Details of Disappearance
Zachary was living with his mother, Leah Hackett, in the 2600 block of Drew Street in Clearwater, Florida at the time of his disappearance. Hackett told authorities she had insomnia during the early morning hours of September 11, 2000. She stated that she left the apartment she shared with her son in Clearwater, Florida at approximately 2:00 a.m. and took a short swim and a walk around the area.
Zachary was asleep when she left. Hackett said that he had disappeared from their residence by the time she returned home. He has never been seen again. Accounts as to when Hackett discovered him missing differ; some state that she was out of their apartment only fifteen minutes, others that she was gone as long as two hours.
Early on in the investigation, authorities stated they thought Hackett knew more about her son's disappearance than she had disclosed. She frequently changed residences and was facing eviction from her apartment at the time of Zachary's disappearance. Hackett maintained her innocence in her son's case. She now lives in Hawaii and has changed her last name to Hanson. Zachary's father was never involved in his life and has not been called a suspect in his disappearance.
An extensive search of the area produced no evidence as to Zachary's whereabouts. Authorities believe he disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Kevin Jalbert, who resides near Zachary's home, told an acquaintance that he was a child murderer and was prepared to find another victim in early 2001.
Authorities learned about Jalbert's comments and began tracking his movements. He attempted to solicit an undercover officer for assistance in a child abduction, rape and murder in September 2001. He was arrested shortly afterwards and later sentenced to forty years in prison.
Jalbert claims he has abducted and raped 1,000 children and killed five. His sister said he is a chronic liar and exaggerates to receive attention. He led the undercover police officer to Zachary's apartment building and said he had kidnapped a child from there, but he pointed out the wrong apartment and also described Zachary's clothing incorrectly. DNA samples from Jalbert also did not match available evidence in Zachary's case. Jalbert denied having abducted the boy, but then he failed a polygraph about his possible involvement in the case.
Investigators found child sexual abuse websites on Jalbert's home computer. It was determined that he visited a nearby landfill approximately two weeks after Zachary's disappearance. Jalbert had also been considered a suspect in a child abuse case in Florida some time prior to 2000. He was never charged in connection with the unrelated case. Authorities stated they've been unable to rule him out as a suspect in Zachary's disappearance.
In January 2002, a five-year-old boy was kidnapped from the same apartment complex Zachary disappeared from. The boy said his abductor lured him into a vehicle with the promise of ice cream, and drove around with him for ten hours. The boy was left alive in a trash bin in Bushnell, Florida and he was rescued by a passing motorist. He may have been sexually assaulted. Investigators looked into the possibility that the 2002 kidnapping and the Bernhardt case were connected, but they found no evidence to support this. The 2002 kidnapping remains unsolved.
Zachary is described as an intelligent and cheerful child who excelled in school, where he was a third-grader. His disappearance remains unsolved.