• Hell's Half Acre

  • The Untold Story of the Benders, a Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier
  • By: Susan Jonusas
  • Narrated by: Lee Osorio
  • Length: 9 hrs and 16 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (64 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"Rich in historical perspective and graced by novelistic touches, grips the reader from first to last.”—Wall Street Journal

A suspense filled tale of murder on the American frontier—shedding new light on a family of serial killers in Kansas, whose horrifying crimes gripped the attention of a nation still reeling from war.

In 1873 the people of Labette County, Kansas made a grisly discovery. Buried by a trailside cabin beneath an orchard of young apple trees were the remains of countless bodies. Below the cabin itself was a cellar stained with blood. The Benders, the family of four who once resided on the property, were nowhere to be found. The discovery sent the local community and national newspapers into a frenzy that continued for decades, sparking an epic manhunt for the Benders.

The idea that a family of seemingly respectable homesteaders—one among the thousands relocating farther west in search of land and opportunity after the Civil War—were capable of operating "a human slaughter pen" appalled and fascinated the nation. But who the Benders really were, why they committed such a vicious killing spree and whether justice ever caught up to them is a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. Set against the backdrop of postbellum America, Hell’s Half-Acre explores the environment capable of allowing such horrors to take place. Drawing on extensive original archival material, Susan Jonusas introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, many of whom have been previously missing from the story. Among them are the families of the victims, the hapless detectives who lost the trail, and the fugitives that helped the murderers escape.

Hell’s Half-Acre is a journey into the turbulent heart of nineteenth century America, a place where modernity stalks across the landscape, violently displacing existing populations and building new ones. It is a world where folklore can quickly become fact and an entire family of criminals can slip through a community’s fingers, only to reappear in the most unexpected of places.

©2022 Susan Jonusas (P)2022 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about Hell's Half Acre

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Historical FICTION

This is supposed to be history, and it’s not. I can’t even get through the whole thing—I’m only about 25% into it, and the liberties the author has taken with history make it hard to listen to. The Bender story isn’t new and nothing in this book so far is “untold” or a revelation. Perhaps the fact that the author isn’t familiar with Kansas history? It’s just bad. Skip it—there are more factual accounts out there.

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating book for true crime lovers

If you enjoyed THE MAN FROM THE TRAIN, then this book, with crimes that occurred in 19th Century Kansas, will be right up your alley.

1 person found this helpful

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too much politics little story

Stopped reading on chapter 3. Not much story. Too much politics. terrible book. Dont waste your money.

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VERY difficult to listen to

I am by no means a grammar Nazi. I KNOW it's not a grammatical rule but when a narrator or speaker pronounces phrases such as 'the onion'...or 'the object', it is very difficult to listen to what they are saying when they pronounce it as 'thuh onion' or 'thuh object' instead of using 'thee onion' or 'thee object'. I found myself focusing more on the awkward use of grammar than the actual story. I will end up purchasing the book and reading it as i found the story fascinating but the narration horrible.

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Murder Most Foul.. Enduring Through Time

The history of the Bender's has been the talk of lore, myth, and loose facts for more than 100 years. The crimes that were uncovered on the Bender farm not only sparked a massive manhunt, but it showed a darker side to humanity, that anyone could be taken advantage of on the prairie.

In Hell's Half-Acre, Susan Jonusas takes us through the story of the family, the crimes that were committed, and the search that went on for decades for the family that became known as the first serial killer family in America.

Kate Bender was the most well-known of the family, but it was because was the more outgoing, the one who was the more likeable of the family in and around the community, but her easy going ways did not still the rumors that began to swirl about her before the crimes were uncovered. It was her spiritualism side that began the darker rumors, sparking stories and fear among some who had gone through séances in her home, or were being hounded to allow her to conduct a séance to reach a newly departed family member. There were stories of people feeling afraid in the cabin, and more than one fled from the cabin after feeling that something was not right. Fleeing might have just saved their lives.

As the crimes were uncovered, the horror spilled throughout the community. It was not uncommon for people to head west and disappear, but the large number of those who were disappearing around the small area in Kansas started to cause consternation. As more and more bodies were uncovered, anger grew, and a party went off in search of the Bender's. Unfortunately, they had a head start, and were able to disappear into the outlaw gang territories, evading justice.

As I read through this book, it was hard for me to put down. I absolutely LOVED it. There are sections that were harder to read, but the story of the Bender's has been one that has captivated readers time and time again. With their escape, evasion of justice, and the sheer number of crimes (not to mention one was a child), anger and fascination with the family has endured.

For true crime lovers, this is a must read, can't stop reading, oh I have a book hangover volume. Take my word for it - get a copy now.

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Excellent

A wonderfully written piece about a macabre and horrible bit of prairie history. It's a must read/listen.

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Exceeded my expectations

I live very near where the book takes place in Independence, Kansas. The dark side of Kansas history is in sharp contrast to Laura Ingles Little House on the Prairie. The British author is able to be more objective than native sources can be. I highly recommend this book.