Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cannibalism and the Strange Case of Nathaniel Bar-Jonah

An Interesting Lead

Early in the investigation Bellusci developed a strong lead that showed promise, when a truck driver and convicted sex offender talked about Zachary to customs agents at the Montana-Canadian border. By that time Zachary had been missing for several weeks and word about his disappearance had spread far and wide. On hearing the truck driver mention Zach's name, the customs agent promptly contacted authorities and detained the driver and his rig, a semi-truck. The FBI searched the vehicle thoroughly, and took samples of carpet fiber and other materials from inside the cab. Making matters appear even more promising that they had their man, the truck driver confessed to kidnapping Zachary the day he disappeared. However, following considerable investigation, Bellusci learned that the truck driver had lied to him. None of the evidence seized by the FBI linked the truck driver to Zach's disappearance, and Bellusci discovered that the driver's truck was broken down and being repaired in Missoula, nearly 150 miles from Great Falls, the morning that Zachary disappeared.

Mount Olive Church attended by both Bar-Jonah and Zachary
Mount Olive Church attended by both Bar-Jonah and

Bellusci wondered why the truck driver confessed to something with which he could not possibly have had anything to do. A nut case perhaps. Or maybe the driver was someone looking for attention, a little notoriety. Unfortunately such things happen in criminal cases and only serve to make the investigator's work that much more difficult.

There were several important aspects of the case that troubled Bellusci, however, and would keep Bar-Jonah as a suspect firmly embedded in the forefront of the detective's mind. One was the fact that Bar-Jonah was known to work occasionally in the area of Zach's home and school, shoveling snow off of the sidewalks at the Bitterroot Apartments. Another was the fact that Bar-Jonah and Zachary attended the same church at various times, and that Bar-Jonah had spoken to an acquaintance about Zach only days before his disappearance. Bar-Jonah was also known to drive his mother's 1997 Toyota Corolla, off-white in color and similar to the vehicle that witnesses had said almost struck Zachary the morning that he disappeared. However, it was all circumstantial evidence at that point, and wasn't sufficient to obtain a search warrant for Bar-Jonah's residence.

Bitterroot Apartments
Bitterroot Apartments

It should be noted that the police had not excluded all other suspects in Zach's disappearance in favor of Bar-Jonah — at least not yet. For a considerable time, both before and after Bar-Jonah had come into the picture, investigators also looked at some of the other offenders in the area. Nor had they yet ruled out Zach's mother as a potential suspect, either. However, despite the time and effort spent on investigating her, there was no evidence to implicate her and the focus eventually turned back to Bar-Jonah almost exclusively.

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