Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joe Ball: The Butcher of Elmendorf


Investigators eventually located Dolores in California. She was far from dead and had apparently left the area for a new start in San Diego. Two weeks later, in Phoenix, Arizona, they located another one of the women that had previously been listed as "missing" from the tavern.

As it turns out, none of the rotting flesh in the alligator pond was found to be human. In a 1957 interview with the San Antonio Light, Dolores 'Buddy' Goodwin stated that Joe, "never put no people in that alligator tank," she said. "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... There were just two murders," she said. While it is possible that Joe never fed anyone to his alligators, it was speculated by the original investigators that he simply cleaned up any remaining flesh and bone.

In 1939, Clifton Wheeler pled guilty for his part in disposing of the bodies, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Following his release, he opened up his own bar. However, his notoriety preceded him and he was unable to show his face in public without being hounded by the press or chastised by local residents. Wheeler eventually left the area and was never heard from again. Joe's alligators were eventually seized by the state of Texas and donated to the San Antonio Zoo, where they lived out the remainder of their lives as tourist attractions.

While we may never know exactly how many people Joe Ball killed, or if any of them ever ended up as gator food, his cult-like popularity lives on to this day. Known throughout the crime world as the "Butcher of Elmendorf" and the "Bluebeard of South Texas," the story of the "Alligator Man" is sure to be one that will live on for generations to come.

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