“Joe…never hurt nobody unless he was driven to it”
In the days of Prohibition, Joe Ball was a bootlegger but afterwards he became the landlord of The Sociable Inn on Highway 181 in Elmendorf, Texas. The bar had two selling main points — it had the sexiest waitresses in the area and a pool in the backyard in which five alligators lived. Ball would throw them meat or, occasionally, a live cat or dog for the entertainment of his patrons. Ball was born on 7 January 1896 and by the mid 1930s seemed to have a great life — booze, broads and bonhomie. He slept with most of his staff, which probably accounted for the fact that he had been married three times.
When his third wife disappeared in 1937, it was thought that she had left because she had discovered Ball’s affair with 22-year-old Hazel “Schatzie” Brown, the latest barmaid to decorate the bar and Joe Ball’s bed. Then Hazel vanished, too. Barmaids came and went and no one paid any mind, no one apart from Lee Miller, a Texas Ranger. He wondered why Hazel had told no one she was leaving town and why her bank account was untouched. Then a neighbour reported a terrible smell emanating from a rain barrel near The Sociable Inn.
The police visited the establishment and the proprietor told them that he had no idea where Hazel had gone and that the smell was coming from meat for the alligators. The policemen, John Gray and John Klevenhagen, returned the next day, 24 September 1938, and told Ball that they were taking him to San Antonio for questioning. He asked to shut the bar and walked to the till, pulled out a revolver and, after briefly waving it at the police, shot himself in the head.
Elmendorf, Texas, USA
At first investigators believed that Joe Ball had killed all the missing barmaids and fed them to his pet alligators. Then police found the third Mrs Ball, alive and well. She had known of the killings and fled, not wanting to be the latest victim. She told police about handyman Clifford Wheeler, and he revealed the story.
He took police to the remains of Hazel Brown and Minnie Gotthard, another waitress and Ball bedmate. It is believed that Ball killed up to twenty women but no remains of the rest were ever found. However, none of the rotting flesh in the alligator pond was found to be human. In 1939 Clifton Wheeler was sentenced to two years in prison. In 1957 another lover of Ball said, “[Joe] never put no people in that alligator tank. Joe wouldn’t do a thing like that. He wasn’t no horrible monster Joe was a sweet, kind, good man, and he never hurt nobody unless he was driven to it.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Tobe Hooper film Eaten Alive was inspired by Joe Ball.