Real Names: Thomas Adolph Hotard and Audrey Alta Moate
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: LaPlace, Louisiana
Date: November 24, 1956
Date of Birth: November 24, 1925
Marital Status: Divorced
Characteristics: Caucasian female. Blond hair, gray eyes
Details: Forty-six-year-old Gretna, Louisiana native Thomas Hotard was a safety engineer, scout master, and married father of two. He was described as a quiet, hard-working family man who was active with his church. He was romantically involved with Audrey Moate, a thirty-one-year-old divorced mother of three from Baton Rouge. She was described as a loving and giving person. On the morning of November 25, 1956, he was discovered dead from a gunshot wound fired at close range through the rear window of his car. No sign of Audrey was found, but evidence at the scene suggested that she had fled the scene as another person in boots came after her.
Thomas worked for a local chemical company and met Audrey there in 1952. They were involved in scouting and were often seen together in town planning scouting trips together. The two fell in love, even though he was married and fifteen years older. Their romance was a deeply hidden secret. Audrey told her family that she had to work on Saturdays, but in reality, she spent her time with Thomas; he also told his wife the same lie. He was also involved in her social life, but he was introduced as a friend of hers. Three months before she vanished, she told her mother that if anything ever happened to her, she should take her children and leave the area. She never told her mother why she should do this, however.
At around 7:30am on Saturday, November 24, 1956, Thomas and Audrey met at a restaurant in LaPlace. They then drove six miles to a secluded lovers' lane on Frenier Beach, next to Lake Pontchartrain. That day happened to be her birthday. At 9am, a hunter and his son spotted them there. The next morning, the same father and son passed by the spot and discovered Thomas's body. The father immediately went to Percy Hebert, the sheriff of St. John the Baptist Parish. He was the first to arrive at the scene.
Investigators determined that Thomas had been shot once in the head with a sixteen gauge shotgun, fired at point blank range through a side window. At first, it was believed that Audrey had killed him in a lovers' quarrel. However, further examination at the scene showed that they had apparently been surprised while together. Audrey's clothes were crumpled on the floorboard, the keys were in the ignition, the car seat was folded down, and some of her personal items were on the ground next to the car. It appeared that she had tried to flee the scene, spilling the contents of her purse in the process. Fifty feet away, her bare footprints were found, along with those of heavy boots. Five feet away was an area where it appeared a scuffle had taken place, and a set of car keys was discovered. The footprints ended at a single motorcycle track on a road to the main highway. Her purse was never found. There was no other physical evidence, nor was there any indication that the murderer had an accomplice.
Ten hours later, investigators determined that Audrey was the woman that Thomas was with. At 7:30pm that night, her car was found abandoned at the restaurant where she had met Thomas the previous day. The keys at the crime scene belonged to her car. In a box on the back seat, Hebert found the verses of a song from the musical, "The King and I", handwritten by her on a small file card. It read like an obituary for her secret, lost love affair: We kissed in the shadows. We hide from the moon. Our meetings are few and over too soon. We speak in whispers, afraid to be heard. When people are near, we speak not a word.
No other trace of Audrey was found. Throughout LaPlace, many residents speculated on who killed Thomas and what happened to Audrey. There were several sightings of her, but none could be confirmed. Then, on December 6, two weeks after her disappearance, her former mother-in-law received a strange phone call. The caller claimed to be Audrey; she said she was in trouble and needed help. However, she hung up when she was asked for her location. Around the same time, a waitress in New Orleans told police that she had seen a disheveled woman matching Audrey's description at her restaurant. She recognized her from seeing her picture in the paper. She appeared very tired and her clothes were shabby. She left the restaurant when she realized the waitress was watching her. This was the last reported sighting of her.
The case was one of the largest to hit the New Orleans area at the time. Everyone wanted to know what happened to Audrey. However, with little information and no suspects, the case grew cold and eventually disappeared from the newspapers. It soon became an obscure footnote in Louisiana folklore. Over the years, many of the investigators and people close to the case retired or died. No new leads surfaced in the case until 1980. Several months before he died, an old and ailing Ernest Acosta told his family that his common-law wife, Caroline Schlesser (who died in 1979), had committed the murders and that he had helped dispose of the bodies. They lived on the edge of the swamp, less than a mile from the murder scene. Both had bad reputations; she slept with a gun at all times and he apparently shot at anyone who came too close to the property.
Ernest's daughter, Marville, recalled that he was a mean person who did not respect others and often threatened people with his gun. She claimed to know of at least two occasions where Thomas and Audrey came to the property and met with Caroline. On both occasions, they argued with her, but no one knows why. Ernest claimed that they knew something about her, but it is not known what that exactly was. According to him, Audrey was also related to her in some way. According to Marville, Ernest was visiting his children on November 24. However, that night, Caroline called him and he immediately rushed home. He later claimed that she had killed Audrey and Thomas in their home. He and a neighbor then took Thomas' body back to Frenier Beach. They then tied Audrey's body to an old Civil War cannon and dumped it in the swamp.
