Kidnapping and Captives in The Hill Country: The Texas Slave Ranch

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Tony Maples Photography


About 20 miles west of Kerrville lies the unincorporated community of Mountain Home. Settled in 1856, the area became notorious in the 1980s when a gruesome scene was discovered there after a raid conducted by federal, state, and local lawmen. A 3,500-acre ranch became known as the Texas Slave Ranch after its reveal to the world on April 6, 1984 that kidnapping victims were being forced into labor there.

Walter Ellebracht Sr. and his son, Junior, made money by chopping down cedar trees and selling the wood to businesses locally and in San Antonio. But a report had been filed that claimed hitchhikers were being abducted from Interstate 10 and transients were lured to the remote ranch with a promise of meals and bunks, then forced to work without compensation or freedom. Allegedly bound in chains, the captives performed various tasks around the property. One of the tasks was to make cedar key chains, then being sold throughout the Hill Country. During the raid by law enforcement, human bone fragments and audiotapes of alleged torture sessions were recovered.

Kidnapping and Captives in The Hill Country: The Texas Slave Ranch

Photo: @CaliArtbySara via Twenty20

The ranchers were arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping and murder. The Texas Slave Ranch trial lasted three months and ended with the conviction of Walter Wesley Ellebracht, 55, Walter Ellebracht Jr., 33, and ranch foreman Carlton Robert Caldwell, 21, on charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping. The men were acquitted of murder in the death of Anthony Bates, an Alabama man who had previously worked on the ranch. No murder weapon or body could be located. Ellebracht Sr. received probation, Walter Jr. stayed free during appeals of 15-year sentence due to appeals, and Caldwell served less than three years of his 14-year sentence.

book was written about the incident, The True Story of the Texas Slave Ranch — How a Degenerate Ranching Family Got Away With Murder. In 2006, a film called Hoboken Hollow was loosely based on the ranch.