365 days of Texas True Crime: Alligator Man
The legend of the Alligator Man, and often times referred to as The Butcher of Elmendorf, started by way of over zealous reporters and crime writers doing a bit of creative embellishment. Established in 1885 by Henry Elmendorf the town was built by Frank X. Ball and then later encorporated in 1963, the town of Elmendorf's first mayor was Raymond Ball. The Ball family can be credited for the towns existence and infamy in true crime history.
The Balls were one of the richest families in the town. Most of them were highly regarded in the community and held positions of respect in the tiny town. However one family member who became well known, not only in the small town but across the country, wasn't exactly a pillar of the community. Joe Ball, although apart of a prominent family, came back from the war with a different idea for success than his family would've chosen for him.
Joe was a bootlegger and a gambler. He sold whiskey out of barrels all over town until prohibition ended and he opened up a bar. A place for the town to drink, play cards and be entertained. He had booze, a place for the men to play cards, hired pretty girls as waitresses and he would often host cock fights in the back of the bar.
At some point though, he found a better form of entertainment for his rowdy bar patrons. He went out and caught himself some Alligators and threw them in the concrete pool in back of the tavern.
On Saturday night he'd gather up varmints and unattended pets of all sorts and feed them to the gators as the drunken bar patrons watched. Around 1934 or so he began seeing (he slept with most of the waitresses or barmaid as they called them) a woman from Seguin named Minnie Gotthardt or Big Minnie, as she was called. She was working there in the tavern with two other girls named Hazel Brown, nicknamed Schatzie, and Dolores "Buddy" Goodwin.
Joe was known to hop from one woman to the next and in this case he had hopped from Big Minnie to Buddy. He was also known to be temperamental and violent. He threw a beer bottle at Buddy during one incident and left her with a scar from her eye all the way down to her neck.. Big Minnie did not like Buddy, who was 15 years younger than Joe, for obvious reasons, however Buddy and Schatzie were good friends. During the summer of 1937 Big Minnie disappeared. Joe told people she had gotten pregnant, not by him, and was in a Corpus Christie maternity hospital. Joe married Buddy in September of that same year and ended up telling her that he killed Minnie on a beach so she wouldn't bother them ever again. Buddy told Schatzie what Joe had told her about Minnie cause hello, that's just what girlfriend's do. In January of 1938 Buddy lost an arm. She lost it as a result of a car wreck but it was twisted into the sordid tale of Joe Ball as being fed to the gators in back. Finally on September 23rd or 1938, Bexar County Sheriff John Gray was given information that Joe Ball had taken a barrel smelling of death to the back of his sisters barn. I guess there had been enough speculation surrounding Joe and the number of missing barmaids he was involved with at the time to get the Sherrif moving because he and deputy John Klevenhagen drove out to talk to him the next day (Klevenhagen went on to become a Texas Ranger). They drove to the barn but the barrel was gone so they drove to talk to Joe at the bar. Joe said he didn't know anything about a death smelling barrel. The two lawmen then, with Joe in tow, drove back to his sisters barn where they were able to speak with her. When she corroborated the information about a barrel her brother had left out back of her barn smelling like death they arrested him. Apparently in the 1930's you didn't need evidence to arrest someone for murder, just a story about a stinky barrel and a chatty sister.
Joe asked the men if he could have one more beer and lock up his bar before they took him in and of course, as all good policemen from the 30's did, they obliged. I'm sure nothing at all sideways is going to come from this little field trip. They took him back to his bar and just as he said he wanted, Joe went behind the bar and poured himself a beer to drink. After he finished his beer he pulled a gun out from underneath the cash register and before the two lawmen could reach for thier iron he shot himself in the heart. The handyman Joe had working for him, Clifton Wheeler would be the one to lead them to two bodies. The first was about three miles out of town on a bluff. He dug by campfire light until blood started bubbling up from the ground like oil. He pulled out arms, legs and a torso. When they asked him where the head was he pointed to where another campfire was and said he and Joe had burned it along with the clothes. This was the body of Schatzie, Hazel Brown. Wheeler told the lawmen that Schatzie was through, she wanted away from Joe and his philandering ways. She had fallen for a guy she met at the bar with a good job and a house but Joe was having none of that. When Schatzie threatened to tell police about Minnie and Buddy he killed her and made Wheeler help him cut her up and bury her.
Despite a good search of thier enclosure no bodies or body parts were found. It turns out Joe didn't kill Buddy, Dolores Goodwin, she had fled to San Diego where he sister lived. Many of the other missing barmaids were found alive but many were not. The rumors about Joe feeding them to his gators might me just that, rumors but there really was no way to know for sure. As for the number of people Joe Ball actually killed who knows? There was a story of a boy sporting too much of a tan hanging around the bar that went missing that Joe fed to the gators. Is it possible that he killed a young, vagrant minority and unwed women living lives of casual sex and drunkenness drifting from town to town and fed them to the Alligators he had in the back of his tavern in a concrete pool in the 1930's in a small that his family built and ran? What do you think?