The Crimes-Picayune

The Disappearance of Zachary Burkey

March 09, 2021 Peyton Breaux
The Crimes-Picayune
The Disappearance of Zachary Burkey
Show Notes Transcript

If you have any information about the disappearance of Zachary Burkey, please call the NOPD at (504) 821-2222 or if you'd like to remain anonymous call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111. 

If you're struggling with substance use and would like to speak to someone, call the American Addiction Centers hotline at (866) 807-4513. It's free and confidential. 

Hey y’all, I’m your host Peyton and today we’ll be going back down south to discuss a missing persons case from the Crescent City. This is The Crimes-Picayune. 

Our story begins in the Touro neighborhood of New Orleans, LA

A few minutes before 7:00 PM on the night of September 16th, 26-year-old Zachary Burkey told his family he was going on a bike ride and that he’d be back soon because he had work early that next morning. 

Zachary never returned home that night. 

This typically would’ve been a red flag for the family because, according to his mom Christine, Zachary was SUPER reliable and accountable and even though he was 26 years old he would still text his mom and let her know if he was going to be late. 

But just the night before, the night of September 15th, Zachary had unexpectedly spent the night away. When he returned home the next morning he told his mom that he had met someone and it had gotten late so he just decided to stay. 

So when his mom woke up on the morning of the 17th, she thought that maybe the same thing happened again and that Zach had gone straight to work from the friend’s house. 

His mom knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong when on Thursday, September 20th, she received a call from a coworker of Zachary’s stating he hadn’t been to work since Saturday, September 15th. Zachary was not the kind of person to just not show up for work.  

An officer arrived at the home Zach shared with his family and a missing persons report was filed. 

Because Zach shared the home with his mom, she was able to check his belongings and got access to an email account as well as his bank account. From there, using his bank records as a guide, they were able to follow a path of places where his card had been used. 

The next day his mom and step-dad go to the 6th district police station to talk to officers about what they found in Zachary’s bank records and to pick up missing persons flyers. 

With the help of many family members, Zachary’s family continued their search for him. 

On the night of the 16th, the night he was last seen by his family, we know that Zachary stopped at a Rally’s about a quarter of a mile from his home and got some food. 

Rally’s is the same fast-food burger joint known as Checkers depending on what part of the US you’re in. But if you’re unfamiliar with these  restaurants, they are known for their double drive-thru lines on each side of the building so depending on what side of the building you’re on they can serve you through your driver’s side or passenger side window. Many of these restaurants also don’t have indoor seating so you either use the drive-thru or you can walk up and order. 

This specific Rally’s on St. Charles and Louisiana Ave has since been torn down, but at that time Zachary would’ve used the walk up window to order his food, and again we know he ordered thanks to his bank statements. 

Zachary made his last outgoing phone call here around 7:00PM. 

Now, we do know who this phone call was made to - it was made to a friend of the family’s. I don’t want to put too much of Zach’s personal information out there but I will say that this phone call would’ve been upsetting to him. 

From there Zachary biked about three miles to the Black Pearl neighborhood which is near the east bank of the Mississippi River. 

He was seen sitting on some railroad tracks adjacent to a restaurant called Cooter Brown’s around 8:00PM. 

This information was reported to Zachary’s mom by a homeless man who I’m going to call Robert. Robert is not his real name but for privacy reasons that’s what I’m going to refer to him as. 

Robert said that he saw a man matching Zachary’s description sitting on the railroad tracks drinking a daiquiri. Interestingly though, he said that Zachary seemed very agitated and was talking to himself. 

And this makes sense because of the phone call he had while at Rally’s

Robert stated that from where he was sitting at a monument in the neutral ground between Cooter Brown’s and a daiquiri shop - where Zachary bought the daiquiri he was drinking - he could see that a train was coming.

Zachary got up from the tracks and walked over to the monument where there were homeless men sitting around with Robert. 

I’m going to try to explain this the best that I can because it’s important to understand the layout, especially if you’ve never been to New Orleans. 

I’m going to have a map of the area as well as Zachary’s last known path on my Facebook - The Crimes-Picayune - because if you’re like me, I prefer to have a visual reference. 

