Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Family That Slays Together...

Despite what movies and TV shows might suggest families killing together, as a unit, is fairly rare.  True there are many instances in which couples or two family members getting together to kill others but a whole family working to take others lives is not so common.  ...But it's not unheard of either.  There was at least one such case in the 1800s wherein, working together, the Bender family would rob and kill unsuspecting travelers who made the mistake of choosing to stay at the family's inn.  When their crimes were discovered they became known as "The Bloody Benders".

The Family

The Bender family consisted of John "Old Man Bender" Sr., Marli "Ma" Bender, John Jr, and Kate "Professor Miss Katie" Bender.  It seemed that, though the youngest in her early 20s, Kate Bender was not only the bait but something of the brains of the operation.  Despite the current legend of being a great red-headed seductress in truth Kate was something of a red-faced girl with manly features who would hold seances and claim to be a faith healer.  Not that the rest of the family appeared much better.  John Sr was 60, Marli was 42 with cold eyes and the appearance of a hag, and John Jr was described as a dim-witted hulk of a man.

The Crimes

Set upon a long, lonely, stretch of road in Labette County, Kansas and being just short of a nearby railway town it's not too surprising that the family would turn their home into a makeshift inn for other frontier folk looking for a hot meal and warm bed.  Though unlike H H Holmes' complex hotel  of horrors created in the same century (1893, Chicago's World Fair) the set-up of the Bender family's inn was rather simple, just like their murder tactics.  It was little more than a single large room divided in half by a canvas with one side being the family's living space and the other for their guests...assuming the family let them live.

It was Kate who, if she noted a traveler that appeared wealthy, would invite the person to come inside, enjoy a nice meal, a drink, and perhaps stay at the family's inn for the night.  Were they to accept they were brought inside where Kate would set them at the head of the table nearest the curtain that split the Bender household into two.  As she distracted them with conversation, and quite possibly a little flirting, either her father or brother would lie in wait on the other side of the curtain with a hammer.  When their prey would lean back against the curtain they would be struck with the hammer hard enough to crack the skull.  After that the victim would be dragged off to be stripped of their money and clothes before being dumped through a trapdoor to the basement where their throat would then be slit to ensure death.  Later on the body would then be taken out and buried in a pasture.

The Discovery

It wasn't until 1873 when Dr William York went missing on his travels (from Fort Scott to his home in Independence) that any kind of alarm was raised at all.  A posse lead by Dr York's brother began to search for the man and came upon the Bender home where they asked the Benders' about the missing physician.  The Bender family denied all knowledge the missing man...then fled the area completely a few days later.  It was only after this, after word got out that the family had vanished, that the search posse grew truly suspicious and returned to the Bender farm to conduct a more thorough search.  In the search the rather horrific discovery of several shallow graves containing the family's victims was made...one victim included an 18-month-old little girl who'd been traveling with her father and the family simply tossed in and buried alive with her murdered father.  It is believed that the family killed approximately 8-11 victims together before they disappeared and while there had been a number of different believed sightings in the 50 plus years that followed the Bender family was never officially considered found and/or brought to justice.

The Questions

Because the Bender family was never caught, never truly questioned, it's left a lot of questions unanswered.  Who in the family first thought of their wicked scheme to murder and rob?  Was the entire family in agreement on the murders or were some simply passive accomplices?  How, exactly, did the dynamics of the family work within what they did?  It's hard to say...but it's pretty clear that, if they had been brought to justice, it's deeply unlikely any would've been found innocent.  And that, for the Benders, the family that slayed together stayed together.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Scary Truth About Satanists: Halloween Special!

The concept of those who worship Satan is hundreds and hundreds of years old and so is the fear associated with those who might be those people.  Often Satanism is connected to torture, murder (serial or otherwise), and child abuse all of which are scary prospects but what's just as frightening is the idea that, under the guise of this "religion" many are excused, and convicted, of crimes they never committed.  From the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 to the West Memphis Three of today there is an almost uncontrollable terror in the idea of possible satanism occurring and, more often than not, it leads to a hysteria that destroys innocent lives.

When In Doubt, Blame Satan

Many people know the general start of this case.  A few young girls in Salem begin to behave strangely and, because they can find no other reason, people in the town turn to the concept of witches casting spells in the name of Satan.  After that happens the concept of Satanists living and cursing among innocent citizens grows into a frenzy of terror that sends 19 people to hang at the gallows, one elderly man to be crushed to death, and numerous others to have their lives ruined.

