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Name: Joan Yarbrough Bernal
Case Classification: Endangered Missing
Missing Since: December 9, 1988
Location Last Seen: Joliet, Will County, Illinois
Date of Birth: July 17, 1954
Age: 34 years old
Height: 5'0" - 5'3"
Weight: 130 - 140 lbs.
Hair Color: Brown. Long.
Eye Color: Blue. Wears contacts.
Distinguishing Marks/Features: Scar on both knees and a scar on her upper lip. She had multiple knee surgeries as a child and has stainless steel screws and wires in both of her knees.
Dentals: Not Available
Fingerprints: Not Available
Jewelry: wedding band and watch
Additional Personal Items: Unknown
In December 1988, Joan was slated to go on a trip with her husband to Edinburg, Texas. She was reportedly last seen by her husband, Gilbert Bernal. Investigators said they believe that Gilbert Bernal killed his wife on December 9, 1988, after quarreling about taking her children on a planned trip to Texas. The couple had five children from previous relationships and one child together.
Bernal made the trip with their 2-year-old daughter and reported his wife missing when he returned two weeks later. Bernal told investigators that Joan went on the trip but felt bad about leaving her children and wanted to go back home to see them. Bernal said he gave his wife $1,500 before she boarded a Joliet-bound bus in McAllister, Oklahoma. But investigators found that she never made the trip. Bernal was charged with Joan's murder in 1993.
Before she disappeared, Joan apparently told a relative of her husband's threat. He allegedly said he could kill her and put her in a barrel and make sure nobody would find her. The arrest followed a variety of leads, including information provided by a witness who saw the quarrel that led to the slaying. Bernal's son said he saw his father choking his stepmother shortly before she disappeared. According to court records, the son said he, his father, stepmother and infant sister set out on a Texas trip but turned around and returned to Crest Hill on December 9, 1988. He says he waited in the car while the couple went to their house and he watched through a window while his father and stepmother quarreled. He told police that the couple fought and Bernal grabbed his wife by the throat and then put her body on a bed when she appeared to lose consciousness. He said Bernal returned to the car and the three drove away without the woman. Joan Bernal's body was never found.
The indictment hinged in large part on the relatives testimony, coupled with other witnesses who said Bernal purchased two barrels shortly before the alleged murder. Only one of the barrels was found in his garage. Charges against Bernal were dropped 11 months later after investigators still couldn't find a body and witnesses said Joan was seen in Chicago Heights and Tennessee. The last sighting was in December 1992. Bernal claims Joan is still alive and that she's living in either Tennessee or Kentucky. Joan was a driver with the Joliet Mass Transit District.
Joan was born at West Surburban Hospital in Oak Park, Illinois. She and her three siblings grew up in Hickory Hills, Illinois. She attended Stagg High School and graduated in 1972.
Agency Name: Will County Sheriff's Office
Agency Contact Person: N/A
Agency Phone Number: (815) - 727-8574
Agency E-Mail: N/A
Agency Case Number: 24-88-362-059
NCIC Case Number: Unknown
NamUs Case Number: 12891
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Added: 8/2/2012; Last Updated: 6/6/2017
Questions or comments? Please contact appropriate member of the Area Team
** Listed information is from the time of disappearance.