Show Notes: Wilda Wilkinson’s Cold Case Murder, True Crime Slaughter House on the Prairie, Global Warming Climate Change

This show, “Michigan and other Mayhem”, is a sort of factual, slightly comical, always earnest podcast about interesting stuff in Michigan and around the world. It is done by two sisters-in-law (Ali and Jenn) that like to talk about random interesting stories.  Expect cults, mysteries, murder, fast-talking, and a couple of mental palate cleansers… and cuss words.  Those happen on this show, a lot.

Episode 29: Wilda Wilkinson’s Murder, Slaughter House on the Prairie, Global Warming

Click Here to listen to Episode 29

Alerts:

  • Pretend podcast music because Jenn likes it.
  • Ali has a weird laugh. It is often loud.

We have a guest podcaster!  Caid, Brandy’s son, wants to talk to us today about global warming.

Half the time Ali has podcast “music” on piddly podcasts. During the last piddly podcast, Ali claimed that she never did the music and Jenn was wrong. They were both half wrong.

Wilda Wilkinson – Cold Case

Wilda Wilkinson’s case goes back to 1986, in Bangor, Michigan, located in Van Buren Township. There was a robbery in her home in which she was murdered. She was found dead in her home by her daughter, July 1986. Wilda had two daughters and two sons.  The case went cold.

Recently police decided to look at the case again. Michael Curry, 51, was arrested in California and brought back to Michigan. He lived near Wilda at the time of the murder.  He had written a confession earlier and told police that he had killed Wilda.  The officer that handled the confession dismissed the confession, claiming he didn’t believe him. Michael took a lie detector test.  The officer didn’t believe he knew enough of the crime.

The police continued to work other suspects.

The prosecutor said there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Michael Curry.  Michael, at this time, had confessed five times to the murder, including once to a cellmate.

Police are not talking about new evidence that they found.  They did exhume her body.  It is said that more evidence was found after her body was dug up.

Michael had been arrested and jailed in 1989 for attempted murder.  He had badly beat a man and then called the police about it, calling himself “The Night Stalker”. The police had been able to ping his phone, to find that he was there with the beaten man. He claimed he murdered his roommate in Bangor. He was sentenced to 10 to 30 years for assault and attempted murder. Michael was released from prison in 2017.

Slaughter House on the Prairie

Ali got her story from a book written by Harold Schechter, called “Little Slaughter House on the Prairie”. It reminded Ali of her Aunt Cathy who loved Little House on the Prairie and true crime.  Ali’s Aunt Cathy is Caid’s grandma.  Ali had read about the serial killing family in the book before, but I hadn’t read about the Michigan connection, so it was a nice surprise.

Here’s the story of the nefarious Bender family:

The 1862 Homestead Act granted 160 acres of public land to people, free and clear, after 5 years of residency, in the prairie lands.

In 1870, two of the Benders, forever to be referred to here as Pa Bender (Old Man Bender in the book) and John Bender Jr. pulled up in a town in Cherryvale, KS. Pa Bender either had the first name John or William, but we’re calling him Pa.

John Jr. was a slender man in his late 20’s, with a nice face and a trimmed mustache.  He would sometimes break into a high-pitched nervous giggle fit, leading people to believe he might not be in control of his mental faculties.

Pa Bender spoke virtually no English.  He only spoke German. He was described as burly with a heavy beard.  Pa was considered to have a powerful frame and a was described by a neighbor as “like a gorilla”. He was known for being tall but with hunched shoulders.

The men rode in an unusual-shaped wagon, in which its rear axle was noticeably wider than the front.

The Bender men chose a tract of land that was near the westward trail, the area’s only thoroughfare, opening a small grocery store and inn.  The land contained a tiny apple orchard. Only three other residencies were insight of their building, one of them only being a roof visible in the distance.

They built their inn/residence as a single room dwelling that was 16×24 feet small. (less than 400 square feet). That building was their living quarters, a tiny counter of a grocery store, and their inn. They had a dining table where your meals were supplied, and a place to sleep on the floor.

They had a shallow cellar, with a slab of sandstone that was 49 square feet, for the cellar floor.  There was a wooden trapdoor leading to the cellar with a bootstrap on one end for the handle. The two men dug a well and built some areas up for their livestock.  Travelers could also use the area to water and shelter their horses.

