Time to kill
Evil lurked amid the tombstones of Dorothy’s pet cemetery...
Dorothy Thompson’s house sat way back off the highway, down a secluded woodland drive.
The white-painted clapboard villa, by the side of the bayou in the tiny Louisiana town of Toca, had seen better days, but kept an air of faded grandeur.
But what made it famous were the tombstones.
The house’s 14-acre gardens housed the Azalea Original Pet Cemetery, the last resting place for much-loved pets: cats, dogs, birds, even monkeys.
About 5,000 animals had been buried there since the business was opened by Dorothy’s mother, Grace, in 1950.
‘It’s haunted,’ the local kids told each other. ‘There are ghosts and stuff all round the place.’
According to legend, pets weren’t the only things buried at Dorothy’s house. Somewhere, there was said to be a fortune amassed by Dorothy’s dad, Jack, a casino owner with shady links.
Because of her reclusiveness, and the rumours of great wealth, Dorothy was vulnerable…
Friend Patricia Newman entered Dorothy’s life around 1980, when she was depressed over the death of her mother.
Soon, the young woman, in her 30s, was like a daughter to her.
Around the same time, Dorothy hired Brandon Nodier, 26, as her live-in caretaker.
One night in April 1985, Patricia phoned Dorothy to discuss plans to pick her up next day and take her shopping.
But, when Patricia turned up at the house, Dorothy, 63, was nowhere to be found.
Patricia reported her missing to the St Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Three weeks later, fishermen dredged up Dorothy’s body from the Mississippi River.
Partially naked, and with a bin bag tied around her head, her corpse had been weighted down with heavy chains.
Investigators determined that she had been strangled before being dumped. But, with few clues, the case was shelved.
In 2012, the inquiry was reopened by cold-case detectives – one of whom, Colonel John Doran, had fond memories of Dorothy, having done odd jobs for her when he was a teenager.
‘She was kind of eccentric and wasn’t in the best of health, but she was a generous and sweet person,’ he said.
Most of the case files had been destroyed when Hurricane Katrina hit the area in August 2005, but one file remained that Colonel Doran described as a ‘Bible of names and witnesses’.
They re-interviewed Patricia and discovered that, at the time of the murder in 1985, Dorothy’s caretaker, Brandon, and his ex-wife, Bonnie, had been due to face Dorothy in court.
‘He was always trying to get her to sign the property over,’ Patricia said.
Eventually, Dorothy had, but she’d been convinced Brandon had hoodwinked her out of the cemetery – paying her just $20,000, a fraction of its worth.
Five months after filing the lawsuit, Dorothy went missing...
Brandon was prime suspect, but police needed evidence. Then, a woman called to say that her jailed husband wanted to talk about an old murder…
James Tregler told the police he hadn’t seen Brandon, an old acquaintance, for 25 years – until recently. He’d turned up to say that, if James didn’t keep quiet, his wife would get hurt.
Fearing for his wife’s safety, James confessed to the police.
He told them Brandon had picked him up one night, driven to the pet cemetery and told him to wait.
A few minutes later, he heard Dorothy scream. Running to the house, he saw Brandon on top of Dorothy, choking her.
He yelled at him to stop, but Brandon threatened him. Scared, he let him finish Dorothy off. Then he helped dispose of the body.
‘I didn’t know what he was going to do,’ he said. ‘I was scared to death of him.’
When James confirmed details that had never been made public, the detectives knew he was telling the truth.
In April 2012, almost 27 years to the day after Dorothy went missing, Brandon, 60, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years.
‘I don’t think it weighed on him at all,’ said Detective Captain Mark Jackson. ‘He showed no remorse – no nothing.’
Dorothy’s house is now derelict, but Patricia Newman – the true friend who hounded the authorities for years about solving the murder – said she intends to renovate the property and reopen the cemetery soon, as a tribute to Dorothy.
Watch Homicide: Hours to Kill on Thursday 14 June at 10pm.
Brandon was nabbed nearly 30 years later Dorothy and Brandon in her pet cemetery in 1981