ByMelissa Thomas, writer at
Horror blogger. Find more of my work at Email me at [email protected]
Melissa Thomas

When it comes to Hollywood horror and monsters, it is easy to calm yourself by remembering that it was just a movie, but what happens when that monster isn't just make believe? Some of Hollywood's most terrifying films were inspired by actual events and real psychopaths. Tobe Hooper released a film called Eaten Alive in 1977 - yes it was just a movie, but it is based upon a string of murders committed by real life monster Joseph D. Ball (Joe Ball).

Who was Joe Ball?

Joe Ball was born in San Antonio, Texas in January of 1896. He served on the front lines in Europe during World War I. When he returned home from the war, he became a bootlegger, and would supply others with illegal liquor during Prohibition.

After Prohibition, Ball started a legitimate business. He opened a bar called the Sociable Inn in Elmendorf, Texas. This legitimate business would serve as a cover for his depraved deeds.

The Birth of Alligator Man

Behind his bar, Ball built a pond. Seems innocent, right? Wrong. The pond would soon become the home of his six pet alligators. To tourists and townspeople, the alligators just appeared to be a way for Ball to make a little extra money as he charged people to view the alligators; especially during feeding time where the food consisted mainly of live cats and dogs. What spectators were unaware of was the real reason Ball kept these alligators. Ball kept these alligators under the pretense that he could not be convicted of murder if authorities could not find a bodies...

The Murders

Minnie & Hazel
Minnie & Hazel

Not long after the alligators showed up, missing persons reports began to pour in as women from around the area seemed to be vanishing without a trace. Each missing woman had a connection to Ball. One was his own wife; others included his ex-girlfriends and girls that worked for him at the bar.

What makes this story even more gruesome is that Ball was not the only madman involved with the murders. He had an accomplice, a local handyman named Clifford Wheeler. Their murder spree spanned from 1936 to 1938. The murders would come to an end when two Bexar County Sheriff's deputies arrived at his bar to question him about the disappearances. When officers entered, Ball pulled a gun from behind the register and shot himself. Ball was pronounced dead and was never brought to justice for his crimes.

Wheeler would be the one to eventually help police find what was left of the remains of two of the missing women, Hazel Brown and Minnie Gotthard - believed to have been Ball's mistress and was killed after revealing that she was pregnant. Those two women would be the only two confirmed to have been murdered by Ball, but Wheeler told police that Ball was responsible for around 20 deaths.

There was never any definitive proof that Ball fed his other victims (if there were more than just the two) to his alligators, but just the rumor and police speculation of it earned him the nickname 'The Alligator Man.' He was also referred to as the Butcher of Elmendorf and Bluebeard of South Texas.

The Movie

Real life Alligator Man & Cinematic Alligator Man
Real life Alligator Man & Cinematic Alligator Man

Tobe Hooper drew inspiration from this real life madman to do what he did best, create cinematic madmen. Eaten Alive starred Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones and Marilyn Burns. The film also showcased a very young, pre-Freddy Krueger Robert Englund. Check out the trailer below:

You never can be quite sure what is going on inside someone else's head. Just think, that sweet old couple that lives next door could be hiding a dark secret in the basement, and when you're traveling, be careful at that rundown diner or gas station... you never know what dark secrets they hold.


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