John Jr. made a sign and hung it over the front door.  It said GROCRY in thick black letters. They had a wagon cover hung up as a partition, set up between the space where people ate and their home space.  The sheet was right behind the table.

Then the women arrived.

Ma Bender has people disagreeing on her first name.  It could be Elvira, it could be Kate Sr.  We will call her Ma Bender. She is described as pale with a temper that is just as crappy as her husband’s surly attitude. She also spoke German with the tiniest touch of broken English.

Kate Bender was described a lot of different ways, because the story of her family become so sensationalized. Most reporters and eyewitnesses agree that she was a young woman who had auburn hair and who wasn’t too hard to look at.  One person did describe her as looking like a dirty witch, but that wasn’t the norm.

Side note: At one point the author is talking about how John Jr. and Kate might have been too intimate with each other, as in they were all having sex with each other. That’s not the part that made me go hmm… it was the part where, nonchalantly, a historian notes that it wasn’t that uncommon in those parts during the pioneer days for siblings to know each other intimately. Say what? Is that why we have laws?

More on Kate:  She had a reputation for dabbling in the occult and went by the professional name of Professor Miss Kate Bender. She claimed to have the ability to cure a wide range of illnesses. Kate worked as a medium who gave lectures in spiritualism and sold good luck charms and love potions. Kate’s work was believed to be the family’s primary income.

May 1871, two boys who were out fishing found a dead body lying face down and half buried by a local creek. He was identified as William Jones,  a stonemason who had gone missing a few weeks earlier. William’s throat was cut, and his skull had been crushed. He had been on his way to a neighboring county to lay a claim for a land tract.  William had been said to have been carrying a hefty sum of money, which was now gone.

(This next clue makes me think it was one of the sensationalized pieces added later.  It was said that locals did find a set of  wagon tracks near the body, in which the rear axle was wider than the front, something that pointed to the Benders.)

January 1872, during a blizzard, a woman named Mrs. Leroy Dick looked out her window to see a wagon struggling in the snow.  She could see there were two men in the driver’s bench, one even getting down to adjust the horse’s equipment within her sight. Mrs. Dick recognized Pa and John Bender, who lived about four miles away. When her husband came back in from the barn, she told them what she saw.  The two were heading away from their homestead during terrible weather, toward the open prairie.

A month later, during thaw, the bodies of two men were found dumped in the prairie. The bodies were less than 20 miles away from where William Jones’s body was found. Their throats were cut, and their skulls had been bashed in.

In the next year, nine men traveling through Labette County by themselves went missing. Eight of them are:

William McCrotty, John Greary, and an elderly bachelor named Johnny Boyle, each carrying about $2-3,000.

Benjamin Brown had just a little cash on him, but he was driving a nice wagon with a healthy team of sorrel horses who had new gear on them.

An Irish laborer, Alonzo Sconce, a man named Jack Boley, and Henry McKenizie were known to have no money on them at the time of their disappearance.

George Longcohr may or may not have had any cash on him.  He was traveling with his infant daughter after his wife had died in child labor.  George was traveling back to live with his parents to help raise her. Before leaving for his parents, George had made a deal with a friend, Dr. William York, to receive a proper wagon for the trip. Not long after George and his daughter left, they ran into a blizzard and took shelter with a widow.  That widow was the last person to see the two of them alive.

Dr. York, who gave the wagon to George Longcohr, ended up being the one to find George’s belongings. Dr. William York had left his home to go and visit his brother Colonel Alexander York at Fort Scott. When the doctor arrived at nearby town, he had heard rumors of a wagon and a team that had been abandoned nearby. The two horses were still attached to the wagon and had nearly starved to death. Dr. York goes to look at the wagon and realizes it is the one George and his daughter had borrowed from him.

Dr. York travels on and stays with his brother, Colonel York.  Dr. York then leaves for home riding a good horse and carrying a lot of money on him. The last person to see Dr. York alive was a shopkeeper that sold him some cigars the day after he left. Dr. York had told the shopkeeper that he planned to stay the night at the Bender Inn.

Colonel York, who would establish a newspaper and later become a US Senator, learns from his sister-in-law that his brother never made it home. Colonel York sets up a search posse and they find their way to the questionable Bender Inn.

