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'Hell's Half-Acre' Author On Serial Killer Family Theories, The Book Becoming A Movie, And More

 Susan Jonusas describes what kind of victims the Benders preyed on and theorizes about whether they were really related in an interview about her new book “Hell’s Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders a Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier."

By Becca van Sambeck

Oxygen Book Club highlights books in the crime sphere each month and features exclusive interviews, guided discussions, and more.

What's more chilling than a serial killer? A whole family of them.

In March, Oxygen Book Club read “Hell’s Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders a Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier" by Susan Jonasus. The non-fiction read dives into the Benders, a family running a "human slaughter pen" in 1870s Kansas. Their carnage was discovered after the family of four (including John, wife Elvira, son John Jr., and daughter Kate) went missing. Their cellar had been left bloody and bodies were found under an apple orchard near their farm.

In the book, Jonasus focuses on exploring who the Benders were, who they killed and why, and what eventually happened to them. It makes for a gripping historical read with plenty of twists and turns. To learn more, Oxygen digital correspondent Stephanie Gomulka spoke with Jonasus.

"The Benders primarily targeted men traveling alone ... there wasn't a sexual element [to the killings]. They felt very about acquisition of property and wealth," Jonasus explained while describing the Benders' victims.

One theory described in the book is that the Benders weren't even related. Jonusas gave her take on it, noting that it's frustrating because archival sources suggest there are photos that exist of the Benders, but no such photos have been confirmed — "the photos could be sitting in an antique shop somewhere and we won't know it's them," she mused.

"My personal feeling are Ma and Pa were probably married or at least common-law married and Kate was probably Ma's daughter but John Jr. was her husband. I think just they way they interacted with each other suggests a lot more they were a couple than brother and sister," Jonusas said.

In an exciting twist, the book will soon be translated on screen.

"It was optioned by New Regency and they're extremely excited about it and I'm excited about working for them. They're looking for writers I think. Fingers crossed ... that was part of what drew me to it as well because it's such an evocative story. You can see the cabin and the landscape and that glow and people turning up for help and never being seen again," she said.

For more on Gomulka's interview with Jonusas, watch the video above.

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