A Secret Rendezvous Leads to a Dead Man and a Missing Woman
On a chilly Saturday morning in November 1956, a local hunter and his son walked past two young lovers rendezvousing in a car deep in the swamps of Louisiana, at Frenier Beach. The hunter returned the next morning to find the man shot in the head and the woman gone.
The man, Thomas Hotard, was a 46-year-old engineer. The woman was Audrey Moate, 31, a divorced mother of three who was never seen again. Audrey was a single mother and Thomas was a married man. They would tell their families they worked on Saturdays, only to instead spend those stolen days together having picnics in the swamp. The two were in love, and their passion was a most cherished secret.
It was Sheriff Percy Hebert who responded to the hunter’s police call. He found Thomas Hotard shot in the head with a 16-gauge shot gun that had been fired through the car’s side window. There were women’s clothes on the floor of the car, personal effects from her purse strewn about the vehicle’s exterior, and car keys still in the ignition. It’s likely they were making love when the crime took place.
50 yards from the vehicle, Hebert found a trail of small, bare footprints followed by the print of a large boot. Five feet from that, he found evidence of a scuffle and a pair of car keys. The keys were discovered to fit the ignition to Audrey’s car that same night. Also in her car was a handwritten verse from “The King and I” that croons of a secret love and of kissing in shadows.
Dekki Moate, the victim’s daughter, recalls a conversation between her mother and grandmother where Audrey said that, should anything ever happen to her, take the kids and run. In the weeks that followed, the small town was aflutter with gossip and theories. Two weeks after the disappearance, Audrey’s former mother-in-law received a phone call: “Mom, I’m in trouble.” A waitress claims she recognized Audrey at a diner. That was the last alleged sighting of Audrey Moate. Over time, the case went cold.
Decades later, in 1980, an elderly Ernest Acosta told his family that it was his wife at the time, Caroline Schlesser, that had murdered the couple, and that he helped hide the body. They had a reputation for being a surly, gun-toting couple who lived in the swamp, not even a mile away from Frenier Beach. Acosta’s daughter, Marville Caronna, alleges that Audrey and Thomas had been to their house twice and thinks that Audrey and Caroline were related in some way.
Ernest claimed that Caroline shot the lovers in her house, and that he and a neighbor later placed Hotard back into his vehicle. They then tied Audrey to an old civil war cannon and dumped her body deep into the swamp. Officer Wayne Norwood believes that Ernest’s story isn’t the full truth, and that Ernest himself was responsible for the actual murders. His daughter also doubts the validity of the story as police evidence suggests that Hotard was killed in the car.
In 1964, a 17-year-old, emaciated, Dekki Moate arrived at John Spain’s desk at the Traveler’s Aid Society of New York. She said her mother had been killed and dumped in a swamp, or ran off. Spain had Dekki call her father, who had divorced Audrey two years before her disappearance. He told her not to come back home and instead wired her the exact bus fare to go live with her grandmother in Oregon. She eventually went to college, had a stint as a Playboy Bunny in New Orleans, then became a columnist for a magazine in New York. Before her death in 2019, Dekki left DNA samples with the police department, should information about her mother’s disappearance ever resurface.
See the original Unsolved Mystery segment on this case streaming in Season 1, Episode 21 with Robert Stack and in Season 4 Episode 17 with Dennis Farina. https://unsolved.com/watch/