Joseph D. “Joe” Ball (January 5, 1896 – September 24, 1938) was an American serial killer, sometimes referred to as “The Alligator Man”, the “Butcher of Elmendorf” and the “Bluebeard of South Texas”. He is known to have killed two and is said to have killed as many as 20 women in the 1930s. His existence was long believed to be apocryphal, but he is a familiar figure in Texas folklore.
After serving on the frontlines in Europe during World War I, Ball started his career as a bootlegger, providing illegal liquor to those who could pay. After the end of Prohibition, he opened a saloon called the Sociable Inn in Elmendorf, Texas. He built a pond that contained six alligators because he misunderstood the term corpus delicti, believing that a murder conviction without a body would be impossible. He charged people to view them, especially during feeding time; the food consisted mostly of live cats and dogs.
After a while, women in the area were reported missing, including barmaids, former girlfriends and his wife. When two Bexar County sheriff’s deputies went to question him in 1938, Ball pulled a handgun from his cash register and killed himself with a bullet through the heart (some sources report that he shot himself in the head).
A handyman who conspired with Ball, Clifford Wheeler, admitted to helping Ball dispose of the bodies of two of the women he had killed. Wheeler led them to the remains of Hazel Brown and Minnie Gotthard. Wheeler told authorities that Ball murdered at least 20 other women, but the alligators had disposed of any evidence. There has never been any concrete evidence that the alligators actually ate any of his victims.
There were few written sources from the era which could verify Ball’s crimes. Newspaper editor Michael Hall investigated the story in depth in 2002, and wrote on his findings for Texas Monthly.