"Butcher of Elmendorf"
Only Known Photo
His name was Joseph D. Ball, but was perhaps better known as the “Butcher of Elmendorf,”“Bluebeard of South Texas” or the “Alligator Man.”Joe was Frank and Elizabeth Ball’s second child, born on Jan. 7, 1896 in Elemendorf, Texas, a small town near San Antonio. It is said he murdered at least 20 women during the 1930s.
Tobe Hooper's second movie, Eaten Alive, is widely believed to be based on portions of Joe’s life. The film is about a Texas hotel owner who feeds his guests to an alligator kept behind the hotel.
They say hind sight is 20/20 and many who looked back on Joe’s life began seeing telltale signs he was not like other children. He was a loner, introverted and mostly kept to himself. Then there was his obsession with guns. As he entered his teen years Joe spent hours practicing and honing his skills. Joe’s nephew, Bucky Ball, was quoted as saying, “My uncle could shoot a bird off a telephone line with a pistol from the bumper of his Model A Ford."
Years later, after a stint on the front lines in Europe during World War I Joe returned home and took up bootlegging, selling whisky out of his Model A Ford. When Prohibition ended in the mid-20s it put a dent in his bootlegging business, so he went legit and opened a saloon called the Sociable Inn. It was located just outside of town along what is now Highway 181. There was a bar, piano and a room where customers drank and had cockfights.
In the back there was also a pond with a 10 foot high fence where he kept five alligators which he used as a gimmick to attract customers. It worked, as people eagerly plopped their cash down to watch them during feeding time. Joe fed them mostly stray animals and live cats and dogs that were apparently homeless.
While most customers managed to get along with the proprietor, they also sensed something deeply disturbing about him and definitely someone not to be crossed. To help with the business Joe hired a young handyman named Clifton Wheeler. Wheeler, an African American, soon found himself doing most of the work. Some said Wheeler was deathly afraid of Joe, especially when he had been drinking. Joe would shoot at Wheeler's feet, making him dance.
Joe only hired the youngest, prettiest girls which also helped make his saloon a popular place. Oddly enough none ever seemed to stay for long. Joe explained it away as they were simply drifters who had needed a little quick cash.
In 1934, Joe met Minnie Gotthardt. Most called her “Big Minnie.” Despite the fact Joe’s patrons disliked her with a passion the two became an item and began running the bar together. Their relationship became rocky about 3 years later when a younger waitress, Dolores "Buddy" Goodwin caught Joe’s fancy. Dolores was in love with Joe, even though he had once thrown a bottle at her leaving a scar from her eye to her neck.
Then in 1937, beautiful 22-year-old Hazel Schatzie Brown was hired and Joe immediately fell for her. Joe now had a big problem…trying to balance three women. However, that summer, Big Minnie mysteriously disappeared.
Minnie’s friends and family soon began inquiring as to her whereabouts. Joe said he didn’t know, but she had left town after giving birth to a black child. Shortly afterwards, Joe and Dolores were married. Joe later confided to Delores, Minnie had not left town. He had taken her to a beach, shot her in the head and then buried her there. But Delores didn’t believe him.
Dolores suffered a near fatal car accident in January 1938. The incident required the amputation of her left arm. Rumors quickly spread it was lost to one of Joe’s alligators. Regardless, Dolores mysteriously vanished in April. Shortly afterwards Hazel also disappeared.
With so many women disappearing around Joe’s saloon the town began wondering if his beloved alligators might have been involved. It was rumored on one occasion, a neighbor complained about the smell of rotting flesh. Joe pulled out a gun and told the man to mind his own business. The neighbor reportedly moved out of town.
Joe's help kept disappearing, but it didn’t seem to affect business…until mid-1938, when Minnie’s family began asking questions again. She was still missing so they asked for help from the Bexar County Sheriff’s office. However, lacking any solid evidence Joe was dismissed as a suspect.
A few months later another young woman, 23-year-old Julia Turner, also turned up missing. She had also worked at the saloon. Sheriff’s deputies again visited Joe who claimed she was having personal problems and had moved on. Later, authorities searched Julia’s home and discovered her clothes and personal belongings still remained. Investigators questioned Joe again who this time “conveniently” remembered he had lent her $500 because she wanted to return home.
During the next few months, two more employees were added to the growing list of mysterious disappearances. However, with no hard evidence Joe could not be charged.
But, on September 23, 1938, things began to change. A man came forward saying he had seen Joe feed human meat to his alligators. Additionally, another person told about a foul-smelling barrel Joe had left behind his sister's barn. The following morning, deputies went to investigate, but the barrel was not to be found. But, Joe’s sister verified Joe had indeed left a barrel. The deputies decided to pay Joe another visit.
When they arrived at Joe’s saloon, he was told he was being taken in for questioning. Joe calmly walked over to the cash register where he kept a .45 caliber revolver. Accounts differ as to whether Joe pointed the gun at his heart or his head. In any event he pulled the trigger and fell dead.
Joe’s saloon was searched from top to bottom of Joe's bar. They found rotting meat around the gator pond and an ax matted with dried blood and hair. Naturally it was assumed Joe had chopped up his victims and fed them to his alligators.
Investigators knew Joe's handyman, Clifton Wheeler, was probably the only person who could shed light on the case. At first, Wheeler denied having any knowledge of the missing women, but later recanted and told what he knew. He explained Hazel Brown, had fallen in love with another man and Joe had killed her for it. Wheeler took investigators to an isolated spot, where they dug up the headless, dismembered corpse of Hazel. When asked where the head was, Wheeler pointed to a campfire where Joe had incinerated it.
Wheeler also said Joe had murdered Big Minnie because she had gotten pregnant and that would have interfered with his relationship with Delores. On October 14, 1938, Minnie’s partially decomposed remains were found buried at the beach.
Surprisingly, investigators located Dolores in California. Two weeks later, another one of the women previously listed as "missing" from the tavern was found in Phoenix. Investigators never found any human remains in Joe’s alligator pond.
Many say that’s only because he was smart enough to clean up afterwards.