Audrey Moate turned 31-years-old on November 24, 1956. The Gramercy, Louisiana, woman’s birthday fell on a Saturday, and she celebrated in the same manner as she had nearly every other Saturday for the past two years, clandestinely.
Audrey, a recently divorced mother of three, had been having an affair with Thomas Hotard, a married father of two who was 15 years her senior.
No one close to either Audrey or Thomas had any inkling of their romantic involvement. Someone was aware of it and sought to put an end to the affair.
Thomas Hotard was found shot to death in his car along Lake Pontchartrain on November 24, 1956; Audrey is also assumed dead, but her body has not been found.
Audrey and Thomas were successful in keeping their affair a secret. The waters of Lake Pontchartrain appear determined to keep Audrey’s remains hidden as well.
Forty-six-year-old Thomas Hotard lived in Gretna, Louisiana, and worked as an engineer for the local Celotex chemical company. Audrey was a clerk for the Kaiser Construction Company in Gramercy 40 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.
Thomas and Audrey met in 1952 through their mutual interest in Boy Scouts activities. The two were often seen working together in organizing local troop projects. Letters found after Thomas’s death, show they began having an affair two years later. No one, including Thomas’s wife Beulah, had any suspicion of any romantic activity between the two.
Thomas told Beulah he had to work on Saturdays, and Audrey told their children the same story. Instead of working, the two lovers would rendezvous with each other and often travel to a remote area of Lake Pontchartrain.
Instead of working at their jobs on Saturdays, Thomas and Audrey were jointly participating in more recreational activities.
Thomas and Audrey met at a cafe in La Place, between Gretna and Gramercy, at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 24, 1956. After a quick breakfast and coffee, they went to their usual locale, a secluded area known as Frenier’s Beach, also referred to as a “lover’s lane” at the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, just west of New Orleans. Thomas may have had something special planned for Audrey’s birthday, but someone else had something deadly in mind.
At 9:00 a.m, hunter Henry Monaret and his young son saw a blue four-door 1953 Nash sedan parked approximately five yards from the water. A man and a woman were having sex in the backseat of the car. Around noon, another hunter saw a man in the car’s back seat in what he described as a “strange position,” but he did not investigate.
At 10:30 a.m. the following morning, Henry and his son passed by the area where they had seen the Nash Sedan parked. This time, they found the man they had surprised the day before was dead in the front seat of the car.
The apparent cause of death was a gunshot to the back. The bullet was determined to have been fired from a 16-gauge shotgun, fired at point-blank range through the back passenger window of the car. Police found the vehicle was registered to the murdered man, Thomas Hotard.
The car’s keys were still in the ignition. The back seat could be made into a bed, and the various articles of men and women’s clothing scattered along the floorboard suggested a couple had been making love in the vehicle. Among the female items found were a sweater, underwear, stockings, shoes, and skirt.
Investigators initially believed a woman had killed Thomas in a lover’s spat. Upon further investigation, however, several unusual discoveries were found.
Scattered on the ground outside the car were the partial contents of a woman’s purse and another set of car keys. A pair of small footprints, made by bare feet, were found beginning approximately 50 yards from the car. They were spaced far apart, indicating someone, likely a woman had been running. Behind each set of small footprints was a set of much larger tracks of men’s boots.
A scuffle appeared to have occurred five feet from where the car sat. A single track, possibly from a motorcycle, was found. No tire marks or any other physical evidence was found.
It appeared the woman, scantily clad, attempted to flee in desperation, and, in the process, she had spilled the contents of her purse. The purse itself was never found.
After learning of Thomas Hotard’s murder, a waitress at the cafe in LaPlace where he had met Audrey that morning called the sheriff’s office. Upon arriving at the cafe that evening, Percy Hebert found a car that had been parked there since morning. It was registered to Audrey, and her keys were found on the ground next to Thomas’s car.
After learning Audrey had neither worked that day or returned home, St. Sheriff Hebert searched her car. In doing so, he learned of the affair between Thomas and Audrey.
