It was no secret here that police suspected Nathaniel Bar-Jonah in young Zachary Ramsay’s disappearance four years ago. But the grisly details of investigators’ suspicions that emerged this week left the community sickened.

According to prosecutors, the former mental patient with a history of assaulting children kidnapped the 10-year-old, raped him, then butchered the boy and fed his remains to unsuspecting neighbors.

Bar-Jonah, in letters this month to a Montana newspaper, denied any involvement in Zachary’s 1996 disappearance. He did not enter pleas to murder and kidnapping charges during a hearing Wednesday and was ordered held on $500,000 bond.

Bar-Jonah’s court-appointed lawyer, Larry LaFountain, said he would not comment on the case.

Cascade County Attorney Brant Light said Bar-Jonah left behind encrypted notes deciphered by FBI agents. In them, prosecutors say, Bar-Jonah talked about “little boy stew,” “little boy pot pies” and lunch “served on the patio with roasted child.”

Neighbors and acquaintances told police Bar-Jonah served them meals that contained peculiar-tasting meat that he bragged of killing and butchering himself, investigators said.

A Community in Fear

Residents of this wind-swept city of 56,000, a hub of Montana’s prime wheat-growing region and home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, were shaken by the allegations.

“A friend said this stuff doesn’t happen in Great Falls,” said Laura Detrick, who lives across the street from the dilapidated apartment building where Zachary lived. “Well, I guess maybe it does. Nobody is exempt.”

Detrick still refuses to let her children walk the short distance to elementary school alone. Even with a suspect behind bars, “I haven’t loosened the reins at all.”

Bar-Jonah’s history of violence against children dates back decades.

A History of Arrests

The Great Falls Tribune reported Wednesday that he received a year of probation in 1975 after pleading guilty to choking an 8-year-old boy in Webster, Mass. Authorities said Bar-Jonah, posing as a police officer, picked the boy up on his way to school.

Two years later, again dressed as a police officer, Bar-Jonah picked up two boys, ages 13 and 14, and tried to choke the older boy near Charlton, Mass. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and attempted murder, serving less than two years in prison before being transferred to a mental hospital.

He spent nearly 11 years there before being released in 1991.

Days later, the Tribune reported, Bar-Jonah was arrested again for assaulting a 7-year-old boy in Oxford, Mass. He was given two years of probation and moved to Great Falls.

He has been jailed here for the past year after being stopped near an elementary school. Police said he was carrying a badge, a toy gun and a stun gun.

He also faces charges of sexually assaulting boys and dangling one from a ceiling with a rope. Bone fragments found in his home are those of a child but DNA tests proved they were not Zachary’s. Their identity is still a mystery.