Joe Ball: The Butcher of Elmendorf
Written By: JEH
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Joseph Douglas “Joe” Ball was an American murderer and suspected serial killer known as the “Butcher of Elmendorf”. Sometimes people also referred to him as “The Alligator Man” and the “Bluebeard of South Texas”. Joe Ball is known to have killed two women, but people believe that he murdered as many as 20 women in the 1930s. To dispose of the body of his victims, he is said to have fed them to alligators.
What Was the Childhood of Joe Ball Like?
Joseph Douglas “Joe” Ball was born January 5th, 1896, the 2nd of 8 children born to Elizabeth Lawler Ball and Frank X. Ball. The Ball family was one of the founding families of Elmendorf, with Frank building the first cotton gin in the town. As per reports, the reputable family also invested in real estate and owned several successful businesses.
Little is known about Joe Ball’s childhood other than the success story of his family and few testimonials. However, there’s one thing their relatives agreed on: Joe Ball was a loner. According to Joe Ball’s relatives, he preferred more solitary pass times and took a particular liking to guns. Their relatives also claimed that Joe Ball proved to be an excellent marksman, capable of shooting a bird off a telephone line.
Joe Ball and the First World War
As Joe grew into adulthood, he helped his father manage the family businesses. But on April 6, 1917, after the United States formally declared war against Germany, Joe Ball enlisted. Then, he was shipped off to the front lines in Europe. There is no surviving documentation of his experiences during the war, but he survived and was honorably discharged in 1919.
Upon returning home Joe continued to work for his father. However, it took a couple of years for Joe to adjust to civilian life and he subsequently quit working for his father. Determined to achieve more, Joe became a bootlegger following the demand for illegal whiskey and beer. As prohibition came to a close around the end of 1933, Joe took some of his savings and built the “Sociable Inn” in Elmendorf.
The Inn and the Alligators
The “Sociable Inn” was built with 2 rooms in the rear and the bar housed in the front with a player piano. The inn also had a large cement pool in the back, where he kept five alligators, enclosed in a 10-foot high fence. Joe claimed that he caught the alligators, one large and four small, himself. According to his frequent visitors, Joe would charge admission, and people would watch as he fed living creatures, including puppies and kittens, to his alligators.
In 1934, Joe fell for the beauty of one of his waitresses at the bar. 25-year-old Minnie Mae Gotthardt, a Seguin native, became Joe’s lover despite his friends’ disapproval. Together, they successfully ran the inn until Joe fell for a younger waitress, 25-year-old Dolores “Buddy” Goodwin. Aware of the affair, a pregnant Minnie wrote Joe a letter threatening him. By the end of the summer of 1937, Minnie was missing but Joe claimed that she ran away with a lover in Corpus Christie.
While it was true that Minnie was in Corpus Christie, she was not there to enjoy a new life with a lover. Instead, she was found buried 13 feet below the sand, nude, and with a bullet hole in her head.
A Deadly Love Triangle
Three months after Minnie’s disappearance, Joe and Dolores got married. However, this did not stop Joe from dating a much younger waitress, 21-year-old Hazel “Schatzie” Brown. Months later, Dolores allegedly lost her left arm in a car accident before disappearing in January 1938.
Hazel later met a man and told Joe that their relationship was over. When Joe refused to end the relationship, Hazel threatened to tell everyone about the fates of his wives. Days later, Hazel also ended up missing.
The Missing Victims
Minnie’s family began to look for answers after her sudden disappearance and sought the help of the police. Deputies questioned Joe, who gave the same story about her running off with another man. Shortly after the questioning about Minnie’s disappearance, the deputies returned to look for answers about Joe’s missing part-time barmaid, 23-year-old Julia Turner. With no evidence of any wrongdoing, Joe was once again free to go.
Within the next few months, 2 more employees and a local boy who frequented the inn were all reported missing. The deputies were convinced that Joe had something to hide, but without physical evidence, they could not press charges. Weeks later, a witness finally approached the police with information that would blow the case wide open.
The End of Joe Ball
John Gray and John Klevenhagen went to the bar and investigated the claims of the witness that revealed the existence of a suspicious barrel. The investigators then invited Joe for further questioning, but he had already fired one bullet directly into his own heart.
With Joe’s suicide, law enforcement descended upon the Inn and discovered rotting meat and a blood-soaked axe. Joe’s handyman, Clifton Wheeler, immediately told investigators about Hazel’s fate. According to him, Joe murdered Hazel and dismembered her on the San Antonio River. Threatened, Clifton hesitantly assisted Joe to bury Hazel’s limbs and torso and watched her head burnt to ash. It was also Clifton who located the remains of Minnie and the unborn child.
After further investigation, officers were able to find other “missing employees” alive and well. They also confirmed that Dolores was alive and had taken off to California.
Did Joe Ball Feed Victims to Alligators?
Joe Ball’s infamy has bred so many tell-tales and pulp crime stories that it has become difficult to untangle historic facts from campfire tales. As of today, there has never been any firm evidence that the alligators actually ate any of his victims.
Joe Ball in Popular Culture
The story of Joe Ball inspired the film Eaten Alive by Tobe Hoope. Also, Season 8, Episode 5 of “Bones”, titled, “The Method and the Madness”, referenced Ball.
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