Sometimes, the smallest towns hide the biggest secrets. That was the case with the Texas Slave Ranch, one of the state's creepiest stories. Walter Wesley Ellebracht Sr. and his extended family had lived in Mountain Home, TX, for generations, and they were known as decent folk. But something strange began happening on their ranch in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. People - mostly drifters - began disappearing around the property.
What happened at the Texas Slave Ranch? True stories from Mountain Home lay out the chilling details. Walter Ellebracht, along with accomplices, had kidnapped, enslaved, and tortured people on the property. At least one man was presumed dead. Finally, in 1984, the authorities raided the property on a tip. They rescued six people, but what else they discovered was nothing short of gruesome: bone fragments and tapes of torture sessions.
Ellebracht and a few others went to trial in 1986 and were ultimately convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping. However, they were effectively acquitted of murder, and there are many who believe justice has yet to be served. The men involved might have been found guilty, but they barely saw any jail time. These Texas Slave Ranch facts illustrate a sordid chapter in the South's history.
Hitchhikers Were Kidnapped And Chained Together
Travis Boyd, a 38-year-old construction worker from Las Vegas, was hitchhiking when Walter Wesley Ellebracht Sr. picked him up and offered him a job on his ranch. Boyd stayed the night, but decided to leave the next day. Before he could exit the property, though, Ellebracht, his son and wife, and some ranch hands approached him, armed to the teeth.
Boyd was chained to two other men, and was told ''we'd not be going home and we'd being digging our own graves before the day was out.''
Ellebracht Lured In Vulnerable People
When Texas police raided the Ellebracht ranch in 1984, they found five men and one woman living in a barn there. They all claimed that they had been brought to the property with the promise of a hot meal.
According to ranch records, at least 75 people had been employed there at one time or another. One had escaped and alerted the authorities, triggering the raid.
Prisoners Were Tortured With Cattle Rods
Men held as slaves at the ranch endured a variety of tortures. Some of the torture sessions were even audio-recorded, and played later in court during the trial. On the tape, voices can be heard begging someone named "Robert" to stop shocking them. A male voice responds, "Tell Robert it feels good. Say it feels good... I love to see the sparks fly."
The sparks came from an electric cattle prod used by the torturer. The actual prod was discovered when police entered and searched the Ellebrachts' ranch in 1984. The battery-operated device released up to 4,0000 volts of electricity.
One of the slave ranch victims, Mark Allen Hamilton, claimed in a court deposition that even some of the victims participated in the torture of fellow prisoners. He cited the case of Anthony Bates, who, due to an injured leg, was unable to work. Bates was shocked by the cattle prod sometimes more than 30 times in a torture session, including shocks administered to his genitals and tongue.
Ranch Hands Played Sick Mind Games On The Prisoners
According to victim testimonies, inmates at the Texas Slave Ranch knew to keep their mouths shut and to keep working, no matter how exhausted they became. If they talked back, they would be on the receiving end of twisted mind games.
Joyce Ellebracht would shoot at stones and bottles placed near the slaves' feet to see how close she could get without injuring them. Other slaves were ordered to dig holes they were told would be their graves. On another occasion, the Ellebrachts showed up in the slave quarters with a bag containing red Jello and pieces of beef; they told the prisoners the bag held the remains of a slave who "got smart."
The Men Tortured One Slave To Death
For Anthony Bates, the punishments doled out on the Ellebracht ranch proved to be fatal. Bates had injured his leg while working on the ranch, and was mostly incapacitated. That didn't matter to the Ellebrachts; they began to torture him with the cattle prod. Bates did not survive, and his body was doused in gasoline and set aflame - apparently while his captors listened to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."
Survivors of the slave ranch pointed police to bones that remained after the attempted cremation.
Slaves Slept Chained In The Dirt
Life for the abused captives on the Texas Slave Ranch was a never-ending nightmare. They even slept chained in the dirt. Survivors reported being shackled at the end of each work day, and being put to bed in a metal barn. The building was freezing in the winter and burning hot in the summer, and the captives were denied pillows and blankets. There were no bathroom facilities, either, so they had to sleep in their own filth.