Ms. Jonusas...traveled 'all over America' to research these events: visiting historical-society archives, combing through boxes of government records, scrolling through century-and-a-half-old newspapers, examining the testimony of long-dead lawmen and outlaws. Her efforts bring the frontier setting into sharp focus ... The diligent Ms. Jonusas discovered several further leads in official archives and correspondence, enough to transform Hell’s Half-Acre, at this halfway point, from a gothic popular history into a Wild West chase full of extraordinary developments ... Susan Jonusas’s debut, rich in historical perspective and graced by novelistic touches, grips the reader from first to last ... With the appearance of Hell’s Half-Acre, we probably know as much about this murderous clan as we ever will.
Jonusas paints a vivid picture of nineteenth-century Kansas, bringing the affected area and its citizens to life ... Fans of true crime will be just as enthralled with the tale of the Benders’ crimes as were initial readers of the sensational tale, which spread far and wide in nineteenth-century newspapers.
Jonusas places the story of the Benders in the context of Kansas’s turbulent history. Additionally, she discusses the sensationalist media coverage of the case as well as its impact in the present day ... A fascinating look at a case that still captures the imagination. Fans of historical true crime will be pleased.
Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, historian Jonusas debuts with an impressive and deeply unsettling account of the Benders ... Radiant prose...enhances the page-turning narrative. The combination of true crime and a vivid depiction of frontier life earn this a spot on the shelf.
A spirited, occasionally plodding account ... The dramatic tensions in her story sometimes go slack when she cuts away for historical disquisitions. Nonetheless, she ably captures the dangers involved in the westward trek that so many of the Benders’ victims did not live to see through ... The narrative holds up until the author recounts how the Benders disappeared when the law began to close in; her extended theorizing about what happened to them goes too long. Still, it’s a story that, grisly and unsolved, fascinates on its own merits ... A smart though bumpy melding of frontier history and true crime.