A recovering alcoholic goes out for milk and is never seen again.
A.J. Breaux had lived in Houma, Louisiana, his entire life, raised three daughters, and worked in the same clothing store for more than three decades. For years, A.J. had also battled a drinking problem, which led to an arrest for drunk driving. But A.J. seemed to have conquered his demons and had been sober for eight years.
Almost every evening, he could be found at The Easy Does It Club, a support group for people with drinking problems. According to his daughter, Melissa Tardo, A.J. prided himself on being available at any hour of the day or night to assist those in need:
“Once he got involved with the program, it changed his whole life. He became even more responsible and more dependable and more trustworthy and more of a friend because he was involved with more people.”
Because of A.J.’s close ties to his community, it was all the more mystifying that he would just suddenly disappear. On August 28, 1991, at around 8:15 p.m., A.J. was seen leaving the Easy Does It Club. A half hour later, he stopped at a convenience store to buy a quart of milk. He told the cashier that he was on his way home, where he lived with one of his daughters. He never arrived.
Two days later, A.J.’s car was found abandoned in a park across the street from the club.
“I immediately thought foul play because it just wouldn’t be like him to park his car where everybody could find it and everybody knows him, and disappear.”
But there was no sign of foul play. The only clues were A.J.’s wallet and checkbook, which were found tucked under the front seat of his car.
Soon, several witnesses came forward, all claiming to have seen A.J. in the days afterhe disappeared. On the same day that A.J.’s car was found, a local resident named Kenneth Pelligran says that he ran into A.J. outside of a convenience store in Houma:
“It was a strange situation for me to see him in, ‘cause he just didn’t look the same as he always did. He was wearing a flannel shirt, something like a lumberjack style, and the pants were loose fitting, brown, very loose fitting, it wasn’t neat. And he was wearing some old tennis shoes. So that struck me as wrong because of all the times I’ve known him since seven years old, I’ve never seen him with his hair out of place or not dressed up neat. A.J. was nervous. It was like he was being watched.”
Kenneth said he also saw a red compact car parked in front of the store:
“I noticed the car and it had three guys sitting in it. But the engine was running and he was on the phone looking towards them. And when I came back out, A.J. was gone, the car was gone. Had I known he had been missing, he would’ve been found then, because I knew who he was.”
Det. Troy Naquin of the Houma Police Department recounted how another witnesses saw A.J. around the same time:
“Soon after Ken Pelligran called the office, I received another call from a witness who said that he saw A.J. in a car with three other gentlemen. It was a red small compact car on a rural route about eight miles out of town. He waved to A.J. Breaux, but A.J. Breaux did not wave back, and that’s very uncharacteristic of A.J. not to wave back. So he didn’t think anything of it because he didn’t know A.J. was missing.”
A.J.’s daughter, Melissa, said she believes the witnesses’ accounts:
“It makes me think that definitely somebody knows something. If both of these gentlemen who know him from a good while back, one a lot longer than the other, have seen him, we know that they know what he looks like, and they both saw him in the same color car with three men in it. I’m pretty much convinced that somebody, somewhere knows something.”
Two weeks after those reported sightings, a chilling handwritten note came into the police station. It read:
“A.J. Breaux. He was drunk at the time. Self-inflicted gunshot wound. Stomach. Drawstring cotton sack. Put in by friend. Rolled over steep grassy Bayou bank. Near dam.”
The note was signed, “Helene.”
According to Det. Naquin, the description matched a nearby area:
“We called the sheriff’s office water patrol units in and they dredge both sides of the dam on three different occasions, but weren’t able to find anything.”
Four weeks after A.J. disappeared, a woman named Christy Boudreaux was sitting on the front porch of her house in Lockport, Louisiana. She says she was approached by what she assumed was a homeless man:
“I saw a van pass up and down the street, two times, I forget. Whoever was in the van was evidently lost. Then I saw him reach over the driver’s seat into the middle of the van and he picked up a bag. I didn’t know what was in it ‘til he got to my porch and as he walked to me, he looked really nervous and he was shaking. He wanted to know if I wanted to buy some frozen fish. And I told him no, and I smelled alcohol on his breath, and he looked homeless, kind of straggly. And as he got, I’d say 10 feet form me, he turned around and glanced at me. And that’s when it hit me that I saw that man on a missing person flyer in the post office.”
Christy identified photographs of A.J. at the police station:
“I was almost certain that that was the man that had approached me while I was on my porch. And that’s what I told the detective, that I was 99.9% sure that that was Mr. Breaux.”
Det. Naquin thinks A.J. may have been suffering from memory loss:
“A.J. Breaux is a recovering alcoholic, and if he did start drinking again, there’s all sorts of things that could’ve happened. He could’ve had a blackout and not remember who he is.”
A.J.’s family has refused to believe that he has turned to alcohol once again or that he disappeared by choice. Because A.J.’s wallet and checkbook were found in his car, his daughter is convinced he was abducted:
“When I think back to the fact that his car was found in the park, I’m wondering if he may have seen something or heard something that he wasn’t supposed to see or hear.”
Det. Troy Naquin now thinks the handwritten note about A.J. shooting himself was a prank:
“A.J. Breaux at this time still listed as a missing person. We have no evidence of foul play, but, of course, we have no evidence that he just got up and left either. So we really don’t know what happened to A.J.”