Hey, y’all, and welcome to Southern Macabre! I’m Aeryn and I am so glad you could join me for Missing Person Monday. I’ve got a crazy episode for you today and I would love to read your comments. I was planning to tell you about five or more cases like I usually do, but this case took hold and so I’m just going to tell you about Ms. Audrey Alta Moate today.
Audrey Alta Moate, age 31, was picked up by her “friend”, 46-year-old Thomas Hotard, at a café near Laplace, Louisiana. She rode with him in his blue, four door 1953 Nash Rambler until he parked about five yards from Lake Pontchartrain. One of them had brought along a picnic basket for their weekly Saturday meetup. They both worked at Kaiser Construction Company in Gramercy.
Thomas lay the front seat down until it met the back seat, forming a bed. Then the two spread out a sleeping bag and pillows, making a cozy spot in the back of his huge car. A hunter saw the two of them in the backseat that morning, startling Thomas, but didn’t think much of it at that time.
You see, it was 1956 and Thomas Hotard, Sr. was married with two children and Audrey was a divorced single mother with three children herself. One child, Jacqueline, was actually their child. No one knew this until after November 24, 1956, though. So, Thomas told his wife that he had to work every Saturday so the two of them could spend time together.
A different hunter than the one who had seen the two of them that morning, passed by the car that afternoon. He saw a man, “sleeping in a strange position” in the backseat and noticed the rear passenger door was open, but he didn’t check it out. He decided to just go home.
The next morning around 10:30, the first hunter started to pass the car again, but he decided to stop and investigate. He found Thomas laying on the sleeping bag and pillows. He had been shot through the rear window with birdshot and had been dead for 7-30 hours when he was discovered. He still had his wallet with his ID, a credit card, and a small amount of money.
They found the partial contents of a woman’s purse, a woman’s clothing, a woman’s shoes and Audrey’s eyeglasses inside the car. Small footprints, like a woman’s bare feet, lead from the car to the woods nearby. They were spaced far apart, indicating that she was running.
Let me take a moment to break this down for y’all. So, they’re both in the backseat, she’s naked and he probably is, too, when someone presses a shotgun to the back glass and pulls the trigger. She probably realized quickly that Thomas was dead and fled – not caring that she’s as naked as a newborn baby. She tries to run, but this person is wearing boots and catches her before she can get away.
Okay, so some of this is speculation, but they did see a set of men’s boot prints behind her bare ones and a single tire tread – like a motorcycle would make. Also, there was evidence of a struggle five feet away from the car. This was where police discovered the keys to Audrey’s 1949 Oldsmobile, which was still parked at the café where she had met Thomas the day before.
So, this is the time Thomas and Audrey’s family tell police that the two were only friends and Audrey’s mother brings up that a couple of years prior, Audrey had gone to Missouri because of a nervous breakdown.
In fact, she was living in an apartment one mile away from her mother in Baton Rouge. She gave birth to Jacqueline at a local hospital, naming Thomas as the baby girl’s father. She told her mother a year later that she had adopted a one-year-old in Missouri while recovering from her nervous breakdown. We know all of this because Audrey had Jacqueline’s birth certificate in a safe deposit box, which police gained access to seven years after Audrey’s disappearance.
Audrey’s two older children went to live with their dad’s mom, Norma O’Reilly Moate, in New Orleans. Jacqueline stayed with Audrey’s mother in Baton Rouge.
Two weeks after Audrey disappeared, on December 6th, a woman called Norma. She said, “Mom, this is Audrey. I’m in very bad trouble and I need help.”
Norma reportedly asked where she was, but the call was cut off. Police were never able to verify if it was Audrey, but Norma knew it was because she recognized her California accent and Audrey always called her mom.
The call was traced by police to the French Quarter of New Orleans. They canvassed the area with pictures of Audrey, asking if anyone had seen her. A couple of servers at Café Du Monde said that they had seen a woman matching her description the day before Norma received the phone call. The woman looked rough and had ordered coffee with donuts, but left before she finished eating. This is actually why she stood out them, because she didn’t eat all of her food.