Marville, however, was suspicious of Ernest's story, since the evidence showed that Thomas was actually killed in his car. He responded, "Believe what you want to believe. I'm telling you what happened." She was later given a polygraph test which indicated that she was telling the truth. Deputy Sheriff Wayne Norwood joined the sheriff's department of St. John the Baptist Parish in 1983. He heard about the case and became intrigued by it. Since 1983, he has conducted an unofficial investigation into the case on his own time. He believed that Audrey was indeed thrown into the swamp, tied to a cannon. He combed the area with a metal detector, but has not found anything as of yet.
Norwood believed Ernest warped the truth when he confessed to Marville. He believed that Ernest was the actual killer. Since Ernest knew the area and surveilled it well, it is suspected that he knew that the couple had visited the same location for several Saturdays. It is also suspected that he was watching them making love on the shoreline that day and decided to attack them and sexually assault Audrey. It is believed that he shot Thomas and then chased after Audrey when she tried to escape. He then took her to his house where he eventually killed her.
Norwood has searched for Audrey's body without success. The crime scene has changed considerably in the years since. In fact, the actual spot where Thomas's body was found is now 100 yards offshore, reclaimed by Lake Pontchartrain. As of now, this case remains unsolved, but Audrey's daughter, Dekki, hopes that she can find her mother's remains.
Suspects: Authorities first suspected that Audrey had killed Thomas in a lovers' quarrel and then fled. However, this was ruled out based on the evidence left behind at the crime scene.
Three months before Audrey disappeared, she told her mother that if anything happened to her, she should take her children and move far away. Dekki believes that Audrey may have known something was wrong and that they were attacked by someone she knew.
One suspect in the investigation was forty-year-old Edmund Duhe. In 1959, he shot and wounded a woman in New Orleans during a robbery attempt. The attack occurred close to where Thomas was found murdered. He was linked to the case after a purse was found in his vehicle; the purse matched the description of Audrey's missing purse. After being given a "truth serum", Duhe confessed to killing the couple. He claimed to have buried Audrey's body in a dump. However, her remains were not found in the dump. It is not known if Duhe is still a suspect in the case.
Caroline Schlesser was named as a possible suspect in the case in 1980. Her dying husband Ernest Acosta confessed that she had killed the couple and that he helped dispose of her body. However, his daughter, Marville, suspects that he may have been involved in the murder, not Caroline.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the March 15, 1989 episode.
The "Bio" section has details only for Audrey, as Thomas's body was already found.
Results: Unsolved. In February 2011, remains were found that were suspected to be Audrey's. Dekki gave police DNA in hopes of identifying the remains especially because she had life-threatening cancer at the time. However, the DNA test results have yet to be revealed. Sadly, Dekki passed away on January 21, 2019. Marvelle passed away in 2006.
- Thomas Hotard and Audrey Moate on Unsolved.com
- Audrey Moate on The Charley Project
- Audrey Moate on The Doe Network
- Audrey Moate on Louisiana Repository for Unidentified and Missing People
- Woman's Body Is Sought Near Where Man Died - November 26, 1956
- Mystery Car Is Sought In Odd Event - November 27, 1956
- Officers probing possibility missing divorcee is alive - November 29, 1956
- Suspect Ordered Held For Quizzing - November 30, 1956
- Woman Hunted In Death Case Thought Alive - December 7, 1956
- Pair to Be Questioned In Murder - December 10, 1956
- Close Probe Of Murdered Safety Engineer - December 21, 1956
- State Quits Probe Of Hotard Death - December 21, 1956
- LaPlace Slaying Suspect Is Freed - January 2, 1957
- Safe Deposit Box Possible Clue in Slaying - May 19, 1957
- No New Evidence In Hotard Case, Sheriff Reports - October 18, 1957
- Death Keeps a Tryst in the Swamp (Page 1) (Page 2) - November 10, 1957
- Death Keeps A Tryst In Swamps - November 22, 1957
- Owner of Pistol Sought by Police - March 24, 1959
- Lie Tests In 1956 Slaying - March 25, 1959
- Cancel Hunt For Body - April 3, 1959
- Montana Woman Hopes DNA Will Crack "Unsolved Mysteries" Cold Case - February 1, 2011
- What happened to Audrey Moate? - July 1, 2020
- Victim’s wife questioned, mistress missing - July 8, 2020
- Bayou Justice: Evidence suggests Audrey Moate lived - July 22, 2020
- Many graves dug in search for Audrey Moate - July 29, 2020
- Hotard and Moate on Unresolved Mysteries Reddit
- Hotard and Moate on Websleuths Discussion
- Audrey Moate on Find a Grave