11 Legendary Monsters of Asia

Every country has eerie tales of monsters from hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago. There are many such stories from Asia; here are a few of those monsters you might want to tell the kids about the next time you have a campfire on a dark and spooky night.

1. Penanggalan

The Penanggalan is a Malaysian vampire-type monster, who separates at the neck and flies with her entrails dragging behind her. During the day she appears as a regular woman, but her head flies off at night so she can flit around terrifying people, and supposedly eating newborn babies. Rituals for protection against the monster (or just luck) are used for pregnant women or when a new baby is born. The Penanggalan smells of vinegar, because she must clean her dangling entrails with it and stuff them back into her body through the neck by morning. How did she get that way? Legends vary, but she supposedly was a normal woman until someone startled her so badly that her head popped off. The monster is called by other names, such as Hantu Penanggal, Leyak, or Krasue, in other Southeast Asian countries. Image by Xavier Romero-Frias.

2. Mongolian Death Worm

The Mongolilan Death Worm (Allghoi khorkhoi) is two to five feet long and spits acid at anyone who crosses its path. At least that's what the locals in Mongolia's Gobi Desert tell outsiders who visit. The worm resembles a cow's intestines but is red. If you touch it, or if it spits at you, instant death follows, which probably explains why there are no photographs. Although most consider it legendary, a couple of journalists went to Mongolia to find evidence of whatever it was that engendered the story of the Mongolian Death Worm. Image by Pieter Dirkx.

3. Namahage

Namahage in Noshiro

The Namahage are Japanese ogres who, legend says, once terrorized the countryside if they weren't placated with bribes of food and, once a year, a young woman. The legend survives in a ritual that takes place in Japan on New Year's Eve, when people dressed in masks as Namahage go door-to-door, threatening the lazy, and scaring children into hard work and good behavior. Photograph by Flickr user ChrisSteph LewisBoegeman.

4. Kappa

The Kappa lives in the rivers and waterways of Japan. It is bigger than a turtle, but has a turtle shell, or maybe scaly skin like a fish, or sometimes fur. The Kappa is said to be able to walk upright like a human, and it always has a depression in its skull where it keeps water, which is the source of its power. The Kappa comes out of the water to enchant children and lure them into the river where it can eat them. This story is often told to children to scare them from getting too close to the water. According to this old print, a good fart will repel them.

5. Almasty

The Almasty roams the Caucasus mountains of central Asia. Dr. Marie-Jeanne Koffmann collected over 500 accounts of Almasty sightings in many different languages throughout the Caucasus region, with virtually the same description:

“The Almastys are like people; they have arms and legs like people, except that they are covered with hair. The hair is like that of a bear, and dark. I always saw them without clothing . . . they do not know how to speak; they only mumble or bellow. They are not afraid of people, only of dogs. They run very fast.”

The picture above is a sketch made right after a 1955 sighting by a member of a Russian geological expedition. An animal of the same description is called Almas in Mongolia.

6. Nue

The Nue is a Japanese chimera described with the body parts of different animals all in one being, though exact combinations vary. A legend from the year 1153 says:

Emperor Konoe begins having terrible nightmares every night, to the point that he falls ill, and it seems that the source is a dark cloud that appears on the palace roof every night at two in the morning. The problem is eventually solved by Yorimasu Minamoto, who stakes out the roof one night and fires an arrow into the cloud, out of which falls a dead Nue. Yorimasu then takes the body and sinks it into the Sea of Japan.

7. Vetala

Some of the world’s oldest tales of vampires come from India, where ancient Hindu stories were taken to other nations by traders and nomads. Among these beings are the Vetala, who are dead but not at rest because the proper funeral rites were not performed for them. They are also described as evil spirits that occupy corpses. A Vetal (singular) has uncanny knowledge of the past, present, and future which it uses to confound humans, although they sometimes become guards or helpers to sorcerers who enslave them. Vetala live in cemeteries, but wander afield to kill children and livestock. You may recognize a Vetal because the corpse’s hands and feet are turned backwards.

8. Phaya Naga

The Phaya Naga is a Laotian dragon that lives in the Mekong River. It is also known in Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam. The Naga is a benign deity that protects the city of Vientiane. Naga Fireballs are said to be produced by the dragon, but are actually thought to be the product of fermentation below the surface of the water.

9. Tikbalang

The Tikbalang is the demon horse of the Philippines. This monster has the head and feet of a horse with very long limbs, and the body of a human so it walks upright. They roam the forests and occasionally rape women and leave them pregnant with Tikbalang babies. Image by DeviantArt member frigga.

10. Manticore

The Manticore is a man-eating chimera with the body of a lion and a human head. The legend of the Manticore arises from the Middle East. The Persians just called it "man-eater," and the name Manticore is a Romanized version.

11. Manananggal

The Manananggal of the Philippines has some features of the Penanggalan. This vampire is an old but attractive woman who preys on pregnant women and uses her tongue to suck the blood of their unborn babies. A child born with a deformed face is said to have been a victim. The Manananggal travels by separating at the waist. Her top half flies with bat wings while her bottom half remains behind. If you find the bottom half, you can destroy the manananggal by covering it with salt, garlic, or ashes. Image by DeviantART member mrrogers4566.

Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.

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8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
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You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

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