For those of y’all who don’t know, Café Du Monde is almost a religious experience. They are world renowned for their coffee with chicory and their beignets. This is in no way a paid advertisement; I am not getting anything for telling y’all any of this. If you can, go visit New Orleans and stop by Café Du Monde, they have ten locations in and around the city. If you can’t get down there, you can buy their coffee and beignet kits on Amazon, I’ll include a link in the description below.
The next day, according to a housewife in New Orleans, a woman who looked like Audrey came to her door asking about a room for rent and to use the phone. She invited Audrey to stay for dinner with her and her husband, which she did. The housewife stated that woman gave her name as either Mrs. Moate or Mrs. Moore, she wasn’t sure because of her accent. She also said that her mother lived in Baton Rouge.
Police didn’t believe Audrey was involved in Thomas’s murder because she had a savings account and her last paycheck was in her purse. I’m guessing they assumed that because she hadn’t cashed it before she met up with Thomas that morning. Her paycheck and purse weren’t found at the crime scene.
They also interviewed George Moate, Sr., Audrey’s ex-husband. He said that the divorce had been amicable, and he hadn’t seen her since it was final. He had a solid alibi, so the police kept looking for who killed Thomas and where Audrey went.
Two and a half years later, in March 1959, Frank Martinez was fishing near Frenier Beach while his wife, Leonie, sat in the car. A man fired a .38 pistol into the car window, wounding Leonie in the shoulder. She pressed the car horn and Frank ran towards the car, scaring the man away.
The Martinez’s were able to get the license plate number and an hour later, police arrested Edmond Joseph Duhe. He had actually been one of the people who volunteered to help find Audrey when she went missing. When they searched his house, police found a large collection of pornographic pictures, over a dozen sex magazines, fifty lipstick applicators, and five purses. They found even more purses in the trunk of his car, including a cloth black one that looked like the purse Audrey carried.
Duhe admitted to shooting Leonie and was able to lead police to the pistol he had used and threw out of his car window. He said that he didn’t have anything to do with Thomas’s murder and he didn’t know where Audrey was. He also admitted to owning a shotgun in 1956, when Thomas was murdered, but had lost it by the time he was arrested for shooting Leonie. He failed two polygraphs regarding the case. He was never charged and it’s not clear if he’s still a suspect.
Before his death in 1980, Ernest Acosta told relatives that his late wife, Caroline Schloesser Acosta, had killed Thomas and Audrey outside their home in 1956. They lived less than a mile from the crime scene. Ernest claimed to put Thomas back in his Nash and drove him back down to Frenier Beach. Then he and his wife had put Audrey’s body in a metal fish trap until people stopped searching for her. The next day, they stuffed her body into a nine-foot Civil War cannon and sunk it in the swamp.
To me, his story doesn’t match police evidence. If Ernest drove the car back, then how did Audrey’s things end up where the car was parked? Why was the back glass shot through? I don’t know what Ernest was hoping to accomplish, taking credit for an old murder, but I don’t think he did it.
Ernest’s daughter, Caronna, went to police with the story in 1989. Only one thinks that Ernest did kill Thomas before raping and murdering Audrey, he just thinks he either lied or embellished how he did it.
There is a memorial for Audrey in Oregon, where her mother moved with Jacqueline after her disappearance. It describes her as, “a woman before her time” and I would have to agree. Think about it, in 1956 most women were married with at least two kids and didn’t leave the house unless she was running errands. Here’s Audrey, a beautiful, independent divorcee in New Orleans, Louisiana taking care of her three children, working a fulltime job, and having an affair.
I’m not condoning the affair, but I’m guessing that her being different from most other women in the area, maybe seeming a bit exotic, may have been what attracted Thomas to her. Unfortunately, it may have also attracted the wrong person’s attention. I will post pictures of Audrey on our website and Facebook page, but to me she looks like a movie star from that era. She definitely would have stood out in a crowd, in my opinion.
Thank y’all again for listening today – you are awesome! If you enjoyed today’s episode, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or Goodpods. You can read today’s transcript at southern-macabre.com and also see pictures of Audrey. If you would like to reach me, I am on Facebook and Twitter as Aeryn Grey and the Facebook page is Southern Macabre.
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If you think you may know something, please call the Saint John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office at (985) 652-9513.