Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cannibalism and the Strange Case of Nathaniel Bar-Jonah

Massachusetts Roots

Nathaniel Bar-Jonah
Nathaniel Bar-Jonah

Bar-Jonah had moved to Great Falls in 1991 from Massachusetts. Although he had been on probation in Massachusetts for sex offenses against children, he was not required to register in Montana as a sex offender. Megan's Law was still being debated nationally at the time Zachary Ramsay disappeared, and hadn't even been written, much less proposed, by lawmakers when Bar-Jonah arrived in Montana, and was only an idea that was being bounced around at that time. Although a national push was on to implement Megan's Law state-by-state, it had not been signed into federal law yet by President Bill Clinton by the time Zach disappeared, and wouldn't be until May 17, 1996. Although Megan's Law was only a couple of months away from becoming nationally effective, known sex offenders were not yet required to register with the local police and were not yet part of an evaluation system designed to determine their overall risk of re-offending and the level of danger they posed to the community, with tier one offenders being the least risk and tier three offenders being the greatest. Once the tier system was in place, there is little doubt that Bar-Jonah could have been categorized as anything but a tier three offender.

However, because the system was not then in place, a crack in the system had turned into major hole through which repeat offenders like Bar-Jonah could fall. No one in Montana knew, yet, just how sordid Bar-Jonah's past really was, and it would be some time before his past caught up with him. "I don't know if we dropped it or if we overlooked something," Great Falls Police Chief Bob Jones said later regarding the Zachary Ramsay case and Bar-Jonah's connection to it. "We were going to get back to it, and we didn't."

Perhaps if the police in Great Falls had known a little more about Bar-Jonah's prior history in Massachusetts they would have been more aggressive early on about pursuing him as a suspect in Zachary's disappearance. As it turned out, despite Bellusci's suspicions and gut feelings about Bar-Jonah, the investigation became chaotic and focused on a number of different people at first, allowing Bar-Jonah to remain free to do as he liked for the next three years.

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