits murdered by the Benders in (Old) Kansas can now rest a little easier.”

Not to give everything away, but suffice it to say de la Garza believes John and Katie Bender—husband and wife, not brother and sister—are buried in the Linwood Cemetery in Glenwood Springs, Colo. In that same historic cemetery is Doc Holliday’s grave, though it doesn’t mark the actual site of his remains. Doc could be somewhere else in the graveyard, but some folks suggest his body might have been removed from Colorado and reburied in his native Georgia. With that in mind, perhaps John and Katie Bender should be removed from Colorado and reburied in Kansas near the scene of their crimes. Or would that only add to the torment of their victims? In the meantime, if anyone locates the resting places of Ma and Pa Bender, do let Phyllis de la Garza know.


Originally published in the June 2015 issue of Wild West.