Have you heard of the bloody Benders of Kansas? Not much is known about their lives, but what can be agreed upon is that they were a family of serial killers who lived and operated in Labette County, Kansas in the early 1870s. The family opened their inn in 1871 and were gone from the area by the end of 1872/beginning of 1873. The family consisted of four people: Pa Bender, Ma Bender, and two younger people: John and Kate. The parents’ names vary amongst researchers, as well as whether the younger two were brother and sister or married or step-siblings. What we do know is that the four murdered nearly a dozen people, burying their bodies in the orchard behind the inn. Where they were before and where they went after Kansas is a mystery. Since not much is known about the Bender family, their story is prime material for authors writing ficiton. Such is the case with Camilla Bruce’s newest book, All the Blood We Share.
In All the Blood We Share, Bruce bases her novel on the real bloody Benders, but takes liberties. This is one author’s interpretation of what could have happened amongst the Benders before, during, and after they left Kansas.
William and his son John were the first Benders to arrive in Cherryvale, Kansas. Building an inn and some outbuildings, the two were anxious to finish their homestead, so they could be reunited with the two women in their family. Once Kate and her mother Elvira arrive, something dark and twisted begins to seize the Bender Inn. At first, Kate Bender makes a splash by working as a medium in Cherryvale. She is able to deliver messages from the Great Beyond that give people of the Kansas plains hope. Elvira peddles her potions and cures for their physical ailments while Kate tends to their souls. Their good deeds come with a price though. No one can find out what the Benders really do to survive. The Benders only prey upon those that travel alone, those that won’t be missed, and those that the Angels have marked. Kate’s powers come in handy, but even she can make a mistake. Her mistakes have horrible consequences though, as the family quickly learn. With their secrets hidden all over the family farm, the Benders have to decide what they are willing to do in order to escape being caught.