The possibility of this happening is relatively understandable given the time that this occurred in.  During Puritanical times, times in which God was truly, deeply, believed as real and ever present it's not a surprise that his counter-point, The Devil, would be too.  And, if Satan is believed in, then he care be feared as having the potential to do great harm to others...like God he could, presumably, be worshiped and have followers to do his work.  Add to that the lack of real, scientific and forensic, knowledge then it's hardly surprise, short of any other obvious explanation, the work of The Devil and his followers causes a hysteria that ends up ending lives in towns during the 1600s.

Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare

Satanic Ritual Abuse, SRA for short, goes by a number of different names (ritual abuse, ritualistic abuse, organised abuse, sadistic ritual abuse, among others) is all boils down to the same idea.  From the 1980s-1990s, across the US, and eventually other parts of the world, people seemed panicked over the concept of horrifyingly strange abuses occurring in pre-schools and daycares.  Numerous caretakers were accused, charged, and even convicted, of sexual abuse of small children based on little more than panic and stories told by small children who were given leading interviews by parents and psychiatrists.

While it's understandable, when someone hears of a young child being abused somewhere they should be safe it strikes fears in the heart of every parent, looking back it's hard to believe many of the stories.  Children's stories included "magic rooms", secret tunnels, flying witches, hot-air balloon rides, and, in one case, even Chuck Norris was fingered by a child as the abuser.  Add to that, almost none of the children in these preschools and daycares came out saying they'd been abused on their own...it tended to be the parents (untrained in how to properly interview a child concerning these sorts of crimes and likely already convinced something terrible had happened to their child) who would ask the children about whether or not they were abused, frequently using leading questions or otherwise - no matter how unintentionally - manipulating them into saying they had been abused and then come forward.  ...Even in the relatively modern 1980s and 1990s it seemed that, even though the more devil-oriented aspects were a touch more in the background (the focus, of course, being more on the abuse of small children), Satanism was still feared and lives were still destroyed through the panic it caused.

The West Memphis Three

When cases of torture and murder are discovered frequently people must search for a reason behind it...they're almost desperate to understand why such a terrible thing was done.  This is never more true when the victims are three eight-year-old boys.  The trouble is, sometimes, the fear of some mad killer running around taking, mutilating, and murdering children can cause a reactionary move of arresting the wrong people.  ...This is exactly what happened in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993.

After the murdered boys were found in a creek in the woods the police seemed to immediately want to close the case - refusing the help of state professionals and others in favor for going after what they felt was the most likely suspect to them...a then 18-year-old young man by the name of Damien Echols.  Echols came from a troubled background and, in a conservative and Evangelical Christian-based city, he stuck out rather plainly in his dark clothes, love of "dark" music and fiction, and occasional run-ins with the law.  Within a month the local police arrested Echols and two others, Jessie Misskelley Jr. (then 17) and Jason Baldwin (then 16) claiming that the teens had killed the children as part of a Satanic ritual.

This case has been a disaster from the start with evidence being poorly treated, stored, and processed, testimony being clearly false or otherwise coerced (including the confession of Misskelley who not only immediately recanted his confession was a minor at the time he was interviewed and has an IQ of 72 making him borderline mentally disabled), and, seemingly, jury misconduct.  Yet these three young men are still in prison today - despite new evidence that clearly shows their innocence, despite some of the young victims' own family members now coming forward saying they believe the men to be innocent and would like the case reexamined to know who truly killed their children, and despite what seems like a great injustice.

Don't Be Afraid

...Sadly nothing can be done about the Salem Witch Trials except for us to learn from those mistakes.  More sadly, however, is that it doesn't seem that always happens as proven by the Satanic Ritual Abuse cases and the West Memphis Three.  It's natural to fear bad things happening to you and your loved ones, to search for any reason that a terrible thing might happen outside "just because", and to go after those you feel are evil in some way.  But it's unwise, and even dangerous, to fear the concept of Satanism (or anything else) to the point that you ignore facts and/or your own logic.

Author's Note: The West Memphis Three (and the families of those three eight-year-old boys) are still trying to find justice.  Please go to Free The West Memphis Three and read the whole story.  Understand how carelessness, presumptions, and fear can railroad others...can railroad the very concept of fairness and justice.