Serial Killer Families: The Family Who Kills Together…

Family serial killersOne serial killer is dangerous enough. A pair of serial killers ups the stakes even more. But what about an entire family of serial killers? Believe it or not, I was able to find four. Four serial killer families who hunt, stalk, and murder together. We’ll discuss serial killer couples in a future post.

The Bloody Benders

In the 1870s there lived a family of German immigrants who built a one-room cabin near the Great Osage trail in Cherryvale, Kansas. The Benders — though some say that wasn’t their real last name — divided the house into two sections by hanging a tarp from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Behind the tarp was where the Benders slept and in the front of the cabin lived a restaurant and general store, which sold staples, such as tobacco, sardines, candles, crackers, and powder.

The tarp was strategically placed behind the chairs of the dining room table, so while patrons dined their backs were to the rest of the home.

The eldest daughter, Kate, allegedly had psychic powers. She gave lectures on spiritualism and advertised her services in local newspapers, claiming to have the ability to “heal disease, cure blindness, fits and deafness.” Her skills helped to lure travelers into a trap they never knew existed.

Other than Kate, the rest of the family — John Bender, Sr. aka “Pa” and his wife “Ma” were in their sixties; the two children, Joanne aka “Kate” and John aka “Thomas” were in their twenties — kept to themselves, except every Sunday when they attended church and their regular appearances at town meetings.

From 1870-1873 several travelers went missing, but it took a while for people to notice. It wasn’t unusual for men to pass through Kansas to settle in the west in search of a great fortune. During that time numerous murder victims were even discovered in the area, but no one suspected the Benders.

serial killer familiesIt wasn’t until George Loncher and his infant daughter left Independence, Kansas and never arrived in Iowa that someone went looking for them. Dr. William York questioned everyone from Independence to Fort Scott, but then, he disappeared, too. Unfortunately for the Benders, he had two powerful brothers — Colonel Ed York and Kansas Senator Alexander York — who wouldn’t stop till they got answers.

They questioned the Benders about a woman who claimed “Ma” threatened her with a knife, but got nowhere. Then at a town meeting, with the two male Benders in attendance, it was decided that they’d search every homestead for evidence of the murders. But the bad weather prevented the search for several days and by the time the weather cleared, the Benders had fled. The cabin was deserted.

Hundreds of volunteers arrived for the search, including Colonel York. And what they found chilled them to the bone.

serial killer familiesBehind the curtain a trapdoor in the floor led to the rancid-smelling cellar, drenched with blood. The volunteers moved the cabin to search the ground underneath, but no bodies were found. Then they searched the garden, which was freshly plowed. The first body to be unearthed was the remains of Dr. York. Seven more bodies were discovered that night and another the following day. All with severed throats, the skulls bashed in, with the exception of the infant, who suffocated to death when buried beneath her father.

Investigators pieced together what happened. Guests at the restaurant were urged to sit in the place of honor, with their back against the separating tarp. While dining, the Bender men would strike from behind the curtain, crushing their skull with a hammer, then drag them into the trapdoor in the floor, which led to the “slaughter room” in the cellar, where they’d finish them off by severing their throat.

Ten bodies were unearthed at the cabin, but twenty-one murders are attributed to the Bloody Benders.

The Podkopaevs

serial killer familiesMiddle class murderers, Roman Podkopaev (age 35), his wife, Inessa, and their two daughters, Anastasiya (13 years old) and Viktoria Tarverdiyeva (age 25), plotted to kill thirty men, women, and children to feed their own greed.

In one incident, the family tortured and killed two teenage girls — one reported to be Inessa’s goddaughter — and gouged the eyeballs from their skull. They also murdered police officers for the sole purpose of stealing their weapons.

The Russian clan was clever, too, using walkie-talkies to communicate during robberies and to track police. They always seemed to know where the police were at all times.

In another incident, the Podkopaev family murdered a paratrooper, Dmitry Chudakov, his wife, Irina, their son, Sasha (age 7), and a daughter, Veronika (age 11), who absorbed the brunt of the violence. Dmitry, Irina, and Sasha were all shot several times with fully-automatic weapons.

Veronika wasn’t so lucky. They stabbed her thirty-seven times.

