NEW ORLEANS -- A young New Orleans mother named Andre Foret Toledo was slain in her bathroom with a butcher's knife. The only suspect was her estranged husband, who was never found guilty in the gruesome murder.
The case rocked the city three decades ago, and now Juan Toledo faces animal cruelty charges after investigators found 32 dead dogs in his freezer in August.
"Charming, gentle, very polite. He does have that side to him, but there's another side to Johnnie," said a woman who identified herself as Toledo's ex-girlfriend.
For a year and a half, she called him her boyfriend. Known as Johnnie by his friends and family, this woman thought she knew him well.
She moved into his Arabi home last December and was instructed to stay clear of a refrigerator in the house. One day, she opened the door.
"That's when I seen a bunch of dog legs, and I just immediately shut it. It took me about 20 minutes to calm down and relax and I went back to make sure that that's what I had seen," said the woman.
Fearful for her family's safety, Toledo's ex-girlfriend asked to keep her identity hidden.
St. Bernard Parish investigators were called to Toledo's home three weeks ago after disturbing cell phone video and other evidence was handed over to detectives. They had uncovered 32 dead dogs in the refrigerator and freezer.
Another secret quickly bubbled to the surface.
"He would never tell me what happened to his wife. When the police were over, they asked me if I knew that he had been charged with murder. I said, 'We're not talking about the same person, right?'"
"Really put it out of my mind until I saw the incident with Juan Toledo on TV with the 32 dogs frozen in his freezers. I mean it sparked it again. It sparked that old flame," said Todd Gagnard of his godmother's gruesome murder.
On May 6, 1983, Andre Foret Toledo was scheduled to appear in court for a child custody and separation hearing against her estranged husband, Johnnie Toledo. Her big sister, Joy Gagnard, even offered to go with her to court.
"Why she didn't want anyone to go with her? I don't know. I really don't know. Maybe if I'd spent the night, he would have killed me too. You never know," said Joy Gagnard, recounting that terrible day.
The night before, the young mother left her 10-month-old son at her parent's house across the street. She'd never make it out of her Irish Channel home. Andre's family spotted her car still parked in the driveway.
Her nephew Todd, now a police officer, can recount his grandparent's panic.
"They started banging on doors, banging on windows. Then eventually they forced their way in and found her brutally murdered," said Todd Gagnard.
An Orleans Parish coroner's report describes the 23-year-old's gruesome slaying. The bank clerk was discovered slumped over the bathtub on her knees, dressed in cut-off jeans, a halter top pulled down to her waist, and in about 4 inches of water.
The autopsy report says Andre died from strangulation and a total of nine stab wounds. Her killer, according to the report, left a 21-centimeter knife plunged in her back.
"Whoever the killer was, he entered that house with no forced entry that was unusual. He used the weapon obtained from the drawer because it matched the other utensils," said retired NOPD homicide detective Pascal Saladino.
He and his partner Norman Pierce were called to the murder scene in the 2400 block of Constance Street. Andre's distraught family and homicide detectives can be seen searching for clues in Eyewitness News archive video.
The trail would soon go cold, until Saladino got a call from Juan Toledo's stepfather a few weeks later.
"Norman Pierce and I travel to Venice and he told me, my stepson is the one who killed her. I said, how do you know that? Because his brother came to me and told me about it. That he had offered his brother to go kill his wife," Saladino said.
NOPD police records obtained by WWL-TV reveal a sinister murder-for-hire plot. The target, Andre Toledo. In a four-page typed statement dated July 11, 1983 and signed by Santos Toledo, he tells detectives his brother Johnnie approached him three different times asking him to kill his wife. The statement says for $2,000 Johnnie would supply the murder weapon, his motorcycle to get to André's house, and the best way to enter it.
Santos tells detectives his brother told him to walk down the alleyway, jump a fence and enter the house through the kitchen window.
Saladino believed that was enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant for Juan Toledo, two month's after Andre's murder. The Orleans Parish district attorney at the time was Harry Connick, who took the case to a grand jury.
But once in the hot seat, Santos Toledo would retract his statement in front of jurors, saying he was coerced by detectives.
"I said, well, that's not the way I saw it. I made a good stop in Port Sulfur. He was in a police station he could have talked up then and he could of changed his mind, but he didn't and he signed it," Saladino said. "That's his signature."
Eyewitness News caught up with Santos at his Chalmette home. He dodged our camera but said the recent animal cruelty charges against his brother are bogus. He didn't have much to say about the 1983 cold case.
"I'd rather not comment on that," said Santos to reporter Tania Dall.
"We have your statement here from 1983 that you gave detectives," said Dall.
"You can have anything you want, but I ain't going to say no more. You have a nice day," Santos said before slamming his front door closed.
A statement and evidence frozen in time, not enough to put the man charged with his wife's murder behind bars, but he is back in jail now facing animal abuse allegations.
"I'm like, thank God. They got him for something, you know," said Joy, Andre's sister.
The wait continues for the Gagnard family. Andre's parents moved out of the Irish Channel soon after her death and they've since passed away. Loved ones are still forced to face a haunting memory.
"She's not just a number. She was a person. She was a human being and she deserves to rest, to rest in peace," said Todd, Andre's godson.
Eyewitness News contacted the Louisiana Department of Corrections. A spokeswoman says Toledo served time for a 1986 attempted aggravated kidnapping and simple burglary case.
The St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office confirms he was also on bond this past July facing a domestic violence charge connected to his ex-girlfriend.
The St. Bernard Parish Clerk's Office confirms the district attorney still hasn't formally filed charges in the alleged animal abuse case. So far no court date has been set.