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8 Very Hairy People

Hypertrichosis is a rare genetic condition that results in extreme hairiness. It is sometimes referred to as "werewolf syndrome". Only about 50 cases in history have been documented. There is some speculation that Esau, son of Isaac and twin brother of Jacob, may have had hypertrichosis. He was described in the Old Testament as born covered in red hair, and was referred to as a hairy man by his brother as an adult. Here are several more cases.

Petrus Gonzales

Petrus Gonzales was born in the Canary Islands around 1556 and taken to be presented to French King Henri II due to his unusual appearance. As a member of the court, he was educated and showed great intelligence. He married and produced five hairy children, three daughters and two sons. A grandchild was also reported with hypertrichosis, and possibly more descendants were affected.

Julia Pastrana

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Julia Pastrana was born in Mexico in 1834 with hypertrichosis terminalis, meaning her entire body was covered with hair several inches long. She also had a deformed mouth with huge teeth, leading one doctor of the day to declare that she was "˜a hybrid between human and orangutan'. Pastrana was only four and a half feet tall but had a womanly figure. She began a career in freak shows at age 20, and was "managed" by several other handlers before she met exhibitor Theodor Lent, who eventually married her. At venues all over Europe, she was billed as part human, part animal but charmed audiences with her intelligence and grace. Pastrana spoke three languages and sang and danced on stage. At age 26, Pastrana gave birth in Moscow to a son who was also covered with hair, and who died within two days. Julia herself died five days later. Pastrana's body was traded around for exhibit and is profiled in the post 6 Restless Corpses.

Shaolin Grand Master Tai Djin

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Tai Djin was born in Fukien, China in 1849. His parents, not knowing what caused their baby's hairiness, abandoned him in a forest. Tai was found by a monk who took him to the Shaolin Temple where he was cared for by the Shaolin Masters. Tai grew up to be highly educated, knowing he wouldn't have much of a life outside the temple. He threw himself into learning martial arts -not just one discipline, but all of them! Tai achieved the title of Grand Master and is known from that point on as Su Kong Tai Djin. He was revered by his many students until (and even after) his death in 1928.

Fedor Jeftichew

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Fedor Jeftichew was billed as Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy. He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1868 to a father, Adrian Jeftichew who also had hypertrichosis. The father and son appeared in sideshows together until P.T. Barnum brought the younger Jeftichew to the US in 1894. The sideshow story was that Jo-Jo was raised in the wild and captured by hunters. Although Fedor could speak three languages, he played his part and barked for the audience. In his time, Jeftichew was one of the highest-paid sideshow attractions in the world. He died in Turkey in 1904.

Stephan Bibrowski

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Lionel, the Lion-faced Man was born Stephan Bibrowski in Poland in 1891. Rejected by his mother as an "abomination", he was taken in by a German sideshow exhibitor when he was four years old. Bibrowski was a very intelligent man who spoke five languages and once aspired to become a dentist. His side show act included gymnastic tricks. Bibrowski appeared with Barnum and Bailey's Circus in the early part of the century, and at Dreamland Circus in Coney Island in the 1920s. He moved to Germany upon retiring from show business, and died of a heart attack in 1932. He was only 40 years old.

Percilla Bejano

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Percilla Lauther Bejano was born in 1911 in Puerto Rico, the only one of five children to be born with excessive hair. Her mother consulted with doctors, but could find no treatment for her. Percilla was adopted by exhibitor Karl L. Lauther after her own father was killed and she toured with the Johnny J. Jones Exposition. She was educated and articulate, and sang and danced in her exhibit. Percilla fell in love with another sideshow exhibit named Emmitt Bejano, who suffered from ichthyosis and was billed as the Alligator-Skinned Man. The two married in 1938 and remained madly in love until Emmitt's death in 1995. They were billed as "The World's Strangest Married Couple" when they toured with Ringling Brothers. Percilla and Emmitt appeared in the 1980 film Carny. Percilla was introduced to a new generation of admirers when she appeared clean shaven on The Jerry Springer Show in 1997. Percilla passed away in 2001 at age 89.

The Ramos Gomez Brothers

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Larry and Danny Ramos Gomez are brothers born in Mexico, both with hypertrichosis. They were exhibited in a sideshow from infancy. They later joined a circus and learned to perform as magicians, acrobats, and trapeze artists. Their siblings and about 20 members of the extended family are affected by hypertrichosis. Danny's daughter is affected, but Larry's son is not. A production company is working on a reality TV show featuring Larry Ramos Gomez, who is divorced, in which he will look for a new love.
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Times have changed, although there is still no cure for hypertrichosis. Pruthviraj Patil of India and Supatra Sasuphan of Thailand are accepted by their peers despite their hairy appearance, and hope to live normal lives with everyday occupations. Other stories of hairy people include Barbara Urslerin, Shwe-Maong of Burma, and Alice Dougherty the Minnesota Wooly Baby, among others.

See also: Coney Island Freaks of Yesterday and Today

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Food
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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