When York, who was a prominent doctor with two brothers who knew of his travel plans, went missing, the brothers instituted a search for him. One of the brothers, Colonel A.M. York, formed a massive search party composed of 50 men. His search party questioned travelers and homesteaders along the trail. The search party stopped at the Bender Inn. The Benders admitted that Dr. York had stopped at their place, but said that he had moved on from there. Kate even offered to use her psychic abilities to help find York.
Though suspicion did not initially settle on the Benders, travelers did begin to avoid that area. The neighboring communities began to suggest that someone in Osage Township was responsible for the disappearances. In response, Osage Township held a community meeting to discuss the issue. Both John, Sr. And John, Jr. attended the meeting. At the meeting, the community members discussed ten missing people. “With the full realization that there truly was a major problem in their township, the group decided to search every farmstead between Big Hill Creek and Drum Creek.” (Weiser). Almost everyone at the meeting agreed to allow someone to search their property, but the Benders did not.
Sometime after the meeting, one of the other attendees, Billy Tole, who was also a neighbor of the Benders, noticed that the Bender Inn had been abandoned. In addition, he noticed that the animals on the Bender farm were not fed. When Tole reported his findings to the Township Trustee, Leroy Dick, Dick made the decision to form a search party. When the search party entered the Benders’ cabin, they discovered that it had been emptied, suggesting that the Benders had fled the area. In addition, they noticed a horrible smell in the abandoned cabin. They discovered a trap door, which was nailed shut, in the cabin’s floor. “Prying it open, the men found a six foot deep hole that was filled with clotted blood, causing the terrible odor.” (Weiser). Though this finding was gruesome there were no bodies in the hole, and no bodies anywhere underneath the cabin. However, they found the first body near the cabin; it was the body of Dr. William H. York, whose brother, Colonel York, was part of the search party. York had clearly been murdered; not only was his skull bludgeoned, but his throat had also been cut. The search party continued digging throughout the next day, finding nine other bodies and miscellaneous body parts. In addition to male victims, the Benders had killed a woman and a young girl. Another of York’s brothers offered a $1,000 award for information leading to the Benders’ arrests. Kansas Governor Thomas Osborn offered an additional $2,000 reward for the apprehension of the missing Benders.
The Benders fled by train. John, Jr. And Kate took the train to Dennison, Texas, and then traveled near the Texas / New Mexico border, which was then firmly situated in outlaw country. Ma and John, Sr. allegedly went to St. Louis. Many people attempted to apprehend the Benders, and soon it became commonplace to hear reports that the Benders had been killed. Whether or not anyone ever actually captured or killed the Benders is still unknown.
John, Jr. was actually a man named John Gebhardt. Though John, Jr. And Kate played the role of siblings in Kansas, in other locations they played the role of spouses. They were almost certainly engaged in a sexual relationship, and there is speculation that the pair killed any products of that relationship. John Jr. was allegedly tracked to outlaw country, where it was discovered that he had died of apoplexy. Though his death could not be confirmed, John Jr. is the only one of the Benders that was ever truly considered caught.
John, Sr., who was actually John Flickinger, may have committed suicide, or may have been killed by Ma and Kate after fleeing the homestead with the profits of their murders. It is almost certain that John, Sr. was dead, by his own hand or by someone else’s during the time that people were searching for the Benders. However, no one was ever able to truly determine the location of the Bender women. At one point in time, two women were arrested as Ma and Kate Bender, and were actually extradited from Detroit to face charges of murder, but the case was dropped for lack of evidence. In fact, it is impossible to know whether or not the two women who were in police custody were actually Ma and Kate Bender or simply two unfortunate women caught up in the Bender hysteria.
Once the murders came to light, more information about the Benders became available. Ma Bender was not from Germany, but was actually from the Adirondacks. She was born Almira Meik. Ma Bender appears to have been a major impetus in the murders, because she began killing long before her involvement with John, Sr. Or John, Jr., and well before Kate could be considered culpable for any crimes she committed. Meik is believed to have killed her first husband, George Griffith, as well as several subsequent husbands and at least three of her children. Why she chose not to kill Kate is something that will never be known.
With a mother like Ma, Kate may not have been able to escape a life as a killer. She was the fifth child of Meik and George Griffith. Kate was born Eliza Griffith, and at some time married a man named Davis. It is unknown whether or not Kate killed Davis. Kate was believed to have worked as a prostitute at the Bender Inn. (Weiser). In fact, despite Ma Bender’s clear criminal history, blame for the murders fell on Kate Bender. This was partially well-deserved; after all, it is believed that Kate is the one who actually killed the men by slitting their throats. However, it also reveals some of the gender bias of the times, because people were ready to suggest that Kate was the true inspiration for the crimes, despite clear evidence that the entire “family” was working together to commit the murders.
Weiser, Kathy. “The Bloody Benders of Labette County.” Legends of America. 2006. Legends