Hell’s Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders, America’s First Serial Killer Family by Susan Jonusas

Not for the faint of heart, this true crime book recounts the tale of the “Bloody Benders,” a family that quietly terrorized the people of Labette County, Kansas in the late 1800’s. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the Bender family, and that’s the main reason people are still utterly fascinated by their story. Their crimes were brutal, devastating, and went unnoticed by almost everyone due to the transient nature of many people during this time period of expansion out West. The fact that to most townspeople the Benders seemed to be odd but respectable members of the community while the bodies piled up beneath the dirt on their homestead is a haunting truth.

This book wasn’t my first introduction to the Benders, but Ms. Jonusas has delivered an extremely detailed account based upon intense research. She makes sure to fill in a lot of gaps and, even where there is no truth to be known, delivers some very compelling theories as to the eventual whereabouts and fate of the Benders. People shouldn’t really expect this to be a true crime book that deeply explores each crime in gory detail. There is some of that, and the murders were obviously quite gruesome. However, blood and gore isn’t really the point of the book, and honestly we really have no idea of knowing just how each murder unfolded or even which members of the Bender family really participated in the actual killing. Frankly, it seemed like Ma Bender was your typical old granny (though creepy) who sat around sleeping in her armchair with her teeth falling out.

The book mostly details the investigation surrounding the murders after the Benders fled as well as witness accounts of people who were familiar with the family while they were residents of Labette County, even some who claimed to have escaped their clutches at the last moment. Overall, I would say this book is quite well-researched and extremely well written. I don’t read a lot of non fiction, and sometimes it can be difficult for non fiction titles to hold my interest. In the case of this one, I pretty much tore through the audiobook at record pace, so that is saying something. I would venture to say that Susan Jonusas has managed to deep dive into a story of which most authors and researchers have generally just scratched the surface. It’s well worth the read if you can handle the information about some seriously disturbing crimes. Also, as a footnote, how creepy and absolutely perfect is that cover?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

About Amy @ A Librarian and Her Books

I'm a law librarian from the state of Missouri and a graduate of Missouri State University and the University of Missouri-Columbia. My real passion is in fiction, which is why I started my blog to share my thoughts with other bibliophiles. I live with my husband and two wonderful children and a collection of furry feline companions.
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