One 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.
It 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.
Behind 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.
Middle 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
The 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 Sawney 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.
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.