Kansas is typically known best for its historical ties to the Old West
and fictional tales about wicked witches and yellow brick roads, but it
has a much darker side that people don’t often see. Kansas has been the home of some very notorious criminals and depraved
killers. One of the earliest documented cases of persons deemed “serial killers” took place in Kansas, and the crimes were actually committed by a family of serial killers.
According to the Wichita Eagle, the Benders were a small family of four who immigrated to southeastern Kansas from Germany in 1870. They often opened their home to travelers, many of whom were never heard from again. At least 11 men, women and children were tracked to the town the Benders were living in after disappearing on the trail near the Benders’ house. The town came together to try to get to the bottom of the disappearances, but the next day the Benders were gone.
The bodies were found in the Benders’ garden, buried head-first with nearly nothing covering their feet according to leatherockhotel.com. The Benders are presumed to have taken a train to either St. Louis or New Mexico, but their whereabouts were never discovered. Multiple gangs claimed to have killed the family in subsequent years, but nothing but rumors was ever heard of the Bender family again.
A more recent Kansas serial killer is Dennis Rader, or BTK, from Wichita. He eluded officials for 30 years through his marriage to a prominent member of his church and his role as leader of his son’s boy scout troop. The 10 known murders he committed went unsolved, until a book called “Nightmare in Wichita: The Hunt for the BTK Strangler” was released. Rader’s psychopathic desire for recognition made it nearly impossible for him not to take credit for his work, according to NBC news. In 2005, Rader was sentenced to 175 years to life in prison.
While she was not a serial killer, Carrie Nation (also spelled “Carry” in some documents), who was known for her radical pro-prohibition beliefs enforced through vandalism and theft, is one of Kansas’ better known female criminals. She was widely feared, as she often went into alcohol-serving establishments and attacked the bars with a hatchet, according to U-S-history.com.
Carrie stirred up hatred in Kansas communities for stealing alcohol; however, since it was an illegal substance, the thefts couldn’t be reported to authorities. Nation was a firm believer in Christianity and prohibition, but, unfortunately, her stance did not change America’s opinion.
Well-known killing duo Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were the topic of Truman Capote’s most famous
book “In Cold Blood.” Hickock and Smith met and became friends in prison. While incarcerated, they were told by
another inmate of a rich farmer named Clutter who lived in western
It was rumored that Clutter spent over $10,000 a year on his farm. What the pair did not realize was that Clutter had paid for it all with checks, not cash.
Soon after the men were paroled, they murdered the Clutter family of four
in their small family farm house and found roughly $50, according to gcpolice.org.
and Smith went on the run, but were soon apprehended together in Las Vegas.
They were convicted of four counts of murder and were sentenced to death in the Leavenworth, Kan., penitentiary. After five years and numerous personal
interviews with Capote, who may or may not have had a sexual
relationship with Smith, the pair was hanged in Leavenworth.
Criminals past and present are very much a part of Kansas lore. In the words of Truman Capote, “If you are not safe in your bed in Kansas, you are not safe in any bed in America, anymore.”