Audrey Alta Smith was born in Colorado in 1925 to Daniel and Minnie Smith. Daniel Smith died in 1946 at age 60. Minnie Smith and her daughter relocated to Louisiana, settling in the Baton Rouge area.
Audrey Smith married George Moate, and the couple had two children, Deckey Lee and George Jr., born in 1947 and 1949, respectively.
But the Moate marriage did not last, and the couple divorced in 1954. Audrey Moate met Thomas A. Hotard, 15 years her senior, and married with two children. They began a friendship that developed into a long-term affair.
Hotard’s wife told the Shreveport Journal in November 1956 that Moate had roomed at their home six years before. She said Moate was “always around” her husband.
“She knew (then) she was causing dissension between us.”
Hotard was a safety engineer and scoutmaster. According to Moate’s FindaGrave.com entry, after the affair began, the couple met weekly on Saturday at the same time and place.
On Saturday, Nov. 24, 1956, Hotard, 46, and Moate, 31, sat parked in Hotard’s 1953 Nash Rambler in a secluded area near the shores of Lake Pontchartrain at Frenier Beach, about 30 miles northwest of New Orleans.
Jack Moneret, a fur trapper, and his son were hunting in the woods nearby when they came upon Hotard’s car parked about five yards from the water, startling the couple inside. Moneret and his son walked around the car and continued into the swamp.
At 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 25, 1956, Moneret returned to the area and found the same car in the same position. He walked up to the vehicle and saw Hotard dead inside. The woman he had previously seen with Hotard was gone. Moneret noticed that someone had made the backseat into a bed. He called Sheriff Percy Hebert, and Hebert and his deputies drove to the crime scene.
Moate’s clothing, work ID, and gasoline credit cards made out to “Audrey M. Hotard” were in the vehicle, but authorities never found her purse. They recovered her shoes nearby, and deputies found car keys belonging to Moate near the Rambler.
About 50 yards from Hotard’s automobile, a search party found a woman’s bare feet imprints leading into the swamp, followed by a large boot imprint, indicating a man was in hot pursuit behind her. About five feet from that, they found evidence of a struggle. The party also found motorcycle tracks, suggesting the killer followed Hotard’s car into the area.
Authorities found Moate’s car parked at the service station in LaPlace, about six miles from the crime scene, likely where she met up with Hotard.
Minnie Smith last saw her daughter on Nov. 24, 1956, as Moate left for her job in Gramercy.
Coroner Remy Gross of St. John the Baptist Parish ruled Hotard’s death a homicide and estimated he had been dead between seven and 30 hours before Moneret found his body. He said Hotard had been shot with a .16-gauge shotgun.
It appeared the gunman had shot Hotard while the man was lying down, according to then-Deputy Dominick Miloto.
Sheriff Percy Hebert orchestrated a massive air and ground search for Moate that involved his deputies, the Coast Guard, and the National Guard.
Hebert was confident in a quick outcome, saying he had the case “in the palm of my hand,” although he never explained why.
But the next day, deputies arrested an elderly moss picker for the disappearance and killing. Several hundred yards from the crime scene, the man lived in a camp-like structure. However, police found no evidence connecting him to the crime.
Police acknowledged the possibility that Moate was still alive but believed she was dead.
According to early news reports, deputies drove to Franklin after someone reported finding a woman’s felt hat, belt, slip, and a man’s size 32 trousers in a field. However, Minnie Smith could not identify the women’s clothing as Moate’s.
Authorities continued the search for Moate, but it was fruitless. Hebert said that if her body had been thrown into the lake, it would have surfaced within a couple of weeks, and it never did. Police never found her body or any clues to her possible whereabouts.
On Thursday, Dec. 6, 1956, Moate’s former mother-in-law, Norma “Mary” Moate, received a strange phone call.
“Mom, this is Audrey. I’m in very bad trouble and I need help.”
Her mother-in-law then asked, “Where are you?” and the caller hung up.
Mary Moate was positive it was Moate because her daughter-in-law always called her mom, and she recognized the young woman’s voice.
Police traced the call to a New Orleans neighborhood near the French Quarter.
