Chicago Daily Tribune, October 31, 1889. Your average false arrest of a Bender suspect is a pretty prosaic affair: Some unlucky schmuck or schmuckess is in transit through a hick town, and a random resident of the latter spontaneously decides That’s John Bender! (sometimes senior, sometimes junior) and/or That’s Kate Bender! and/or That’s Almira Bender! An arrest or arrests ensue, and the newspapers triumphantly report that the long-sought criminal or criminals have been arrested at last and for sure this time, and no mistake about it. Often the coverage simply stops there until the next round, though sometimes there’s a sheepish follow-up item to the effect that, uh, perhaps the rock-solid Bender identification had been a bit premature after all. This one, however, is a bit more complicated.
I can’t imagine that respectable life MacPherson County, Kansas, in 1889 was exactly a thrill ride. On these grounds, I’m willing to cut Mrs. Frances E. McCann a tiny bit of slack for her readiness to welcome a bit of Gothic romance into her life.
Oh: I guess I should clarify the dramatis personae here: “Old Mrs. Bender” = Almira Bender, wife of John Sr. and mother of Kate Bender.
The question arises at this point as to who the primary nutcase in this story is: Mrs. McCann or Eliza Davis, the accused Kate Bender. Possibly McCann is making all of this shit up, but I don’t think so. I think she was suggestible soul who shared a bad dream with the wrong person. In which case we’re looking at something that anticipates the whole recovered memory tsuris of the 1990s. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Yeah, so: 1) That was no dream. 2) I’m your aunt. 3) Your other two aunts and your grandmother murdered your father. Well, that all seems pretty straightforward.
It would help here to know something here about Mrs. McCann’s family background, to help account for the fact that she had all of these blanks for Eliza Davis to fill in. I guess she was an orphan? So ostensibly this Davis is a confabulating nutcase with a grudge against Mrs. Monroe (who, it is indicated below, may have actually been Davis’s stepmother), and who got in over her head in telling all of this rubbish to Mrs. McCann, who bent Davis’s dramatic narrative in the direction of the Bender legend. That would account for Davis’s sudden refusal “to talk any further”: She might have suddenly realized that she wasn’t not in Kansas anymore, and that the improvised family history she was feeding McCann might get her, Davis, into some serious trouble. But then Davis (who aptly shares a last name with one of the co-authors of The Courage to Heal) subsequently seems to have decided that the Bender angle was something she could work with after all. Perhaps she concluded that tapping into the Bender mystique offered her the best chance she had of intimidating McCann into silence. Or maybe her motives were less pragmatic than that: She might have simply embraced the Bender role because of the added drama it offered.
And speaking of hunger for drama, how awesome is it that McCann went up to Michigan to “gather proofs”? You go, girl. A circulated tintype: that is some serious CSI shit. Also, it was known that a man once disappeared from Dowagiac–a stellar piece of corroboration. I’ve got no idea who this Mrs. Sarah Davis is, but I have to sympathize with the aged Mrs. Monroe and salute her for remaining “an adept witness” under what must have been stressful conditions. Sure, she’d had seven husbands, but let’s give credit where it’s due.
To be continued.