John Jr. is outside reading a German bible and says that he does remember the doctor coming but that he left.  John Jr. suggested that maybe a gang of outlaws overtook him. The posse goes to the supposed ambush site and find nothing.

When the posse goes back to the Inn, Kate greets them at the door.  The men in the party had heard about her psychic abilities and ask her if she can help find Dr. York. Unfortunately, she said that there were too many nonbelievers present and the spirits were reluctant to help.  Kate then insists the Colonel come back to the Inn alone and she could help him. Thankfully, he doesn’t come back.  He probably wouldn’t have survived a second visit.

Early the next month, the local men of the county decide to have an emergency meeting.  They have three dead bodies with similar injuries and nine missing men.  It is a dangerous time and a dangerous place, but these numbers were uncommonly high. They’re worried that their community is receiving a bad reputation. The townspeople decided to search every homestead between two areas, which would have included the Bender place. The two Bender men in attendance quietly left the meeting and headed home.

Nearly a week later, about 10 miles from Bender Inn, a man named Charles Nelson found a dilapidated wagon abandoned by its owner. Two starving horses were still hitched to the rear of the vehicle and a Scottish terrier was huddled underneath. The wagon had been damaged from being too heavily loaded. Lying on the wagon bottom was a board with the words GROCRY painted on them in black paint.

Three weeks after the wagon discovery, in the beginning of May, a man named Silas Toles was riding past the Bender Inn when he noticed that it looked abandoned. Silas notified Leroy Dick, who was a trustee in town. (It was Leroy’s wife that had seen the Bender men out in the storm.) Mr. Dick contacts Colonel York and the colonel and a posse arrive.

Everyone goes to the Bender Inn. They found some household items in place, most were gone, but the family had left their German bible behind. Like most bibles in that time, it had the birth and deaths of their family members recorded in the pages. They also had other inscriptions, including dates accompanied by the words “Slagh Day”. It was believed to refer to “slaughter day” or “kill day”.

The Inn itself stunk horribly. The worst of the stench seemed to come from the hatch in the floor that lead to the cellar, right behind the curtain.  When they lifted the hatch up, the smell was so bad, the men had to leave the house. They take down the house.

The cellar’s stone slab floor is covered with blood that was coagulated, and when they broke the floor up there was even more blood underneath. This is where the nasty stench is coming from, rotting blood.

Colonel York then starts to survey the surrounding area and sees what he believes is a grave. Then men walked to a long groove in between the nearby apple trees and start digging.

They’re able to dig up a clump of human hair right away, followed by the naked corpse of a man. The man’s throat has been cut and his skull was crushed. His neck wound was so deep, his head fell off when they tried to pick up the body. The corpse was… Dr. William York, identified by his brother, Colonel York,  at the scene.

The posse, led by Colonel York, get whipped up over the discovery and go after a trading post proprietor that had befriended the Bender family. They hung this man, Rudolph Brockman, three times, almost killing him. This did upset the other half of town, as Brockman was known as a good man.

Side note: At the time, Colonel York’s sadistic behavior was seen out of character, but 23 years later he would be convicted of torturing his 16-year-old daughter to death.

The following day, eight more male bodies were found buried on the property. All the men had crushed skulls and slit throats, while some were castrated. The worst was George Longcohr’s 18-month-old daughter, who was found in her father’s grave.  She had been buried alive.

The Bender Family Serial Killer Procedure went something like this: (we’re guessing)

They would have their male guest come into the “Inn” and sit at the table for dinner, with their back to the sheet. A male Bender would be hiding behind the curtain, waiting for the guest to sit back. Once they did, they’d be hit in the head with a hammer, crushing their skull.

The victim would then be laid back over the cellar door, and have their throats cut, bleeding them out on to the cellar floor, or their body would be thrown in the cellar and someone down there would cut their throat as a finishing move. The Benders would then strip the body of clothes and money and either dump the body or bury it.

The town’s people and parties literally go off into all four directions looking for the Bender family.  The Benders become big news, in all the papers, but despite their notoriety, no one finds them.  They did have a three week start on the search parties and they must have used it well.

There was a $5,000 reward for information leading to their arrest, issued by the governor of Kansas. Colonel York also put up a $1,000 reward of his own. People are being questioned everywhere, and they are locking up potential Benders left and right.

