The Alligator Man of Elmendorf

The following free article is for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the topic.  

Today, we’re going to journey to the wilds of Texas for the story of the Alligator Man of Elmendorf (AKA Joe Ball).  Hold on tight to your lattes and your little dogs.  This one might scare the holy guacamole right out of you.

Joeseph D. Ball was born in 1896 in Elmendorf, Texas–about 15 miles southeast of San Antonio.  He was the second of eight children.  Joe’s father was a prosperous business owner.

Joe enjoyed outdoor activities and was an expert marksman.  Shortly after World War I began, he enlisted and was shipped off to Europe to fight.  He survived and was honorably discharged in 1919 and came home to Elmendorf.

The only known picture of Joe Ball

Joe worked for his father for a while, but eventually he became a bootlegger.  He hired an African-American man named Clifton Wheeler to do his handyman work.  When Prohibition ended in 1933, opening a saloon seemed like the next step.

Joe named his saloon the Sociable Inn.  The Sociable Inn was located near present-day HWY 181.  Joe felt like he needed a hook to draw patrons to his business.

He did the logical thing.   In back of the bar, Joe had a cement pool built and erected a ten foot fence around it.  Then, he brought in the alligators.  There were five–one big alligator and four small ones.  Joe hosted drunken orgies in which live animals were thrown into the pit.

The Sociable Inn

Joe was known to hire the prettiest girls to waitress at his bar.  None of them stayed long.  Joe always claimed the women were only passing through looking for a quick buck.

In 1934, Joe met Minnie “Big Minnie” Gotthardt of Seguin, Texas.  Big Minnie was greatly disliked by all of Joe’s friends.  Joe didn’t seem to mind her faults, and together they ran the Sociable Inn for three years.

Joe and Minnie’s days as a couple were numbered once Joe fell in love with a younger waitress named Dolores “Buddy” Goodwin.  Joe’s love life was further complicated by the arrival of twenty-two-year-old Hazel “Shatzie” Brown.  Joe struggled to balance the three women in his life.

Big Minnie Gotthardt

Big Minnie disappeared in the summer of 1937, which solved part of Joe’s problem.  When asked what happened to Big Minnie, Joe explained she left town after giving birth to a black baby.  Joe soon married Dolores “Buddy” Goodwin.

To Dolores, Joe confessed he’d taken Minnie to the beach, shot her in the head, and buried her in the sand.  Dolores didn’t take him seriously.

In January of 1938, Dolores was in a car wreck which severed one of her arms.  She disappeared in April of that same year.  Not long after, Hazel “Shatzie” Brown disappeared.

Joe’s female problems might have been over, but his other problems were just beginning.  Big Minnie’s family had begun looking for her.  Another missing woman was traced back to Joe’s employ.  Neighbors voiced suspicions about Joe to the Bexar County Sheriff’s department.

Hazel “Shatzie” Brown

In September of 1938,  Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputies confronted Joe at his bar and told they were taking him to San Antonio for questioning.  Joe asked permission to close the bar, which was granted.

Joe gulped down a beer and pressed the No Sale button on his cash register.  When the drawer opened, he withdrew a revolver and shot himself.  Some reports say he shot himself in the head.  Others say the chest.  Either way, he was dead.

Law Enforcement searched Joe’s property.  They discovered rotting meat in the alligator pen and an axe matted with hair and blood.  Speculation ran rampant.  The only man who might know what Joe did was Clifton Wheeler, Joe’s handyman…and the alligators.

Under interrogation, Clifton confessed that Joe had murdered Hazel “Schatzie” Brown in a jealous rage.  Brown had fallen in love with another man and was planning to leave town with him.

Clifton and Joe disposed of Brown in an area along the San Antonio River about three miles from Elmendorf.  Clifton showed Bexar County Sheriffs the area and dug up the dismembered remains.  The two men had burned Ms. Brown’s head in a campfire.  The charred skull was still sitting in the remains of the campfire.

This hacksaw and posthole digger were used in the disposal of Ms. Brown’s body

Clifton Wheeler then told the Sheriffs Deputies that Joe had murdered Big Minnie Gotthardt in Ingleside–near Corpus Christi.  Big Minnie was pregnant, and Joe didn’t want that to interfere with his other love interests.

Joe drove Big Minnie to the beach and shot her in the temple while she was distracted.  Joe and Clifton buried the body in the sand–just as Joe had confessed to his wife Dolores.  On October 14, 1938, authorities excavated the area and found Minnie’s corpse.

A scrapbook found at the Sociable Inn caused authorities to fear that Joe had murdered a large number of women.  However, none of these photos were ever connected to a murder.  Further, none of the rotting meat in the alligator pool was proven to be human flesh.

Joe’s missing wife, Dolores, was found in California.  She expressed disbelief that Joe was involved in any murders–other than those two, of course.  Two weeks later, another woman reported “missing” from the tavern was found in Phoenix.

Clifton Wheeler served two years in prison for his part in the murders.  When he got out, he tried to open a bar.  Public ridicule drove him from the area, and he was never heard from again.  The only person who knows how many people Joe Ball really murdered isn’t talking.

While researching this story, I ran across a related story about a man named Robert McBride.  Mr. McBride’s mother was Hazel “Schatzie” Brown, one of Joe Ball’s victims.  Click here to read his story and watch an interview with him.

Fun Factoid: Texas filmmaker Tobe Hooper, best known for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, made a lesser known movie that is more based in reality. Hooper’s second film, Eaten Alive, is about a psychotic motel owner who feeds his guests to…alligators. Click here to watch the trailer.

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