Sheriff Hebert found several love letters written by Audrey and addressed to Thomas. One letter contained a verse from the popular musical and recently released film “The King and I,” reading “We kiss in the shadows, we hide in the moon. Our meetings are few, and over too soon. We speak and whisper, afraid to be heard. When people are near, we speak not a word.”
The findings led investigators to conclude the woman’s footprints found at Frenier’s Beach earlier that day were Audrey’s.
Two weeks after the murder of Thomas Hotard, Leah Moate, Audrey’s former mother-in-law, received a phone call from a woman identifying herself as Audrey. In a distressed tone, the woman said, “I’m in trouble. I need help.” before the line went dead. Leah thought the voice was Audrey’s but could not be sure.
A waitress believes she saw Audrey in a New Orleans restaurant around the same time. The waitress said she recognized Audrey from her picture in the newspaper that she was dressed in shabby clothes and appeared exhausted. The woman left the restaurant when she realized the waitress was eyeing her.
This sighting was the last reported sighting of Audrey, but it was never confirmed to be her.
Two people emerged as suspects in the murder of Thomas Hotard and the disappearance of Audrey Moate.
Forty-year-old Edmond Duhe had recently shot and wounded a woman in New Orleans during a robbery attempt near Lake Pontchartrain. A purse was found in his vehicle matching the description of Audrey’s missing bag. It could not, however, be proven to be hers.
Newspaper articles say Duhe confessed to killing Thomas and Audrey after being given truth serum. He claimed to have buried her in a dump, but searches failed to find Audrey’s body or any indication she had been there. Duhe died in 2003. He was never charged for Thomas and Audrey’s disappearance.
A man named Jackson Lejeune claimed a friend who had been rejected by Audrey had murdered her and Thomas. Lejeune said his friend buried Audrey in the woods and threatened to kill him if he said anything. Investigators found too many discrepancies in Lejeune’s claims and dismissed them as having no credibility.
I was unable to find a picture of Edmond Duhe or Jackson Lejeune.
Police believe Acosta had seen Thomas and Audrey having relations in the Lovers Lane area of Frenier Beach several times and had become annoyed with them. On the morning of November 24, 1956, they believe he sneaked up on them while they were together and shot Thomas to death. Audrey fled afterward, probably wearing no more than her slip and her bra. Acosta overtook and killed her, then disposed of her body, perhaps in the manner he told his daughter. The theory is based mainly on his living a mile from where the shooting occurred and would explain why no tire marks were found at the scene.
Ernest Acosta died in 1981, a few months after his confession to his children. He refused to tell the police what he had told them.
I would think Acosta and Schlesser would have been questioned initially after the murder, but I could not find anything relating to if they were. I also could not find a picture of either.
Audrey’s first husband, George Moate, died in 2004. Nothing I found suggested he was ever considered a suspect in his former wife’s disappearance or the murder of her lover.
Beulah Hotard died in 1986. She, too, was never mentioned as a suspect in her husband’s murder. I could not find a picture of her.
Audrey’s daughter Dekki was nine-years-old when her mom disappeared. She submitted DNA samples in the hopes that it will one day lead to the location of her mom’s remains.
Dekki died of liver cancer on January 21, 2019, at age 71.
The area of Frenier Beach where Thomas Hotard was found shot to death and where Audrey Moate likely met her grizzly end was long ago taken over by the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.
Audrey Moate would today, November 24, 2019, be 94-years-old. She has been missing for over twice as many years as she lived.
Even after the passage of 63 years, authorities are still welcoming possible clues, no matter how obscure or unlikely they may seem. If you believe you have information about this case, please contact the St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, Sheriff’s Office at 985-652-9513.
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• The Advocate (Baton Rouge)
• Biloxi Daily Herald
• Charley Project
• Doe Network
• Monroe (Louisiana News-Star
• New Orleans Times-Picayune
• The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana)
• Unsolved Mysteries
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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