Detectives John Dreyer and James Alphonse formed a 20-man team and searched the area door-to-door, carrying photos of Audrey. Two waitresses at the Cafe Du Monde on Decatur Street described a haggard and disheveled customer matching Audrey’s description who entered their shop the night before the call to Mary Moate. “She came in here Wednesday night, sat at the counter, and ordered donuts with coffee,” one waitress said.HL Arledge
The waitresses recognized the patron from a newspaper photograph. When the patron noticed the two discussing this, she put money on the counter and left without finishing her donuts.
Early reports say the restaurant was on Canal Street and that Hebert discounted the lead because “there were no pictures until after the time the waitress said she saw Moate.”
Marie McKay of New Orleans notified police and identified a photo of Moate as the same woman who appeared at her home on the day of the phone call. She asked about renting a room and used her telephone.
The woman ate dinner with McKay and her husband, Walter McKay.
McKay stated the woman gave a name sounding like Mrs. Moate or Mrs. Moore and said her mother lived in Baton Rouge, where Moate’s mother resided. The woman appeared very nervous.
About a week after the sightings, Hebert flew to Raton, New Mexico, to question two men in connection with the case.
New Mexico authorities arrested Eugene O’Connor, 30, and John Mitchell, 23, for the assault of an older man and robbing him of $10 on Nov. 27, 1956. However, Hebert ruled them out when he discovered they were not in the area when Hotard was killed, and Moate disappeared.
The investigation started to fizzle out, and in mid-December, Hebert stopped the investigation into Hotard’s murder, saying “there are no clues and there is nothing to investigate.” He believed Moate was dead.
Then, Hebert received a couple of anonymous letters relating to the case. He contacted a writing expert to examine the handwriting to compare it with other handwriting samples collected during the investigation. The tests were inconclusive.
Hebert received another tip from someone who described seeing a man and a woman resembling Moate leaving Frenier Beach when Gross believed Hotard died.
The tip led some to wonder if Moate was involved in Hotard’s murder, but Hebert said she had no apparent motive for killing him. Furthermore, the evidence found at the crime scene proved her innocence, he said.
Later, Baton Rouge authorities arrested Constance Gregoire, 43, on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon.
A suitcase Gregoire was carrying contained a “blackjack, several pieces of women’s apparel, a .20-guage riot gun, three shotgun shells, tear gas shells, a five-inch homemade dagger, and two .22-caliber cartridges,” The Times reported in a Dec. 30, 1956, story.
First, Gregoire told deputies he had left his French Settlement farm on the night of Dec. 29, 1956, and was trying to find his brother in Baton Rouge.
Later, he said he had arrived from Florida and met a white man who gave him the weapons found in the suitcase.
Gregoire had served three previous stints in prison. Hebert sent detectives to question Gregoire and ruled him out when they learned he was not in the state when the Hotard shooting occurred.
In April 1957, Hebert told reporters that Jackson Lejuene, a 62-year-old New Orleans businessman, came forward and said he had been with the killer on the day of the shooting. He accompanied the killer to Hotard’s car at Frenier Beach on the day of Hotard’s murder and witnessed the murder of Hotard and Moate.
Early reports never mentioned the alleged killer’s name, but in one of his articles,” Arledge reported the man was George Moate.
Arledge writes, “Jackson Lejeune said he met George Moate at the French Market in New Orleans. They had drinks at a bar on St. Charles Avenue and then followed George Moate’s wife to Frenier Beach. Lejeune claimed he watched George Moate pull a shotgun from the trunk of his car and shoot Hotard. Then, George Moate killed his wife in the swamp and buried her body there while Lejeune waited in the car.”
Deputies accompanied Lejeune to a few possible “gravesites” in the swamp encompassing Frenier Beach, but they found nothing. On the day of the crime, George Moate had an alibi. Furthermore, according to Arledge, a doctor from the Southeast Louisiana Psychiatric Hospital in Mandeville told Hebert he had released Lejeune from the facility prematurely.
An eerily similar crime occurred more than two years before the Hotard-Moate case that Arledge also wrote about in his column.
