When pet cemetery owner Dorothy Thompson was murdered in cold blood more than 30 years ago, cops knew there had been a bitter dispute over property rights between her and Brandon T. Nodier. What they didn’t know at the time was who killed her or why.
But with the passage of time and some dedicated and savvy police work, her killer was found and tried. However, according to some, justice has been anything but served as the killer was only sentenced to a total of five years behind bars.
When the dead body of Thompson was found back on May 2, 1985, in the Mississippi River near Myrtle Grove, it was clear that this woman had died an unceremonious death. Wrapped in heavy steel chains and with a plastic bag tied around her head, investigators at the time determined that Thomson was killed in her pet cemetery’s central house and dumped in the river nearby.
This sordid story begins all the way back in 1913, when Thompson’s mother, Grace Agnes Matt, married John “Jack” Thompson in Kansas City. In 1919, after just six years of marriage, Grace Thompson left her husband for another man in Oklahoma City called Arthur Wynne. In 1924, Grace gave birth to Dorothy, but her first husband never got over being left suddenly like that.
However, just a few years later, and even though Jack had remarried, He and Grace had kept in touch. In 1931, Grace divorced her new husband and went back to Jack in Kansas City. There, he became “an influential politician, a successful operator of slot machines and a man of considerable means,” according to a report on Nola.com. But Jack was still married to his second wife Mary Thompson, and Grace wanted Jack all to herself.
Dead of Night
The year was 1934 when Grace would lay in wait for Mary Thompson in the shadows at her home. She shot Mary five times with a 25-caliber pistol one night and killed her. At the time, one witness who testified in court noted that Grace had been calm after the murder and she was ruled to be insane and never properly tried for the killing. All she got was a few years in a mental asylum.
Fast forward a few decades and Dorothy Thompson was the proud owner of a pet cemetery which she loved. Back in 1980, Thompson employed Nodier to be her groundskeeper. This was a job he loved, but he often spoke about his dream to live in the cemetery. To that end, Nodier signed a very curious lease agreement with his employer which would ultimately cost her her life.
Everyone was in shock when on December 1, 1981, Thompson signed a 99-year lease for the cemetery over to Nodier, for the paltry amount of just $20 a month. While Nodier was a live-in caretaker by this time and stayed on the site, he had a reputation as a swindler and con artist within the tight-knit community. There was confusion about the property sale, and Nodier also had a checkered criminal past.
As well as being known to extract money from vulnerable people, Nodier was also convicted of burglary when he was 18 back in 1972. At that time, he received five years probation in New Orleans, but that didn’t stop him from getting involved in even more crime as he entered his early twenties. He even hoodwinked his boss Dorothy Thompson into selling her property.
Folks thought it weird when Thompson signed her land over to Brandon and his ex-wife Bonnie Nodier in April 1984. The fact that the transaction was only for $20,000 made it even stranger. In November of that year, Thompson filed a civil lawsuit claiming she had been tricked by her employee into signing those papers. It had dawned on Thompson that she had been tricked and she was going to do something about it.
To this day, no one knows what happened to that check as it was never submitted to the bank to be cashed. To that end, the check was never located by authorities at the time. Thompson’s civil suit was scheduled for trial in 1985, but when she disappeared on April 13, that trial could not take place. When her dead body was found just two weeks later, that civil suit became a foregone conclusion.
Col. John Doran and Capt. Mark Jackson revived the cold case back in 2009 after they received a call from a man who claimed that Nodier had bragged about killing Thompson and dumping her body in the river. The man who made that call told Doran, “To be honest with you, her ghost appeared to me.” The detectives called for the microfilm of the case to be revived, and when it was, they started questioning old witnesses from the case.
When Nodier got wind that the person who had heard Thompson’s screams that night had ratted on him, he went and visited him in jail where he was held for bomb making. When he arrived, he chatted with the man casually before telling him, “Oh, and by the way, I know where your wife lives.” But that threat had the opposite effect as the man then told detectives what he had heard and seen on the night when Dorothy Thompson was killed.
When detectives finally sat down with the only witness to the murder, he told them that he had witnessed the whole thing but was scared to come forward for all these years. The man, who has not been named, said he was waiting outside in Nodier’s truck when the murder took place. He claims to have watched Nodier murder Thompson through the window of the truck. He claims Nodier then wrapped her in a sheet and put her on the bed of his truck to dispose of her.
Nodier, who assumed he had gotten away with this heinous crime for decades, offered nothing but one-word answers to 34th Judicial District Judge Perry Nicosia in court. Nicosia made it clear that Nodier had received a bargain in the truest sense of the word and that he would have been put behind bars for much longer had he been found guilty years ago. “You walked the streets as a free man for so long,” the Judge said. “You got away with this horrible act of violence for a long time.”
The fact that Nodier avoided serious jail time for so many years didn’t sit well with investigators who were working the cold case. As Sheriff James Pohlmann said, “I would like to have seen Mr. Nodier go to jail for the rest of life.” Nevertheless, Pohlmann also said he was pleased now that “some form of justice” was being served.
While no one is sure what compelled Thompson to sign her land over to Nodier all those years ago, it’s clear that he was trying to con her out of her estate. “He swindled her, is what he did,” said Col. John Doran, chief of detectives at the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office. “He scammed her out of the land, and when she realized she’d been scammed, she filed that lawsuit.” It was that lawsuit which ultimately ended in her untimely death as Nodier wanted to get away with his con.
The E.E. Matt Pet Cemetery owned by Thompson had some 5,000 pets buried there, with some graves costing as much as $2,000. Back in the day, the cemetery served as a halfway house for live pets including monkeys and was a place where many pet lovers wanted their beloved deceased pets to be buried. But many people claim they saw the ghost of Dorothy Thompson and that had an eerie bearing on the case itself over the years.
When the man who witnessed the murder was asked why he hadn’t come forward before, he said that he was “scared to death” of Nodier who had threatened to kill his wife if he ratted him out. But soon after the witness came forward with the eyewitness testimony, even if it was 30 years old, Nodier was convicted of second-degree murder. But this witness was anything but reliable and was a known pyromaniac.
Despite the prosecution’s case being a little weak, hampered by the witness’s sordid past, detectives were able to secure a guilty verdict, even if it only puts Nodier behind bars for a mere five years. The witness landed up in jail back in 2011 when he assembled parts to construct a gasoline bomb. He pleaded guilty to the charges against him at the time and was sentenced to 37 months behind bars. It was at that point when Nodier went to visit him in jail and threatened
When all is said and done, it’s a small miracle that Nodier ended up being convicted at all for his crime. The St. Bernard Parish sheriff’s detectives noted some very compelling factors which could have sidelined the case at any point. One such issue was jurisdictional confusion due to Thompson’s body being located in Plaquemines Parish at the time of her death. The investigating officers did a sterling job in getting some justice for Thompson 30 years after she was killed.
While the Sheriff’s Office admittedly lost some vital files pertaining to the case during Hurricane Katrina, they benefitted greatly from a State Police file that had remained intact. That file contained “a bible of names and witnesses” according to the Sheriff. It was due to that file and the subsequent visit with the only eyewitness that ultimately saw some justice for pet cemetery owner Dorothy Thompson.