TOPEKA (KSNT) – A Topeka author says he has discovered crucial new information in a 150-year-old murder mystery tale involving Kansas’ most infamous family of killers.
KSNT 27 News spoke with author Lee Ralph about his newly released book, “Hell Comes To Play,” on the Bender family, also known to historians as the Bloody Benders. This family settled in an area of southeastern Kansas near the town of Cherryvale in a small cabin in 1870. They would later be connected to the disappearances of several travelers later found dead at or near the Bender’s cabin.
The story of the Benders has fascinated historians since investigators first began digging up bodies buried in the family’s backyard orchard in 1873. The Bender’s saga, initially receiving coverage from local newspapers, is seeded with varying accounts which have lead to numerous tales about how the family began committing murder on the plains and what their eventual fates were.
“New book about the Benders is out! Believe me it is like nothing you have ever read! Lee Ralph has gone to the nth degree to find new material. Stunning new material backed up with hard documentation.”Cherryvale Historical Museum social media statement excerpt, Sept. 11
Rather than retell a story already told by countless other authors and historians, Ralph focused on digging up pieces of the Bender tale that have escaped widespread attention. In his book, he claims to have uncovered new pieces of evidence through census documents that reveal where the Benders came from before they arrived in the Sunflower State.
Ralph said the book initially started as a side-project for him. After discovering a connection between the Bender’s and Decatur, Illinois, he became inspired to dig deeper into the family’s history.
“The main thing is there has been so much myth and stuff around the Benders, I think its now time to start actually looking at the records and sidestepping all the old stories, the old myths,” Ralph said. “If it can’t be proven, we need to erase that.”
Ralph’s research leads to interesting new takes on the myths surrounding the Bender family. Through the new information he has revealed, he adds new theories while at the same time disproving older ones.
Ralph bases his book upon census records in the U.S. and Europe alongside records kept by various churches to piece together the Bender’s family history. Armed with these sources, Ralph traces the Bender’s path prior to their arrival in Kansas, eventually leading back to the family’s origins in Germany and France.
While “Hell Comes To Play” doesn’t delve much into what happened to the Benders post-escape from Kansas, it does point to a possible outcome. The book also works to clear the names of those implicated in the Bender murders: people who shared the family’s name or who bore a resemblance to them and were accused of being the Bender’s themselves.
If you want to learn more about the Bender’s, you can look at some of the articles posted through the Kansas Historical Society. A group of researchers associated with the University of Kansas are also excavating the site where the Bender’s cabin used to sit. You can learn more about these new efforts to uncover clues from the Bender property by clicking here.