During the search of the family home, investigators uncovered an arsenal of weapons and ammunition — silencers and twenty firearms, including shotguns and fully-automatic rifles.

When asked why, Inessa replied, “It’s a way to make money. I’ve always been a gangster by nature.”

The Briley Brothers

serial killer familiesThe first inkling that the Briley brothers were trouble began when the eldest, Linwood, then sixteen years old, shot an elderly woman out his bedroom window because “she was in range.” When arrested and asked why he did it, Linwood replied, “She had a heart condition. She would have died soon anyway.”

In 1979, after serving just one year in prison, Linwood, his two younger brothers and an accomplice, Duncan Meekins, began their reign of terror in Richmond, VA. Over the course of seven months the brothers wreaked havoc — rape, robbery, brutal attacks, and murder.

Total body count: 10

Which included a pregnant woman and her five children. Their final two victims barely escaped a fiery blaze when the Briley Brothers doused their home in gasoline and struck a match.

Sawney Bean Clan

Probably the sickest of all the serial killer families I read about were the Sawney Bean clan. In fact, the movie, The Hills Have Eyes, is based on the horrors of serial killer familiesSawney Bean and his family.

In the times of King James I, Mr. and Mrs. Sawney Bean transformed Bennane Cave, by Ballantrae in Ayrshire, Scotland, into their home, with tunnels extending for more than a mile. The cave featured several side passageways to accommodate a growing family. And grew they did, creating their own army of serial killers.

Sawney Bean was opposed to getting a job to support his wife, so he resorted to robbery instead. On the lonely back roads that connected the villages, he’d lie in wait for travelers to pass by. In order to not leave witnesses to his crimes, he escalated to murder. But then, an even sicker idea occurred to him. He could butcher his victims to provide a high-protein diet for him and his wife, which had the added benefit of evidence disposal.

Over the years Sawney and his wife had fourteen children — all as twisted and evil as their parents — who became an army of serial killers and cannibals.

During the next two decades, through incest, the children bore more children, who refined the art of murder and cannibalism, often salting and pickling human flesh. Decaying body parts washed up on surrounding beaches. Which prompted massive search parties, but no one thought to check the cave.

Fate quickly intervened when the Bean army attacked a man and his wife on their way home from the fair. Half the Bean clan pulled the woman from her horse and had her disemboweled before the other half had a chance to wrestle the man to the ground. Fighting for his life, he drove over several members of the Bean family with his horse. This caused such a commotion a group of twenty bystanders came to his rescue.

During an all-out war, the Bean clan found themselves outnumbered for the first time in their lives. They retreated to the cave, leaving behind the mutilated remains of the man’s wife and a score of witnesses. The surviving victim was taken to the Chief Magistrate of Glasgow to tell his tale. Together with the longest missing persons list the country had ever seen they reported to King James I, who’d arrived in Ayshire with his own army of four-hundred men and a pack of dogs.

Together with several hundred volunteers, another search was underway. And again, they didn’t search the cave. Until one cadaver dog alerted at the entrance. Nothing could have prepared them for the horrors that awaited them.

Torches in hand and swords drawn, the army entered Bennane cave and into the mile-long twisting passageways to the inner sanctum of the Bean lair. Dank cave walls held row after row of human limbs and body parts displayed like the window of a butcher shop. Bundles of clothes, jewelry, and picked-clean bones littered the ground.

serial killer families

Bennane Cave

A fight broke out between the King’s army and the forty-eight Bean members, resulting in the arrest and apprehension of Sawney Bean and his kin. Their crimes were so heinous that normal channels weren’t enough, so King James I sentenced them all to death. Twenty-seven Bean men were left to exsanguinate with their legs and arms chopped off. The twenty-one Bean women were burned at the stake like witches.

Legend says, one of the daughters escaped during the fight with the King’s army and a local family adopted her. At seventeen years old, she married and had a son. In hard times they would kill and cannibalize to stay alive. When the villagers caught wind of their gruesome activities they hung the Bean daughter and her husband, but not before her son escaped to America, settling what was then known as Roanke Island. The entire colony later disappeared without a trace.

Legend also says that if you sit under the hanging tree in Scotland, you can still hear the Bean daughter’s bones scrape against the bark.

