Mrs. John Bender, fifty-five, like her husband, was slow-moving, a stolid German folk with a decided accent. She was stooped and heavy set, so much so that she looked almost unhealthy. Ma Bender had iron gray hair, ragged at the ends and thin over the temples. Her heavy-lidded eyes were steel-gray (blue) and hard. The light that came from them was sinister and forbidding. She was very unfriendly with a vicious disposition. and her  neighbors called her a she-devil. "If we thought Mr. Bender was an ugly cuss, she's no improvement." She was very healthy and her physical form seemed to lift itself up when the spiritual influences took possession of it. She become not only gigantic in height, but supernatural as well.

Like Kate, she was a spiritualist or medium. At times she dealt in incarnations and the boiling of herbs and roots that had charms and spells about them. Her will was indomitable. The men of the household feared her, dreaded her, obeyed her, and did the devil's work for her, beyond all the atrocious devil's work ever done in Kansas. She spoke broken English as well as German, but was not talkative.

Ma Bender, born Almira Meik in the Adirondaks, was actually Almira Griffith, who married George Griffith when she was barely a teen-ager and bore him a dozen children. George dropped dead one day when youngest was born. According to the records, he had "a bad place on his head", like the dent of a hammer. Ma Bender had several husbands, is said to have murdered at least 3 of her older children so they could not testify against her about the deaths of her husbands..

The four Bender family sketches presented in this photo section are from Ma and Kate’s defense lawyer John Towner James’ 1913 book The Benders in Kansas. They are the only known source for true Bender likeness while they lived in southeast Kansas. The sketches lean toward the more genteel side of the Benders as Attorney James would like all to believe.  © 2005 Wayne Hallowell