Grace Matt Thompson made headlines in 1934 after murdering her first husband’s second wife. John “Jack” Thompson, the first husband, was an influential mafia man in Kansas City. With his connections he was able to get Grace declared insane so she would not have to stand trial for murder. Soon after entering the asylum, she escaped to New Orleans.
In 1935, Jack heads down to New Orleans to visit Grace and her daughter Dorothy, who was in the habit of calling him “Daddy Jack” despite having been born while Grace was with her second husband. While staying at the Jung Hotel, he dies mysteriously. When questioned about the suspicious death, Grace claimed she never made it to the hotel and was sure someone had killed him for his $500,000 gambling treasure.
Prior to and at the start of her pet cemetery, Grace ran a flower shop on Freret Street, published a gardening book “A Garden Book of Old New Orleans” and played organ for Our Lady of Lourdes Church. A talented pianist with vaudeville roots, she wrote several hymns for a popular hymnal that was used around the country.
Kansas City authorities tracked her down by finding this hymnal. While awaiting trail, she escaped once again. This time, she moved to a more remote area outside of New Orleans called Toca in St Bernard Parish. She purchased some land and an Edwardian home for about $8,000.
In 1948, she opened the E.E. Matt Pet Cemetery. When Missouri authorities track her down again, the Louisiana Governor refuses to send her back.
The cemetery had an ornate gate in the front. The first visible tomb was a large dog. This memorial was for Boots, a beloved member of the New Orleans Police K-9 Unit.. Behind the dog, a cemetery blessing was on a large stone.
BY GRACE MATT THOMPSON
HEAR AND BLESS THY BEASTS
AND SINGING BIRDS
AND GUARD WITH TENDERNESS
SMALL THINGS WHO HAVE NO
Grace often used the section of the newspaper “Up and Down the Street” to advertise the cemetery. This section was written by Maud O’Bryan who gave some of the want ads sound more like a narrative peice.
She used the paper even before the cemetery opened. In 1946, a write up says, “A local woman and her daughter will operate the venture” and ends with “Announcement of the opening will be made soon.”
By March 6, 1954 Grace states she has 2 cats and 33 dogs buried on the property. In a 1965 ad she claims, “a 9-year-old hen, a 30-year-old parrot, loads of monkeys and parakeets, 85 cats, and 800 dogs.” The 1965 numbers seem to have been inflated for marketing purposes.
Over the years, she teased that the cemetery would expand to include pet boarding and human burials.
Grace is buried in an unmarked grave at Saint Bernard Memorial Gardens, a cemetery with no foliage or animals. The E.E. Matt Pet Cemetery and Plantation are in ruins, visited occasionally by rogue treasure hunters and teenagers who sit in the overgrown foliage by the few remaining headstones to drink.