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A murderous clan is the focus of Susan Jonusas' latest book "Hell's Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders, a Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier." The Benders terrorized Kansas in the early 1870s — although their bloody crimes weren't discovered until after the family of four vanished from their small town. Then, the locals discovered a burial ground of murder victims right by the Bender home. The book, which was Oxygen Book Club's March pick, dives into who the Benders really were, the extent of their murders, and where they may have gone.
Once you've finished reading the book yourself, consider examining these discussion questions with your friends:
1. Were you familiar with the Benders before reading this book?
2. How do you think frontier culture and post-Civil War attitudes allowed the Benders to get away with their crimes?
3. Detectives soon lost the Benders' trail. What do you think were the biggest mistakes made in the investigation at the time?
4. Did you ever feel any sympathy for any member of the Benders? Or do you think they were all equally responsible?
5. True crime media sometimes struggles to balance portraying the victims' lives and the hunt for the killer. Did you feel the book gave you insight into who the victims were?
6. What detail of the Benders' crime spree did you find the most shocking or likely to stay with you?
7. Jonusas pulls heavily from original archival material to craft the book. What original material, if any, would you have wanted to read for yourself?
8. Did the Benders' crimes remind you of any famous killers, in real life or fiction, today?
9. If this book was turned into a film, who would you cast to play each character?
10. What theory do you think is the most likely one when it comes to where the Benders ended up?
And if you have more thoughts let us know! Use the hashtag #oxygenbookclub to keep the discussion going on social media.
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