Joe Ball was born on January 7th 1896, in Elmendorf, Bexar County, Texas. Joe one of eight children was a quiet boy rarely mixing with the other kids. As he grew older a fascination with guns developed and he would spend many hours at target practice.
An America in Prohibition soon turned Joe towards bootlegging, selling illegal whisky to the locals. During this time he had built a reputation as somebody not to cross. When Prohibition ended Joe purchased a strip of land on Highway 181 and built his own bar, naming it “The Sociable Inn”.
Joe decided the bar needed a gimmick and so he caught and housed five alligators in his back yard. Kept in a specially built concrete pool with a 10 foot fence this soon became an attraction for the patrons. Reportedly Saturday nights became a drunken orgy as Joe would put on a live show feeding meat and live animals to the Alligators.
Around this time many locals noticed the high turn over of staff at the bar. Waitresses would simply vanish over night. Also during this period Joe’s second and third wives also appeared to vanish.
It was only in 1937 when the family of Minnie Gotthardt aged 22 went to the authorities about their missing daughter that police started to take things more seriously. Minnie had been running the bar for three years with Joe before she disappeared. Joe told friends that she had left town after giving birth to an illegitimate child.
On September 23rd 1938 the game was up. An old neighbour came forward and reported to police that he had witnessed Ball feeding human limbs to the Alligators. Deputies John Gray and John Klevenhagen went to the bar and informed Joe they were taking him to San Antonio for questioning. Realising his time was up, Joe reached for the cash register, Hit the “No Sale” button and pulled out a .45 gun. Aiming it at his chest he pulled the trigger. The bullet went straight through his heart killing him instantly.
Investigators were soon swarming over the land around the bar, and discovered rotting meat and a bloodied axe. They decided to take in Joe’s handy man Clifton Wheeler for questioning. Wheeler soon confessed to assisting Joe in the dismemberment, and feeding the bodies to the alligators at gun point. He went on to show investigators the shallow graves of Hazel Brown and Minnie Gotthardt. Where the remaining victim’s ended up is anyone’s guess! The Alligators became the property of the state of Texas and were donated to the San Antonio Zoo where they lived the rest of their lives.
The number of victim’s killed by Joe Ball is said to be anywhere between 3 and 20. Unfortunately he took his secrets to the grave with him. Joe Ball is buried in Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Cemetary, Elmendorf, Texas. Generations have grown up with tales of “The Alligator Man” also known as “The Butcher of Elmendorf” and “Bluebeard of South Texas”.
Follow up -
Several years later Ball’s third wife Dolores surfaced in California. She had apparently left to make a new life in San Diego. Defending Joe in an interview she described him as “A sweet, kind and good man who would never hurt anyone!” Tobe Hooper director of “A Texas Chainsaw Massacre” went on to direct a film called “Eaten Alive” the film was loosely based on the life of Joe Ball. The film is about a deranged motel owner who murders his guests and feeds them to his pet alligator in the swamp out back!