So if you’re looking down on the area, from left to right, we have the Mississippi River (and at this part in the bend it’s running north and south so the river is straight up and down right here). To the right of the river is a levee with a bike trail. To the right of the levee and up a steep grass incline are some railroad tracks (the tracks where Zach was sitting). To the right of the tracks is that neutral ground with the monument I mentioned a second ago - where Zachary approached the group of men. Just north of the monument is the daiquiri shop and just south of the monument is the restaurant (Cooter Brown’s). 

In a minute you’ll hear me talk about Carrollton Ave. Carrollton Ave runs kinda perpendicular to the river and railroad tracks. So if the river runs north and south, Carrollton Ave starts at the tracks and runs northeast. 

Robert claims that Zachary told the men that he was looking for drugs and that’s when Robert points out a man named Demetrius saying that he’s a user and would know where to get what he was looking for. 


The two spend some time talking and getting to know one another and this is actually how Zachary’s family knew that the man he had seen was in fact Zachary because Robert said the man loved dogs and had to be at work the next morning for 8:00AM as a lifeguard at the same recreation center where Zach worked. He also identified Zach in pictures as the man he had spoken to. 

So Zach’s mom, Christine, would learn that the two talked until Zachary got up and entered Cooter Brown’s at 8:23PM where he is later seen on video using the ATM machine. He checks his balance and then withdraws $80 before heading out around 8:25PM, so just 2 minutes later. 

After leaving Cooter Brown’s, Robert says that Zachary left the area with Demetrius and that was the last he saw of him. 

Thanks to bank records, we know that the two stopped at a Shell gas station where Zachary bought two beers - one for him and one for Demetrius.  

I did want to add here that Robert says he never saw Zachary with his bike. This could be seen as odd but I think 1 of 2 things happened - so Robert wasn’t questioned by Zachary’s mom, Christine, until 5 full days later on the 21st of September. I think either 1) Robert wasn’t paying much attention to his interaction with Zachary and just simply didn’t remember his bike being there. I mean, Robert (like many homeless men in New Orleans) panhandled and had many interactions with different people everyday and he had no way of knowing that this interaction would later become so important. Or 2) the second possibility being that Zachary could’ve locked his bike up at the daiquiri shop before getting a daiquiri and left it there while he hungout in the area and Robert just didn’t see it.  

The gas station was just next door to the daiquiri shop so it’s possible that Zachary grabbed his bike right before or after purchasing the 2 beers. 

I don’t think that Robert’s claim should have too much emphasis placed on it though, I believe it was just a mis-remembrance and nothing to focus too much time on. 

During this first exchange Robert shares information about the man that was last seen with her son. 

Demetrius Williams is a 5’6” middle-aged African American man that frequents the monument at Fischer Place where Zachary was last seen. Demetrius is said to have lost part of his right leg due to health complications and wears a prosthetic. Christine also learned Demetrius’ typical schedule and where he resides. 

The next day, September 22nd, Zachary’s mom and step-dad went back to Fischer Place to try and get some more information from Robert. 

Robert remembered something he hadn’t told the pair yet - the day after Robert saw Zachary leave with Demetrius, Robert asked Demetrius about how their night was. Demetrius said that Zach had gotten sick and had a hard time staying awake - and to me this sounds like he’s claiming Zachary overdosed. 

Robert then showed the family a tent where he sometimes stays. The tent can be found near the levee close to the Mississippi River. As the three are looking at the tent, Robert says that it looks like someone had been in it. He continues, saying that if Zach and Demetrius had used the tent to get high, and Zach got sick like he had been told, Demetrius could have easily put him in the water. Robert also added that there were three alligators that lived in that area. If they got to Zachary, there wouldn’t be any evidence. 

Later that night, Zach’s mom and step-dad came back to the area to try and find Demetrius so they could talk to him but, after waiting around for almost 2 hours, they didn’t have any luck.  

The following morning, Zach’s mom, step-dad, and step-sister continued their search for Demetrius.  

This time, though, they went to a specific spot at Audubon Park thanks to some information they gathered two days prior from the men nearby Robert at the monument at Fischer Place. 

There under the Walnut St. park pavilion sat Demetrius and a friend. 

Demetrius says that he and Zachary walked down Carrollton and made it to Maple St. where Demetrius handed him off to two guys, who on the street, go by “Slim Shady” and “Buff.” According to, Demetrius claims to have turned around and headed back towards the neutral ground while the three men continued northbound on Carrollton. This story would change, though, with Demetrius later claiming that they made it to Freret St. before he turned around. Freret St. is another two blocks up Carrollton. 