At 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, 1954, Merwin F. Kendricks, 27, of Kentwood, and Lillie Ford, 26, were parked in a wooded area a half-mile east of Amite in northern Tangipahoa Parish. Both were married to other people but separated from their spouses.
According to Ford, a black man approached the rear of Kendricks’ 1952 Chevrolet five-passenger car from the woods, opened the passenger-side car door, and shot and killed Kendricks. The shotgun’s muzzle was only 18 inches from Kendricks’s face when the killer fired the shot.
Ford alighted from the vehicle and started to run away, but the killer grabbed her, threw her down on the forest floor, and raped her in a thicket 20 feet from the road.
The man returned her to the car, took her jacket and purse containing $4, then fled the scene carrying his shotgun. After removing the money, he threw the bag into high weeds and later burned the jacket.
After the assailant fled, Ford pushed Kendricks to one side and drove to Shorse’s Medical Clinic in Amite.
Deputies Hulon Simmons and Mervin Falcon interviewed Ford. They knew of only one black man living in the area and took him to the police station for questioning. Walter Palmer, 29, had served time in prison, but he initially denied involvement in the crime.
After 16 hours of interrogation by Simmons and Falcon, Palmer signed a written confession. A newspaper photographer noticed a large lump on his forehead and asked Palmer how he got it, but Palmer refused to answer.
Palmer was ultimately found guilty of Kendrick’s murder and Ford’s rape and died by electric chair at 12:17 a.m. on April 3, 1956.
However, Palmer’s guilt is questionable; Simmons and Falcon arrested him because he was the only black man living in the area. Although he allegedly confessed, he likely did so under duress combined with a beating by Simmons and Falcon during an intense hours-long interrogation.
On March 14, 1959, Shreveport authorities arrested a black man named Edmond Duhe, aged 40, for questioning in another similar shooting.
A man had fired a .38 revolver through the window, striking and wounding Leonie Martinez as her husband, Frank, fished nearby.
Martinez blared the horn to get her husband’s attention which frightened the shooter, and he drove off.
According to Arledge, “Duhe worked nearby at a sugar refinery and claimed he had fished all day and knew nothing of the shooting.”
Hebert arrested Duhe at his swamp cabin near Reserve, less than five miles from the crime scene.
During the arrest, Hebert suddenly remembered seeing Duhe among a group of volunteers searching for Moate shortly after she disappeared. Hebert believed Duhe was responsible for the 1956 case, but the man insisted he was innocent. He did admit to shooting Martinez, but the motive is unclear.
He also admitted owning a .16-gauge shotgun but said he lost it while hunting the year before.
Duhe told the authorities he threw his .38 revolver in the swamp after shooting Martinez. Police found it using an 8-foot electromagnet mounted on a hinge and dragline.
Duhe failed two polygraph tests over the Hotard-Moate crime. He agreed to let hospital officials administer sodium amytal, aka “truth serum,” but he began vomiting afterward. An official managed to ask about the location of Moate’s body, and he mentioned a “commissary dump.”
Hebert knew the sugar refinery once maintained a dump and ordered the abandoned site to be bulldozed so they could search for Moate’s remains. They found nothing. Duhe was present at the dig and told reporters he did not remember telling police about that location.
Duhe pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of Martinez and served 10 years in Louisiana State Prison. He died in 2003, and police never charged him in the Hotard-Moate case.
The Hotard-Moate case appeared in an April 1989 segment of “Unsolved Mysteries.”
Decades later, in 1980, an elderly Ernest Acosta told his family that it was his wife at the time, Caroline Schloesser, 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, Marvelle 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.
What is strange is that on Acosta’s FindaGrave.com entry, Schloesser is not listed as Acosta’s wife. Two women are listed: Jennie Benedict Acosta and Margaret Granier Acosta. However, Schloesser’s entry lists Acosta as her last name but does not list a husband, only her parents. She died in 1979. Acosta died in 1981.
Moate’s mother claimed that her daughter had adopted a little girl named Jacqueline while undergoing treatment at a St. Louis mental facility.
During the search of Moate’s car in 1956, authorities found hospital bills for the maternity ward and the doctor who delivered Jacqueline, a year old, when Moate vanished.