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. Sue’s short stories and flash fiction have appeared in OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine and numerous anthologies, and her forensic articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly.

In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue’s the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project, and co-hosts the radio show “Partners in Crime” on Writestream Radio Network. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She’s also a proud member of the Kill Zone (see details in full bio — menu bar).

24 Comments

  1. Family serial killers…..I still have a sick feeling in my tummy after reading about them. Great article though. Thanks for sharing.
    Frances Dunn recently posted…READ FIRST! WRITE SECOND!My Profile

  2. OMG. Chilling to say the least. And how does the saying go? Truth is stranger than fiction? Then again, rich fodder for fiction!
    JHolmes, author recently posted…Another Step CloserMy Profile

  3. Familal serial murders are henious, but generally easier to find by sheer numbers. The FBI estimates that at any one time there are well over 300 serial killers operating in the USA. Things that make you go huh? I would love to target and hunt them. Just to check there brain lobes and find out what, or if, they were thinking. The vast majority are supposedly single, solidatary killers. Hmmm. We don’t know that for sure until we catch them.
    Nature vs nurture? Probably lol.

    • In these cases, as well as many serial killer couples, nurture definitely plays a roll. Abuse/incest ran rampant in these households. A clear example is The West family; I almost included them in this post, but the children played no part in the murders. Rather, they were victims. The story is just as twisted. They’ll be included in my follow-up post: Serial Killer Couples.

      Many serial killers do have frontal lobe; you’re correct. When you compare the serial killer brain to a “regular” person, the difference is mind-blowing.

  4. Well now I feel the need to re-watch The Hill Have Eyes, The original of course.

  5. Oh, how twisted!! The Bean family legend is truly gruesome!!

    • I know, right? The Bean family were frighteningly evil; it’s hard to even wrap your mind around the sheer number (48) of serial killers. And in a cave, no less! Brr…

  6. Wonderful post. Sort of. I’m not sure why I felt compelled to read these horrific stories. No amount of afternoon tea will make me feel better.
    Donna Barker recently posted…Character dating profileMy Profile

    • I feel your pain, Donna. While researching these families (for hours) I felt like I needed to step away for a minute or two. There’s something about an army of serial killers that make the murders all the more sinister.

  7. Creepy, twisted and utterly debauched. Very freaky too about the son escaping to Roanke. Given that mystery, the whole idea is just too weird.
    Mae Clair recently posted…The Experimental Notebook of C.S. Boyack II with Lisa Burton #RRBCMy Profile

  8. I’ve heard of some twisted people in my time, Sue, but never families of serial killers. This Sawney Bean bunch is… not sure of the right words 🙂

    • How ’bout “sadistic”? Even that doesn’t quite describe it, does it? So nice to see you Garry. I was beginning to worry; you never miss publishing a Saturday blog post. Enjoy your Sunday!

  9. There’s a book by Ronald Holmes about the Sawney Bean clan called (if memory serves) The Legend of Sawney Bean (1975). Its conclusion, which I gather is the generally accepted one, is that, while there may have been a kernel of truth in the tale, it was much embellished at the time and over the subsequent centuries.

    Since typing that para I’ve been to Wikipedia to get the date of Ron’s book (which I commissioned and edited, back in the day 🙂 ), and I see that their entry on the topic gives a pretty balanced overview — also that there’ve been a few other books since.

    • I saw the numerous books on the topic, John. You commissioned/edited The Legend of Sawney Bean? Wow. So you must know a great deal about this family.

      Of course, you’re absolutely right. Some say the facts have been skewed/enhanced over time. Makes a great story, though.

  10. The Bender family gives new meaning to “going on a Bender”, doesn’t it? Heh heh.
    pauldaleanderson recently posted…Pain and Suffering: A True StoryMy Profile

  11. This is really cre-e-e-e-py, Sue! On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine. On the other, though, I can see how that family-environment impact might work. Lots of ‘food for thought’ here…

    • I agree, Margot. I read about so many serial killers yesterday I needed a break. Which is strange for me. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age. “Food for thought” Love your dark humor!!!

  12. Awesome real world stuff. I love that last line though. Haunted caves would be simple enough to conjure up.

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