Remember those claims. 

Two days later, on September 25, Demetrius Williams was arrested - not for homicide but for access device fraud. 

Demetrius was seen on camera using Zachary’s bank card 16 times, totaling $87 in charges that were made on September 18th and 19th.

When asked by authorities where he found the card, Demetrius claimed he found it on the sidewalk. 


That same day, the family hired an expert to fly a drone over the area he was last seen, but unfortunately nothing was found. 

This would’ve been a pretty difficult thing to do because of the geography of the land. Between the levee and the Mississippi River sits a thick line of trees, making it hard to see through to the ground/water below. 

Cadaver dogs were also taken out to the area but they too didn’t hit on anything. 

Demetrius Williams was released on Wednesday, September 26th after spending less than 24 hours in jail. The judge didn’t know that this wasn’t just an $87 theft case and that the owner of the card that Demetrius used was missing. He was released on the promise that he’d show up for his court date. 

Zach’s family took to the streets of the East Carrollton and Pigeon Town neighborhoods during the first week of October. They began looking for cameras on homes and/or businesses to see if they captured something from the night Zachary disappeared. 

Well, they did. 

Video footage of the two men was found at two different places. The Chevron gas station at the intersection of Willow and Carrollton captured Zachary and Demetrius walking next to their bikes. The two were headed northbound on Carrollton - so away from the river/monument area. 

Then several moments later, a block up from the Chevron, a cafe at the intersection of Jeanette and Carrollton caught the two men, still walking beside their bikes, continuing on their way down Carrollton. 

The footage shows Demetrius walking ahead with both hands on the handle bar. The beer Zachary bought him is in his right hand. He’s wearing a light colored shirt, a baseball hat, light colored shorts (possibly khakis), and tennis shoes. You can see Demetrius’ prosthetic leg in the video but if you didn’t know it was there you probably wouldn’t notice it or even realize he had one because he walks like a typical, able-bodied person. 

Zachary is walking slightly behind him. Both men are on the left side of their bikes. Zachary has only his right hand on the handlebars and has his beer in his left hand. He’s wearing a dark colored shirt and shorts and has on flip-flops. To me, it looks like Zachary is actually talking in the footage and seems to almost have a smile on his face. He definitely does not look like he feels he’s in any kind of danger. 

Remember earlier when I said to remember Demetrius’ claims about leaving Zachary at Freret St? With the footage we’re able to discredit those claims. We know that the men made it to at least Jeanette St. because of the cafe footage - the cafe is over a quarter of a mile down Carrollton from where Demetrius claimed he left Zachary with those two men, Slim Shady and Buff on Freret St. 

Less than ½ of a mile from the cafe is an all boys school. The school checked their cameras and saw no signs of the two men from the night of the 16th. 

Another camera was checked about ¼ of a mile down from the school on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton. But, again, there’s no footage of Zachary or Demetrius. 

Even though we don’t have any footage of the two men from the school or the other camera, the absence of them might still be able to tell us something. 

If they aren’t seen on camera walking north on Carrollton between the cafe and the school, does that mean they turned left  down one of the streets? They didn’t turn around and head back towards the river because we would’ve seen them again on the footage. And they aren’t seen on any of the cameras from the other side of the street either. So I think that the only probable option was that they did turn down one of those side streets from Carrollton after passing the cafe but before they made it to the school. 

Less than one week after finally uncovering video footage of Zachary, a body was found on October 8th in the 17th St. Canal, just 5 miles from where Zachary was last seen. The body was that of a white male and according to an interview with a sheriff’s officer on scene, the body was badly decomposed and was wearing just underwear when it was found. The officer refused to speculate on whether or not the body belonged to Zachary. 

The next day, after hours of agonizing anticipation, Zachary’s mom contacted the Jefferson Parish Coroner and it was confirmed that the body did not belong to Zachary Burkey. 

Demetrius was scheduled to appear in court for the access device fraud charges on October 24th, but he was a no-show so a warrant was issued for his arrest. 

The case went before the court again on November 24th. NOPD was supposed to provide additional evidence for the state against Demetrius. Zachary’s mom had spent months gathering evidence like the video footage, bank statements, phone records - basically doing their job for them. But they failed to present that for the court. They actually failed to produce anything for the court. 

