Joseph Leo Zak

Zak, circa 2015; Zak's blue bag

  • Missing Since 12/07/2015
  • Missing From Brookston, Minnesota
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Male
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 05/19/1981 (43)
  • Age 34 years old
  • Height and Weight 6'0 - 6'1, 325 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description Carrying a blue drawstring bag with a zipper pocket, gray trim and the words "Residential Services INC. Nurturing Abilities" with a tree logo; a photo of an identical bag is posted with this case summary.
  • Medical Conditions Zak is autistic and suffers from depression, and also has physical health issues. His conditions make it difficult for him to process language and handle stress. He is classified as disabled and needs medications which he doesn't have with him.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian male. Brown hair, brown eyes. Zak had previously had a beard, but shaved it just prior to his disappearance. His nickname is Joe.

Details of Disappearance

Zak was last seen in Brookston, Minnesota on December 7, 2015. He had been living in a group home on a 160-acre rural farm on the Fond du Lac for the past several years, and was last seen at the home at 7:15 a.m. He was behaving normally at the time.

He went into his bedroom to take a shower, and by 8:00 a.m. he hadn't returned and the staff, who were waiting to take him to his job at a local bakery, noticed that the shower had been running for a long time. They went to check on him and he was gone; he had apparently escaped out the bathroom window. He has never been heard from again.

Zak is interested in World War II history and enjoys fishing. Due to his mental conditions he is extremely vulnerable; he had spent most of his life in and out of residential care facilities. At the group home he had medication, therapy, and 24-hour supervision, including visual checks every fifteen minutes. He kept in touch with his family regularly, speaking to them on the phone almost every day.

He had acted out in the past by harming himself and had previously run away, but he enjoyed his life at the home caring for the farm animals, and he hadn't run away in over a year prior to his disappearance.

There was a signal on Zak's cellular phone in the Esko, Minnesota area an hour after he left the home, but this was the last sign of him. On one of the previous occasions when he disappeared, he was found standing waist-deep in the St. Louis River, suffering from "psychological distress."

Investigators believe he may have gone to the river or another local body of water and drowned after his disappearance. A cadaver dog picked up the scent of human remains at the river, but searches of the area have turned up no sign of him. His case remains unsolved.

Investigating Agency

  • St. Louis County Sheriff's Office 218-336-4350

Updated 1 time since October 12, 2004. Last updated August 30, 2017; casefile added.