11 years after millionaire's body found in Hot Springs lake, his daughter still has questions

Members of the Garland County Sheriff's Department watch as wrecker service employees remove a Cadillac from Lake Hamilton on May 16, 2011. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record
Members of the Garland County Sheriff's Department watch as wrecker service employees remove a Cadillac from Lake Hamilton on May 16, 2011. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

HOT SPRINGS -- Nearly 11 years after the body of Mississippi millionaire Charles Ewing and his brand-new Cadillac were found at the bottom of Lake Hamilton, his daughter still has questions about his death.

Ewing, 56, of Tunica, Miss., had been visiting Hot Springs during the week when workers painting the exterior of the Clarion Resort, now the DoubleTree by Hilton Hot Springs, spotted a vehicle immersed in 8 to 10 feet of water just before noon on Monday, May 16, 2011.

According to the private investigative report obtained from Ewing's daughter, Amery Ewing Moore, Ewing had purchased the black CTS coupe, still with the temporary paper tags on the back, from the local Cadillac dealership the Saturday before. His body and vehicle were located about 100 feet offshore, at the back of the hotel's parking lot.

Ewing, a prominent farmer and businessman from Tunica County, vacationed often in Hot Springs, according to his daughter. That weekend, he was there with two women in their 20s. Ewing and the two women -- one, the nanny of Ewing's ex-fiancee in Mississippi, and the other, a stripper from Memphis -- arrived Wednesday night and spent the next few days partying at local bars and strip clubs into the early morning hours, according to the report.

Ewing, who had been diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder, reportedly flashed large sums of money throughout the course of his stay. Ewing Moore said she knew of at least $20,000 to $30,000 that he had on him. He was also seen flashing a cooler containing several thousand more.

Two days before purchasing the Cadillac, he had purchased a black Dodge Challenger from another local dealership. The salesman, according to the report, said Ewing showed him a satchel filled with cash and told him that he had $1 million with him.

While it is unknown how he and his Cadillac ended up in the water, the incident was found to have occurred during the early morning hours of Sunday, May 15. "Unsolved Mysteries" featured the incident on its Aug. 18, 2021, podcast episode "Where's the Money?"

Ewing Moore, a divorce attorney in Holly Springs, Miss., who was interviewed at length in the episode, told The Sentinel-Record that she was only recently able to listen to it.

"I just couldn't," she said. "And my mother was like, 'I can't listen to it, either.' But I think I'm just now at a place, because I'm 41, that I'm -- I hate to say mature enough -- but I am, at this point, kind of able to step back and look at it and say: 'You know, I may not find out. I may not get to know.'"

Late that Saturday night, Ewing was seen in the hotel bar with the two women and, according to the report, left a cashier's check, which was later turned in to the hotel's office. After visiting the bar, the women hired a masseuse for Ewing, though it would be a short visit. Shortly after being dropped off by her manager, the masseuse frantically called her back, asking to be picked up. According to interviews obtained for the report, she told her manager after getting in the car: "Get me out of here, I think they drugged me. My head is spinning and my muscles won't work right."

The masseuse would later explain that upon arriving at the room, one of the girls asked her if she would like something to drink, to which she replied, "A beer would be great." She was offered an open bottle of beer, and she drank some as she surveyed the room. The girls then presented her with a tray of assorted drugs, which she declined, noting that she did not use drugs and only wanted to provide the massage and leave.

When Ewing entered the room from the women's adjoining suite, she said, his face was red and blotchy, and he kept pacing around, complaining that he did not feel good. By this point, the masseuse was beginning to feel woozy and dizzy, as she thought she saw Ewing go back into the other room. She said the girls then handed her the TV remote and encouraged her to touch other objects in the room as well, before she was finally able to leave.

Ewing would be dead before dawn the next morning, with the two women never reporting him missing. They were, in fact, observed watching from the balcony while his car was being pulled out of the lake that Monday.

Based on evidence at the scene, officials ruled it an accident, saying that Ewing accidentally drove his car from the parking lot into the lake due to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or a possible medical condition. The autopsy report stated that Ewing had water in his lungs and that there was no evidence of foul play. In his system, the medical examiner found Prozac, cannabis and a low level of alcohol. His official cause of death was attributed to "Hypertensive Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease with Drowning."

His car was found to have all the windows down, with the trunk and sunroof both open. Officials found $30,000 and three guns on him when he was pulled from the lake. Missing, however, was his diamond-studded Rolex watch; his cooler; and his eyeglasses, which were later discovered on his hotel bed. Ewing Moore said her father was virtually blind without his glasses and that he could not have even made it out the door without them.

"He couldn't see anything," she said. "And so he couldn't have gotten outside. He couldn't have. And if he did, I mean, it just doesn't make any sense -- none of it. He never would have been sitting outside with his windows down and his sunroof open. ... And the trunk was open, too. He smoked, but he didn't care. I mean, he was, like, a smoker since the '70s, and he smoked with the windows up."

She said her father also knew how to swim and was good at it. While she does not know what happened to him and admitted she may never know, she thinks he may have been drugged with some substance that is hard to detect and calls for a specific test. The private investigator hired by Ewing Moore was denied access to video surveillance from the night in question by hotel management, and any video turned in to the authorities has not been made public.

At the time Ewing's body was resting at the bottom of Lake Hamilton, his home in Mississippi was broken into and burglarized. His bedroom was ransacked. Ewing Moore noted that even a secret compartment located in his nightstand was open, and the money was missing. Some of his personal papers were also found to have been burned outside on his driveway.

The two women with Ewing on the trip were allowed to leave after the discovery of his body. Ewing Moore said they disappeared, and she never heard from them again.

It was noted in the report that a local car dealer whom Ewing did business with spent a lot of time with him and the women partying, and they were seen together at various establishments in Hot Springs and at the hotel. Tunica police would later find a stun gun in the trunk of the women's Challenger that Ewing had bought for them, which was taken into evidence.

In 2017, Ewing's ex-fiancee in Mississippi contacted Ewing Moore, claiming to know who "murdered" her father, but demanded the $25,000 reward money first. Ewing Moore said she ultimately decided not to meet with her out of concern for her own safety. She said the ex-fiancee had married just two weeks after Ewing's death, though they later divorced.

The woman's ex-husband, who died of a drug overdose this past October, refused to ever discuss with Ewing Moore what he knew concerning her father's death.

"There's just no amount of money that was worth all of it, honestly," she said. "You know, I mean, it gets easier to deal with day-to-day, and the obsession is not there where it used to be. And, like, if I start looking at it, I get obsessed again. I can't afford to go down the rabbit hole. But it's always there."