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South Texas Living

Alligator Man from Elmendorf

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Rainy Days and Starry Nights
February 12, 2014 | 3,752 views | Post a comment

I just heard an interesting story about the Alligator Man from Elemendorf. My Aunt Clare called from Georgia. She is my age, 82, and my only surviving aunt. When we get on the phone we talk mostly about the old days. Her memory is even better than mine. While we were reminiscing, for some reason she asked if I knew where Elmendorf was. When I told her I did, she began to tell me a story she remembered that happened around 1936 or ’37.

After they had moved to San Antonio from the Fairview community in Wilson County, they were going down U.S. 181 near Elmendorf. They were on their way to visit us on the farm at Kasper.

She said her daddy, my grandpa, stopped at this place in Elmendorf to get a bottle of beer. He went in and came out with the beer and the owner came with him, and he introduced his family to Joe Ball. Before they left, Grandpa shook Joe’s hand and they drove away. Grandpa told them about the five alligators Joe had in a pit behind the tavern. He had captured them in the San Antonio River nearby. The pit had a fence around it so the alligators could not crawl out. They didn’t get to see the alligators that day. She said Joe was a nice friendly man. But as a little girl, she wondered why Joe didn’t put the alligators in the zoo.

Then later that year, it was in all the news, how Joe Ball had killed all these women, supposedly his barmaids who continually disappeared, his girlfriends, and a wife, and buried them by the river, and on a beach in Port Aransas, but they never found all of them. But she remembers her daddy and mama talking about all the different rumors.

The rumors were that Joe fed them to his alligators, after dismembering their bodies. That is all she remembered, because she was only about six or seven. She even remembered people saying that Joe Ball had a brothel in Elmendorf. Girls disappeared from there too.

I told Aunt Clare I would “Google” Joe Ball’s name from Elmendorf, Texas. As she stayed on the phone I did just that. And to my surprise I found the story. It was true; but only part of it was true. Some things are rumors.

It seems that women in the area were reported missing, including barmaids, former girlfriends, and his wife, and when two Bexar County sheriff’s deputies went to question him in 1938, Joe pulled a handgun from his cash register and killed himself with a bullet through the heart.

But later a man who worked for Joe, told authorities Joe Ball had fed the women to the alligators after killing them. He got several years in prison for being an accomplice.

Joe Ball had an interesting life, being in the Army in World War I, then was a bootlegger in the “Roaring ’20s,” and when Prohibition ended and he couldn’t make any money bootlegging, he opened a tavern on U.S. 181 in Elmendorf, called the Sociable Inn, in the 1930’s. That is when my grandpa learned of him. But I haven’t been able to find anything that mentioned a “Bawdy House.”

The story has been handed down for more than 70 years, written in True Crime magazines, and in Texas Monthly magazine. Joe Ball was known as “The Alligator Man,” “The Butcher of Elmendorf,” and the “Serial Killer from Elmendorf.”

I found an interview with his nephew on YouTube, telling the truth about Joe Ball. He said his Uncle Joe did kill a few women and bury them, but never fed them to the alligators. I wonder if any of my readers ever heard about the Alligator Man from Elmendorf.

Lois Zook Wauson is the oldest of eight children who grew up on a farm in Wilson County in the mid-20th century. After many years living in other parts of Texas, she now lives and writes in Floresville. Her two books are available from the Wilson County News office. Email her at

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