In 1889, 16 years after the discovery of the bodies, a wealthy woman named Frances McCann had a nightmare that she had seen a woman slicing a man’s throat in a cellar. She told her friend, a washerwoman named Sarah Davis, about the nightmare.

Sarah told Frances that it wasn’t a nightmare but a recalled memory.  Frances had been orphaned at an early age, and Sarah (the washerwoman) told Frances that her biological mother was named Elizabeth (Ma Bender) and Sarah was actually Frances’s aunt. Sarah then told Frances a story about how her mother had married a man, making her sister, Kate, jealous. Frances’s jealous aunt, Kate, and her grandmother, Ma, then tripped the man on the cellar steps and then followed him down to cut his throat.

This made Frances believe that her biological grandmother was Ma Bender and Sarah confirmed her ideas.  Shortly after her revelations, Sarah moved to Niles, Michigan. Frances believed that knowing Sarah was a Bender, would lead her to the rest of the Benders.  Frances also believed that Sarah could actually be Kate, not Kate’s sister

Sarah believed that if the police arrested them, she would receive the monetary award and avenge her father’s death. Frances traveled to Michigan after Sarah and channeled her inner private eye. Frances began shadowing Sarah and her mother Almira, and eventually convinced police that they were the Bender women.

Leroy Dick, who is now a special deputy sheriff, pops up in Michigan and takes the two women into custody, bringing them back to Kansas. The whole trial involves two sets of eye witnesses.  One set says they are most certainly the Benders, and the other set says they most certainly are not. There is no evidence.  Just highly unreliable eye witnesses.

Things are not looking good for the two women until court records from Ionia County, MI show up, confirming that Almira was in a corrections facility in Detroit during the time of the murders.  She had been locked up for committing an abortion. The women were then given one-way tickets back to Michigan and the mystery of the Benders was not solved. Sarah is a pathological liar.

Throughout the years there were a ton of stories on people narrowly escaping the Bender’s Inn or of the Bender’s narrowly escaping the posses after them. Several different people claimed to have captured the Benders in the early days of their escape, each saying they buried the bodies in the middle of nowhere after serving justice, never to be found again.

Even Laura Ingalls got in on the story telling.  She said that her Pa went out after being sought out by a posse.  Late the next day, her Pa came back and later, if anyone brought of the possibility of the Benders still being at large, her father would ominously say “They (the Benders) will never be found.”  As if they were killed and buried.

Spoiler Alert:  My first thought was, the Benders had over a three-week head start on Mr. Ingalls.  How did they find, kill, and bury them less than 48 hours later?  They didn’t. Recently scholars were able to figure out that the Benders were found to be serial killers two years after the Ingalls left the prairie and moved to Wisconsin.

Global Warming (Climate Change)

Caid received most of his information from a Joe Rogan podcast that he listened to.

Science paints a grim picture for our future, for what we are on pace for. We are at 1.1 degree Celsius for global warming, according to the United Nations. Two degree Celsius would be catastrophic. The way the temperature is currently rising, we will have four degrees of global warming.  This would be genocide for people living at the Earth’s equator.

People would no longer be able to live on the equator.  It will be too hot. It’s guessed at 130 Fahrenheit  plus humidity.  Also, water level will rise by over 260 feet in the oceans. Mother Nature will mess up both rich and poor people.  Like the wild fires in California. It will hurt poorer people more as they don’t have the same resources.

The weather will also lead to more and worse natural phenomenon. Wild life will be affected.

By 2030 to 2050, it will cost $600 trillion in climate damage.  Natural disasters, failed crops, and medical bills. The global GDP will go down to levels lower than what they were in the depression.

David Keith, from Harvard, tested a carbon removal device at the cost of $100 for each ton of carbon removed from the air. We would need $3 trillion to make our country carbon neutral. We have the tools to fix it, but we would need everyone on the planet to work on the same goal. (Ali thinks we will all die unless Americans can find a way to make money from cleaning up the environment.)

Jenn drops some sad knowledge about recycling not being the best. Google ‘fast fashion’. Jenn also read an article in the New York Post that said global warming is making more people kill themselves. They believe that the abnormal hot temperatures affect mental health. They say 21,000 deaths could occur over the next three years due to global warming.  It didn’t take in account other global factors.

The good news, it is human nature to try to adapt and survive. We may have to go back to siestas.

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