Zachary Bernhardt: Missing Child’s Mother at the Center of Speculation

Zachary Bernhardt was a child when he went missing without a trace in 2000. Almost two decades later, his unsolved disappearance continues to hold national attention.

About a year ago, Zachary Bernhardt’s cold case was re-explored in the Investigation Discovery show, Disappeared. Bernhardt went missing in 2000, never to be found again. The ID show sheds new light on his case, including his mother’s possible role in his disappearance. Here’s an update in Zachary Bernhardt’s case in 2018.

About Zachary Bernhardt
Age29 Years
BirthDecember 18, 1991
Weight60 lbs
ParentsLeah Hackett
Missing SinceSep 11, 2000
Missing fromClearwater, FL
Eye ColorBlue

Who Is Zachary Bernhardt?

Zachary Bernhardt was an eight-year-old third-grader when he was last seen in September 2000. He was born on December 18, 1991. If he’s still alive, Bernhardt would be 26 as of May 2018.

According to the missing persons report, he has blond hair and blue eyes. A few scars on his face are a distinguishing feature.

He was raised by single mother, Leah Hackett, in Clearwater, Florida. Hackett reportedly struggled with making ends meet. Zachary reportedly witnessed a physical altercation between his mother and her acquaintance.

Hackett revealed the identity of Zachary’s father to investigators, though the information was not made public. The father was reportedly questioned, but he had no idea that he fathered a child with Hackett.

They lived in the 2600 block of Drew Street at the time of his disappearance. Zach, as his mother called him, was last seen sleeping in his bed on September 10, 2000.

Zachary Then and Now

Zachary at the time of disappearance (L), Age Progressed by 14 Years (R)

The Disappearance of Zachary Bernhardt

Leah Hackett reportedly had a bout of insomnia on the evening of September 11, 2000. So, she went for a walk and a swim in the apartment complex’s swimming pool at around 2:00 a.m. Zachary was asleep when she left the apartment.

However, when Hackett returned, there was no sign of her son in the house. She called 911 sometime after 4:00 a.m.

The 911 conversation between Hackett and the dispatcher was played on Disappeared.

“I can’t find my son. I went to the pool, and then I came back and I got in the shower, and he wasn’t here.” Hackett told the dispatcher. When asked if the door was unlocked, Hackett replied, “I guess it was unlocked. Yes, it’s my fault.”

There was no sign of break-in or struggle. Hackett claims someone entered their house and “lured him out.”

Over the years, multiple detectives worked on Zachary Bernhardt’s case until every lead met a dead-end. To this day, there has been no breakthrough in the child’s disappearance. 

Suspicions on the Mother

Investigators searching for Zachary claim the boy disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Detectives and amateur Internet sleuths doubt Leah Hackett’s account about the circumstances leading to Zachary’s disappearance.

Hackett’s account about when she left Zachary in the house has varied from 15 minutes to two hours. So, it’s hard to pin exactly when Zachary disappeared. Neighbors claim they saw her go somewhere with her car, and return just before calling 911.

Hackett and her son moved around a lot. At the time of his disappearance, they were reportedly facing eviction.

Investigators had a feeling that Zachary Bernhardt’s mother was not being completely upfront about the night he disappeared.

Clearwater police wanted to refocus the investigation with some more insight from Hackett. But Lt. Mike Ogliaruso said that Hackett ceased cooperating with them.

With all the suspicions surrounding her, Hackett denied having anything to do with her son’s disappearance. She claimed to have nothing to hide, but moved away nonetheless.

She now resides in an undisclosed place with her new husband. Hackett claims that she’s living a life that would make Zach proud.

Zachary’s father was ruled out as a suspect when it was established he was nowhere in Florida the night his son disappeared.

Another Person of Interest

Investigators found a lead in Zachary Bernhardt’s disappearance when the boy’s neighbor, Kevin Jalbert, became a person of interest. Jalbert allegedly bragged to an acquaintance that he was a child murderer, and was on the prowl for his next victim in 2001.

After detectives heard about Jalbert’s comments, they began following his movements. Police set a meeting between Jalbert and an undercover officer. Jalbert reportedly tried to solicit the officer for assistance in a child abduction, rape, and murder.

A search of his home revealed stashes of child pornography on his computer. Detectives even found bleach in his car, which he claimed to use to wipe out DNA evidence of his victims.

Though Jalbert looked like a credible suspect in Zachary’s disappearance, police didn’t find any evidence to support it. He claimed to have kidnapped a boy from the same apartment complex where Zachary lived with his mother. But he pointed at the wrong home, and gave an inaccurate description of Zachary’s clothes.

His sister said that Jalbert is a chronic liar who exaggerates to receive attention. He claimed that he abducted and raped 1,000 children, and killed five. However, Jalbert denied abducting Zachary Bernhardt. He failed a polygraph test doing so, which didn’t rule him out as a suspect.

Now 59 years old, Jalbert is a registered sex offender in Florida. Though there’s no physical evidence connecting him to Bernhardt’s disappearance, he was arrested in connection to his meeting with the undercover officer. He is currently serving a 40-year sentence behind bars.

Leads Running Out

Nearly a year after Zachary’s disappearance, in August 2001, a photograph depicting a young, blond-haired boy seemingly tied with rope was found outside a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. Florida investigators contacted the local police department for more information, believing the boy in the photo and Zachary shared similar traits. But family members later expressed doubt after viewing the photo in person.

Another five-year-old boy was abducted in 2002 from the same apartment complex as Zachary. The child was possibly sexually assaulted, and found later. However, this case didn’t turn up any leads for Zachary Bernhardt’s disappearance.

While Hackett stopped actively assisting police in the search for her son, her family continues to look for Zachary.

Zachary was a bright and cheerful student and quite memorable. One of his old friends also continues to search for him, and sought help on Reddit for any clues.

Zachary Bernhardt’s disappearance remains unsolved to this day. The ID documentary sheds new light on his case, and has led many to be suspect of Leah Hackett’s story.