All The Blood We Share
reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo
“I wonder if female serial killers haven’t been studied extensively because at the end of the day, in our heart of hearts, we don’t consider them worthy antagonists.”
― Tori Telfer, Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History
Kate Bender is a beautiful redhead with a winning smile, a beautiful laughter and a talented con-artist. She is also a serial killer, having killed, with her family, 14 people in the early 1870s. The Benders were a family of serial killers who lived and operated in Labette County, Kansas, United States, from May 1871 to December 1872. The family comprised John Bender, his wife Elvira and John’s son, John Jr. and daughter Kate.
All The Blood We Share is a somewhat fictional account of the Benders and it is a dark and disturbing story. The kind of story that appears in your nightmares right after finishing it. This family is truly evil.
The Benders have moved to Kansas after Kate became involved with a married man, whom she eventually murdered, and they were shunned from the town. When Kate and her mother arrive in Kansas, they are originally disappointed by the house her father and brother have built. It is small, dirty and dusty compared to the wonderful farm house they have just come from. But then they get the idea to turn it into a general store and Inn to make money, somewhere travelers can stop and get a hot meal and perhaps take a rest. But when the first traveler is killed, Kate can almost taste the blood. She has also started a side job as a medium and begins making a name for herself in the small town of Cherryvale. She is, after all, a con artist, and an excellent one.
William Bender, Kate’s father, believes wholeheartedly that she can talk to angels. The angels will tell her who is hiding money when they come for a meal, and who has not a cent on him. Speaking of angels, when Kate gives the word, John and William attack those wealthy visitors to steal their money and Kate grabs her knife to finish the business her family started. Elvira, Kate’s mother, raised her as a thief, sending her out at a young age to flirt with older men and then pickpocket them. Even John, her step-brother, is obsessed with Kate, and his jealousy knows no bounds. When Kate becomes engaged to the local shopkeeper, John beats him within an inch of his life and he never sees Kate again.
Camilla Bruce is an amazing storyteller. She has taken the true story of the Benders and fictionalized it so we can relate to the characters. She admits she has fabricated some of it, including adding a couple of people, who did not exist. But it doesn’t take away from this absolutely insane and chilling recap of those 18 months in a small town in Kansas. The author’s forte seems to be female murderers in American history and she has done an amazing job with this one.
All the Blood We Share is told from the perspective of Hanson, a young boy living with Kate’s fiance in the local general store, Elvira, Kate’s Mother, and Kate, whom the book focuses on. One of the most chilling pieces of this fantastic book is the Benders disappeared one day without a trace, and to this day, no one knows what happened to him. Once the townspeople become suspicious of the Benders, they go out to their farm and realize they have abandoned it for weeks. The animals are starving, if not dead and there is no sign of them. There are theories they were murdered, buried alive, or they just started over under alternative names, but no one knows for sure. Again, this book is dark and the feeling of uneasiness stays with you long after you put the book down.