Hebert asked Moate’s bank officials to inspect the articles in her safety deposit box, but the officials refused.
Hebert told Shreveport’s The Times, “As things stand now, Audrey Moate’s safety deposit box cannot be opened until seven years has passed and she is legally declared dead.”
When Dekki Moate opened the box seven years later, it only contained Jacqueline’s birth certificate, which listed Hotard as her father.
Less than a month after Moate’s disappearance, her mother moved to Oregon, but first, she took little Jacqueline to California to be adopted by relatives. According to Arledge, “The baby grew up as Jacqueline Eileen Gustafson, the daughter of John Henry “Jack” Gustafson and Joyce Eileen Bunton Gustafson.”
After Moate’s disappearance, her ex-husband raised their children. His FindAGrave.com entry says he later married Norma O’Reilly. Something worth noting is that Arledge reports George Moate’s mother’s name as Norma “Mary” O’Reilly Moate, and his second wife’s Find a Grave entry shows her name as Norma “Mary” O’Reilly Moate.
George Moate, Sr., died in 2004 at age 77.
In February 2011, Dekki Moate spoke with NBC Montana and said she gave her DNA to the police in hopes of finding and identifying her mother’s remains. She had recently been diagnosed with cancer and ultimately succumbed to the illness in 2019.
Arledge has written a few articles on the Hotard-Moate case. I used his work as my primary source. I highly encourage you to read his writings on this case and others. His website is BayouJustice.com.
Here are the direct links to his articles on this case:
- Amite murder, rape predated Hotard-Moate events
- Bayou Justice: Evidence suggests Audrey Moate lived
- Many graves dug in search for Audrey Moate
- What happened to Audrey Moate?
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
This is a strange case because I’m not sure Moate died the same day as Hotard or lived for a while after.
The waitresses seemed convinced they saw Moate.
McKay’s story of eating dinner with Moate after her disappearance is pretty believable.
McKay also said Moate used her telephone, and we know Moate called her mother-in-law that same day.
If Audrey did call, why was she in trouble? Why did she hang up after Mary Moate asked her location? Why did she never call again?
While George Moate seems a likely suspect, he and Moate divorced two years before the shooting. Plus, he had an alibi, whatever it was.
I don’t believe Palmer murdered Kendricks and raped Ford. I think Simmons and Falcon beat him into a confession. The crime occurred in 1950s Louisiana, during segregation and years before establishing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when all it took to condemn a black man was to accuse him of a crime against white people.
Also, many white women said black men raped them when it was a lie to cover up consensual sex before marriage or during an extramarital affair.
According to a 1954 article, sniffer dogs supposedly picked up Palmer’s scent from Ford’s discarded purse. But Palmer allegedly burned her jacket, so why wouldn’t he take and burn the purse?
Authorities also claimed they found a shotgun missing with an empty shell, and his “shoes matched imprints cast at the murder scene.” But this might not have even been true. I’m not sure I’d trust 1950s Louisiana police when it came to a black person accused.
Kendricks was shot at close range from the passenger side, leading me to wonder if Ford killed him and lied about the rest to cover it up. Maybe he wanted to end the affair, and she did not.
However, that case is too similar to the Hotard-Moate. They might be connected, and the police had the wrong man in the 1954 case.
In both cases:
- The couples were parked in a secluded lover’s lane, where they could be intimate.
- The killer approached the vehicles from the rear, opened the car’s passenger-side door, and killed the married man inside.
- Both women fled the vehicle, only to be chased by the killer.
- The crimes occurred close to midnight.
But Moate might not have died that day and fled for whatever reasons.
Did she kill Hotard? No, I don’t believe she did. But she might have known the gunman. Maybe she got away from the killer and, out of fear, stayed gone, and something happened to her. Perhaps she owed someone money and couldn’t pay up. After all, she was a single mother and might have needed financial help.
Minnie Smith moved to Oregon less than a month after her daughter’s disappearance and believed she would return one day. But then she had “Dec. 5, 1956” engraved on Moate’s headstone. WHY?? I find that bizarre.
I’m not sure Moate would have left her children behind, though. Or if she did, I think she would have contacted them at some point.
What do you think happened to Moate?