Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cannibalism and the Strange Case of Nathaniel Bar-Jonah

A Previous Allegation

In 1993, only a few days before Christmas, Bellusci had gone out on a call to investigate the alleged sexual assault of an eight-year-old boy, making it a Christmas that everyone concerned would have preferred to have forgotten. When the trail led to Bar-Jonah, Bellusci recalled how Bar-Jonah had denied fondling the eight-year-old boy and proclaimed his innocence. In that case, the boy had accused Bar-Jonah, then 35, of fondling him while Bar-Jonah babysat for his parents, who had gone to Helena, some 120 miles south of Great Falls, for the evening. Although there was a lack of evidence in the case — it was the boy's word against Bar-Jonah's — it was decided that it should be prosecuted anyway. But when he denied the accusations to Bellusci, he added a statement that made Bellusci's blood run cold, a chilling comment that the detective would never forget. Bar-Jonah told Bellusci that if he had done what he was being accused of, he would have killed the boy. Although prosecutors held out, hoping for a plea-bargain, Bar-Jonah held out as well, and the case was eventually dropped three years later when Bar-Jonah's attorney filed a motion arguing that his client's right to a speedy trial had been violated.

"The day Zach turned up missing, I went over to Nate's place," Bellusci told a reporter for the Great Falls Tribune, referring to Nathaniel Bar-Jonah. "He wasn't there. The house was dark... Bar-Jonah stood out in my mind because I'd worked with him before. I knew he had been violent before and I knew he was still active."

Although the statement that Bellusci had made about knowing that Bar-Jonah was still active was based on a gut hunch, he was sure that if given enough time he would be able to show that his hunch was on the mark.

The next day, February 7, 1996, Bellusci asked two uniformed police officers to return to Bar-Jonah's home to question him about Zachary's disappearance. However, no one answered the door despite the officers' repeated knocking, and the house appeared quiet — almost too quiet. The stillness on the cold winter day seemed somewhat eerie. Without a warrant they couldn't force the door and go in, even though upon reflection they would have liked to — everything had to be done by the book. With little else that they could do, the officers placed a business card on the door to Bar-Jonah's home asking that he call when he returned. However, Bar-Jonah never made the call, and the police failed to follow up until later. By the time the police did in fact follow up on the February 7 visit, Bar-Jonah had seen a lawyer and refused to talk to the police again. He had "lawyered up," refusing to talk to them, and there wasn't anything they could do about it. In this way, Bar-Jonah's legal maneuvering at the time and the fact that many predatory sex offender laws weren't on the books yet had temporarily allowed him to slip through the cracks of a system that was supposed to protect the public.