Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joe Ball: The Butcher of Elmendorf

Gruesome Discoveries

Investigators knew that Joe's handyman, Clifton Wheeler, was probably the only living person that could help them. After securing the scene at the bar, Gray and Klevenhagen picked up Wheeler and took him back to San Antonio for questioning. Wheeler initially denied having any knowledge of what happened to the missing women, but as the day wore on he finally admitted that he had not been totally honest with them about his involvement. He then explained that Joe's girlfriend, Hazel Brown, had fallen in love with another man and was planning on moving away to start a new life. This, according to Wheeler, in conjunction with accusing Joe of Big Minnie's murder, caused Joe to fly off the handle and kill her. In order to verify his story, investigators wanted to see proof and asked Wheeler to show them where Joe had disposed of Hazel's body.

On-lookers at the exhumation of 'Big Minnie's' body
On-lookers at the exhumation of 'Big
Minnie's' body

The following day, Wheeler took investigators to an isolated spot, approximately three miles from town, near the San Antonio River. He momentarily scanned the area and then began to dig in the loose soil. After a few minutes, blood began oozing up in the dirt and a horrendous smell began to emanate from the ground. The odor became intolerable for those present and most began vomiting. Wheeler eventually pulled up two arms, two legs, and finally a torso. When asked where the head was, Wheeler pointed to the remains of a campfire. Upon closer examination, investigators found a jawbone, some teeth, and finally some pieces of a skull, which were all that remained of Hazel Brown.

As investigators cordoned of the crime scene, Wheeler said that after a long night of heavy drinking, Ball had asked him to gather up some blankets and alcohol. Afterwards, the two took Joe's car and picked up a 55-gallon barrel from Joe's sister's barn, and then drove down to the river. Wheeler claimed that Ball forced him at gunpoint to dig a grave, and then they opened the barrel. Inside was Hazel Brown's body. Wheeler said that he initially refused to help dismember the corpse and that Joe had started it himself, but that in his drunken stupor Joe had a difficult time sawing off the limbs and forced Wheeler to hold them down as he sawed. Whenever the two started to get ill from the stench, they would take a break and drink more beer. When the dismemberment was finally complete, Wheeler said that they buried the corpse and threw her head on a campfire.

When questioned about Minnie Gotthardt's disappearance, Wheeler said that Joe had taken Minnie to Ingleside, near Corpus Christi. Joe found a secluded area, and after a lot of drinking, he waited until Minnie was distracted and then shot her in the temple. Wheeler stated that Joe killed her because she was pregnant and he did not want that to interfere with the relationship he had with Dolores. The two men then buried her in the sand and drove back to the bar. Police went to the area and dug in the sand with hired hands and heavy machinery. Finally, on October 14, 1938, they found Minnie's partially decomposed remains buried in the sand. Police continued to question Wheeler about the other missing women, but he steadfastly claimed to have no knowledge of what had happened to them.

Back at Joe's bar, investigators found a scrapbook containing photos of dozens of women. This, said Chief Deputy Sheriff J. W. Davis, "might lead to the discovery of one or a dozen more murders." However, none of the photos ever proved to have any known connection to Joe. 

We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'