Zachary’s mom contacted the DA’s office wanting to know why the evidence wasn’t presented against Demetrius and that’s when she learned that NOPD never provided them with any. 

Later that day, the DA’s office received the evidence from NOPD but by this time the warrant had been recalled and nothing could be done about it that day so another subpoena was issued for Demetrius to appear at the DA’s office in two weeks.  

To no surprise to anyone, Demetrius failed to show. Zach’s family was told that the case would now be moved to municipal court. 

A month later on Friday, January 11th 2019, authorities took two cadaver dogs to search the area around Hickory and Leonidas St. Hickory St. is just a few blocks north of the cafe and Leonidas runs parallel to Carrollton. This is where Zachary’s phone last pinged before it died or was manually turned off. Still, nothing could be found. 

As the time passed with zero new information, Zach’s mom stayed in contact with the DA’s office to see when the case would be moved to municipal court so they could actually start to get some kind of justice for Zachary. But by March of 2019, no progress had been made. 

Finally in July of that year, Demetrius had been scheduled to appear in municipal court. The court had all of the evidence Christine had gathered, they were aware that it wasn’t just a theft charge, and at this point the person whose card he used had been missing for almost a year. 

But the charges were dropped. 

Demetrius’ trial had been delayed too long, meaning his right to a speedy trial was violated. 

And that’s where things have stayed for the past year and a half. 


So where is Zachary Burkey?

Nothing of Zachary’s has ever been found: not a flip-flop, not his wallet, his bike, nothing. 

Earlier I told you that Robert speculated about Zachary and Demetrius potentially using down at the tent on the river and if Zachary got sick, Demetrius could’ve pushed him into the water with the alligators and nothing of his would’ve been found. And I just don’t think that happened for several reasons.  

The area around the tent was filled with trees and stumps and sticks. I think it would’ve been difficult for Demetrius, who was 5’6”, to maneuver Zachary’s 6’ tall body, especially with his prosthetic leg. 

But let’s say he was able to and the alligators did get to Zachary’s body - I find it really hard to believe that not a single thing of Zachary’s was left behind. I’m pretty sure that Zachary’s flip flops would’ve fallen off of him while he was being pushed into the water, before the alligators would’ve gotten to him, and they would’ve been there when his mom and dad searched the area just a few days later. 

The biggest reason why I don’t think this scenario happened is because we saw the two men with their bikes heading away from the river and didn’t ever see them come back. Unless the men rode allllll the way around the neighborhood and managed to come back to the tent while avoiding all cameras and witnesses, I just don’t think it happened.  

I considered the possibility that Zachary took his own life but, again, there’s several reasons why I don’t think that happened either. 

I have no doubts that if Zachary was going to take his life or even leave the city, he would’ve left some sort of note for his family. I mean, like I said earlier, Zachary was the kind of guy that let his mom know if he was going to be home late - there’s no way he would leave his family unaware of his whereabouts. 

And if Zachary was to leave the city, the number one thing he would need would be money - and we know he didn’t have access to it because Demetrius was in possession of his card. 

Zachary loved his friends and family. He wouldn’t have just left them all behind, temporarily or permanently. 

I don’t think it was in his plans to go to the Black Pearl neighborhood that night. I feel like Zachary was upset with the result of the phone call he had while sitting at Rally’s and that he was just looking for an escape or distraction and thought that drugs would provide that for him. 

We aren’t entirely sure of Zachary’s history with drugs, but something I didn’t mention earlier is that when he approached Robert looking for drugs, Robert said that Zach asked for heroin or meth. I could definitely be wrong, but I feel like if Zachary used often, he would have been looking for the same type of drug? And not an upper or a downer? I don’t know, that’s just something that stood out as odd to me. 

Zachary was a light in the lives of everyone around him. Zachary was a man with a heart whose love for people ran deeper than the pools he loved to swim in. He never met a stranger and trusted everyone. Whoever was responsible for Zachary's disappearance took advantage of his loving and trusting nature. And for what? $87? $87 in beer and chips and cigarillos? And because of the NOPD's slip-up, Zachary's family couldn't even get justice for that $87. 

As of March 2021, Zachary has been missing for 904 days. Answers for his family are past due. 

If you have any information regarding the disappearance of Zachary Burkey, please call the NOPD at (504) 821-2222 or if you'd like to remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.