This Month’s Featured Case
Zachary Michael-Cole Bernhardt
When researching this case I found there were so many questions and not many answers. One thing is a fact. In the early morning hours of September 11, 2000, 8-year-old Zachary Michael-Cole Bernhardt was fast asleep in his own bed at one point, but had vanished into the night at another.
Zach and his mother Leah Hackett lived in Clearwater, Florida in a modest apartment in Savannah Trace. According to police, Leah Hackett stated she had insomnia and could not sleep so she decided to go for a walk.
Accounts vary as to what happened next. Supposedly Leah went for a swim and a walk but her accounts vary from being gone fifteen minutes to two hours. When she returned she found Zach missing. It is unclear whether Law Enforcement ever considered Hackett a suspect but if so, it was not mentioned in anything I have read.
There was a name that did come up as a suspect in Zach’s disappearances however. His name is Kevin Jalbert. According to reports, Kevin Jalbert solicited an undercover officer to help him abduct rape and kill a young boy in Clearwater.
Jalbert, 42 was arrested in June of 2001 on charges after he told the undercover detective that he had kidnapped and murdered boys in the past and gotten away with it. Police would not reveal how they learned Jalbert was looking to abduct a child, but they set up a meeting with him in Clearwater with the undercover detective.
One of the things he told the detective was that he would use bleach to flush DNA evidence off his victim. Detectives found Clorox bleach and a funnel in Jalbert’s vehicle.
After Jalbert’s arrest, authorities searched his home and cars and found that his computer contained multiple images of child porn. It was also determined that he visited a landfill two weeks after the disappearance of Zach. He had also been considered a suspect in a child abuse case prior to 2000.
One interesting fact is that Jalbert lived in Savannah Trace, the same apartment complex as Zach, and in fact they were neighbors. Although Jalbert was never officially named a suspect in the disappearance of Zach Bernhardt and no evidence to support such a theory was ever found, in 2004 he was convicted on the charges stemming from his run-in with the undercover detective.
He was charged with numerous counts of child pornography as well as solicitation of premeditated kidnapping, sexual assault and murder. According to the Florida inmate website, Jalbert’s release date is not until 2038.
Kevin Jalbert – Currently serving prision sentence
Whether or not Jalbert had any connection to the disappearance of Zachary Bernhardt, it is very apparent that he is a sick individual and is where he should be for the safely of other children.
An Abduction too Close to Home
Another strange event happened that may or may not be connected to this case. In January 2002 a 5-year-old boy was kidnapped from Savannah Trace, again the same apartment complex from which Zach resided.
The boy was abducted from the parking lot complex. Witnesses, including playmates said they saw the suspect driving a white pick up truck with ice cream symbols. He was taken about 65 miles northeast of Clearwater to Sumter County where he was sexually assaulted and placed in a trash bin behind a closed restaurant at about 4 AM.
The child managed to crawl out of the dumpster and flag down a passing motorist who called 911.
Police stated they did not believe the abduction of the 5-year-old and the disappearance of 8-year-old Zach from the same apartment complex were related.
Photo of a Bound Boy
In another odd twist in the case, in September 2001 a photo of child bound and bruised was found outside a grocery store and was said to have had a striking resemblance to Zachary Bernhardt. The photo was of a blonde boy bound. It was found in the parking lot of City Market in a mountain town about 55 miles west of Denver, Colorado.
Police were never able to determine if the boy in the photo was actually Zach, or who the child was, or even if the child was alive for that matter.
Photo found in parking lot of Denver, CO Grocery store in 2001
Where it Stands
Some thought Zachary’s mother Leah Hackett had something to do with the disappearance, reasoning that it would have been a mighty strange coincidence that Zach was taken in such early morning hours and in such a small window frame. How did the abductor know Leah Hackett was gone? Did they watch the apartment? According to her, it was random that she went out that night so it would not have been conducive to anyone’s time frame or logical for that matter for someone to be sitting and watching that apartment at 2 AM in the morning.
According to reports, over the previous 14 years before Zach’s disappearance, Leah Hackett had a list of 11 different addresses. In fact, Leah and Zach were facing eviction when Zach went missing for non payment of rent, which would have been the second eviction in less than two years.
Some think that it wasn’t Leah Hackett at all but Kevin Jalbert that had something to do with Zach’s disappearance. After all, he lived right there, he had bragged that he had recently killed a boy and evidence pointed to the fact that he was certainly warped. Jalbert to this day has never admitted any role in Zach’s disappearance though.
Then there was the pick up truck with the ice cream symbols. Could the man that abducted a 5-year-old from the Savannah Trace parking lot and assaulted him, leaving him in the trash bin; could he have been the one that had something to do with Zach’s disappearance?Could it have been someone totally different? Someone neither authorities nor anyone else know about? What happened to Zachary Michael-Cole Bernhardt?
Zachary Bernhardt would be 17 today. The above photo is an age progressed photo of what he might look like today.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Clearwater Police Department
Related links and Articles
The Charley Project – Zachary Bernhardt
Clues still elusive in case of missing boy
Bound Boy Photo May Show Florida Child
Florida Inmate Kevin Jalbert