Katie Bender, Witch of the Prairie

While researching folklore that crops up in serial killers’ wake, I found some really interesting stories linking Katie Bender, of the infamous Bender family, to old-school witchcraft.

The Benders, Ma, Pa and Katie and John, arrived in Cherryvale, Kansas, in 1970. The family settled down and built a cabin to be used as an inn close to the main road between Independence and Fort Scott. The family’s origins are shrouded in mystery: Some said the family had been part of a German or Dutch settlement in Pennsylvania, and had been forced to leave after some sort of dispute, another theory went that the family had been part of an Amish community. The family relations were a bit unclear too. Some said that Katie and John were siblings, others man and wife, and some even said they were siblings living as man and wife. Of the four of them, only Katie spoke English fluently and the family as whole spoke to each other in German.

Shortly after their arrival, travelers — mostly men — started to disappear. When as many as a dozen had failed to arrive at their destinations, it was decided that all the farms in the area had to be searched. The Benders, who saw their share of travelers at their makeshift inn, had not been suspected at that point but took the cue and fled. Not long after, neglected animals had people look in on the farm, which seemed deserted, and a persistent, bad smell made them search the premises.

It didn’t take long before they discovered a cellar smeared with blood, and several graves in the apple orchard. The Benders are believed to be responsible for at least a dozen murders — all of them guests at the inn.

Though it’s a fact that stories told after a horrible event are hardly ever objective and sometimes outright lies, it doesn’t make them any less interesting to me. And in this case it’s particularly fascinating to look at the stories that links Katie Bender to witchcraft and sorcery.

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That Strange Little Place in the Mountains

  

If you’re feeling a little burned out, there’s no better place to go to refill the well than Røros — which is just what a friend and I did this summer. It’s not far from home at all, just a few hours’ train ride, but I have rarely been there in summer. Røros is more of a winter place with a huge annual fair in freezing temperatures — an ongoing tradition since 1854.

Røros was founded as a mining town in 1644, when they found copper — and later silver — in the area. The mining was the backbone of the community until the mines closed in 1977. The harsh conditions for the workers has been an inspiration for several works of fiction, the most famous being Johan Fakberget’s three volume series Nattens brød (1940-1959). The movie An-Magritt (1966), starring Liv Ullmann, was based on Falkberget’s books.

The beautiful location high up in the mountains and the 17/18th century architecture has drawn a lot of creative people to Røros, and the town today is a playful cross between a artist colony and a living museum. The considerable number of authentic buildings still standing earned Røros a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1980, and has made it a coveted movie location. The town has in the latter years gained a reputation as a gourmet haven with several local specialties on offer, especially dairy and meat products. In addition, Røros has always had a  considerable Sami population (of which many still keep reindeer herds) adding another cultural layer to the mix.

We weren’t there just for the food though. We were there for the dead soldiers.
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Best News Ever

Last night, while I was already sipping bubbly things at the annual office Christmas party — I got an e-mail with this beautiful gem of a screen cap:

Yup, it’s true. My strange, little novel has found a home with Tor, and I just couldn’t be happier!

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This Year’s Summer Reads

I’m not sure if my summer reads are what most people consider summer reads. I tend not to choose the easy breezy ones — although I often like them when I do. This year’s load of novels is no exception, though, and I’ve gleefully read about about darkness and mayhem through hot, sunny days. Sunscreen and monsters are excellent companions.

These are the ones I liked the most:

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The One Book to Rule Them All

Rereading this one — am looking forward to feeling slightly insane for a while.

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The Dead Next Door

From I was nine to nineteen, I lived on the wooden half of a former island studded with ancient burial mounds. It’s not hard to see why the place has always been inhabited: the soil is rich, there was game in the woods, fresh water and easy access to the sea.

As kids, we didn’t pay much attention to the mounds – we knew what they were, of course, but they were also excellent castles or houses when needed be, especially since the grave robbers of yore had left shallow pits in some of them, digging in to search for gold. To us, these pits became separate rooms and chambers in our woodland castles.

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Some Very Good Reasons to Like Elisabeth of Bavaria

Erzsebet_kiralyne_photo_1867

O loved ones who live in distant times to come
and who now speaks to my soul,
will often be in your company:
will be revived when you read a poem.

Sometimes an odd bird flies into a royal cage. Elisabeth of Bavaria, “Sisi”, (1837 – 1898) was one of them. Strange and out of place, she spent much of her life battling mental illness and a sense of solitude. Although her struggles are well known today, she  still she is revered as the ultimate fairy tale princess: beautiful, mysterious and tragic.

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Cake in Vienna

This week, I was in Vienna.

This is what I saw:

Everything is big in Vienna.

Everything is big in Vienna

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Best reads in 2015

I read a lot last year. Much of it was mediocre, some of it bad, and a few books were shiny, glittering gems.

These are the jewels:

wylding hall

Wylding Hall by Elisabeth Hand

This is my no. 1 read last year, it still haunts me months after I finished – in a good way.

In the free-spirited 70’s a folk band is sent by their manager to Wylding Hall to work on their new album. During their stay they encounter a number of peculiar phenomenons and situations, culminating in the unexplained disappearance of their lead singer, the enigmatic Julian Blake. The story is told through a series of interviews with the remaining band members and acquaintances almost forty years later.

I fell head over heels for the unexplained mystery at the heart of the novel and the fascinating bits of folklore and legends. The ending sent chills down my spine.

Add to that great characters and beautiful writing, and it’s a winner.

Wrens are spooky birds!

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The Worst Guy…

I am quickly approaching 40, falling by every definition into the spinster category: unmarried, unwooed and with my very own cat collection (albeit a small one, counting only two). What does not appear in this picture however, is that I am already in a relationship; long-standing, demanding, at times quite awful, at other times worth it all. I have fallen under the spell of the worst guy of all: THE MUSE!

framed faerie

“But,” people say, “muses are Greek goddesses running across meadows in fluttering garments.” I laugh at them then, loud and shrilling. “No, I say, “Muses can take any shape they want. They are cunning and treacherous and quite possibly lethal. ONE thing is certainly for sure: they WILL take over your life.”

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