Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joe Ball: The Butcher of Elmendorf

No Sale

Hazel 'Schatzie' Brown, victim
Hazel 'Schatzie' Brown, victim

Despite the fact that Joe's help kept disappearing, his business continued to thrive. Everything appeared to be going smoothly. That is until mid-1938, when Minnie's family began to ask questions again. They had been unable to locate her and sought help from the Bexar County Sheriff's office. Since Joe was Minnie's last known lover and employer, he was questioned on several occasions. Nonetheless, absent any evidence of foul play, he was eventually dismissed as a suspect.

A few months later another family went to police about their missing daughter, 23-year-old Julia Turner. The missing girl had also worked part time for Joe. Sheriff's deputies again visited the tavern, but Joe claimed she had told him that she was having some personal problems and wanted to move on. With nothing more to go on, investigators once again left empty handed. Later, when they searched the home Julia shared with a roommate, it was discovered that she had not packed any of her clothing or belongings. Investigators decided to return to the bar for another round of questioning. This time Joe apparently remembered that she was in a desperate state and that he had lent her $500 because she was having problems with her roommate and did not want to return home.

During the next few months, two more of Joe's employees came up missing, the names and ages of which have since been lost in time. Sheriff's deputies brought Joe in and questioned him relentlessly for hours on end, but he continued to maintain his innocence, stating that they had simply left town and moved on. With no evidence or leads to follow, the girls were added to a growing list and Joe was again in the clear.

Bexar County Deputy Sheriff John Gray
Bexar County Deputy Sheriff
John Gray

On September 23, 1938, Joe's luck began to run out. An old neighbor of his came forward and told investigators that he had witnessed Joe cut meat off a human body and feed the pieces to the alligators. And, as investigators decided what to do next, a Mexican-American man approached Bexar County Deputy Sheriff John Gray and told him about a foul-smelling barrel Joe had left behind his sister's barn. It smelled, he said, "like something dead was inside." The following morning, deputies John Gray and John Klevenhagen went to the barn to investigate, but the barrel was gone. Nonetheless, Joe's sister corroborated the man's story and the deputies decided to pay Joe another visit.

When Gray and Klevenhagen arrived at the bar, they informed Joe that they were taking him to San Antonio for questioning. Joe asked if he could first close down the tavern and the deputies agreed. As the two men sat at the bar waiting, Joe grabbed a beer and quickly slammed it down. He then walked over to his register and pressed the "NO SALE" button. When the drawer popped open, he reached inside and grabbed a .45 caliber revolver. He briefly waved it at Gray and Klevenhagen, who yelled, "Don't!" just as Joe pointed it at his heart. He then pulled the trigger and fell dead on the barroom floor. Some later claimed that he had shot himself in the head, but no matter, it was a fatal shot.

Deputies from all over the region were soon going over every square inch of Joe's bar. Upon discovering rotting meat all around the gator pond and an axe matted with blood and hair, their initial theory was that Joe had mutilated his victims and fed them to his alligators. Investigators also began to recall other disappearances, including two missing barmaids and a teenage boy who hung out at Joe's. The sheer horror of the situation was beginning to set in and Bexar County Deputy Sheriff John Gray wanted answers.