More than a decade and a half after he received notification of his son Joe’s death, Ron Grozelle is still seeking answers.
Why was his tooth chipped?
Why was his belt removed, but shoes still on?
What happened to him, from the time he was last seen, working on an assignment in his dorm room to when his body was pulled out of the Cataraqui River 22 days later?
The where, when, cause and manner of Joe’s death remain a mystery.
On October 22, 2003, Officer Cadet Joe Grozelle of Ridgetown disappeared from his dorm room at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ontario.
His girlfriend had last seen Joe in his dorm room at 1 a.m. working on a paper that was due the next day. She had fallen asleep, and when she awoke around 5:30 a.m. Joe was not there. He had left behind his keys, cellphone and wallet and failed to show up for classes and basketball practice the next day. His disappearance was labelled ‘out of character’ from the beginning. He suffered no known mental problems, was an honour student and played for the RMC basketball team.
The search for Joe began that evening with the Military Police, Kingston Police and HMCS Cataraqui searching for Joe. It later expanded to include the Canadian Armed Forces National Investigation Service and the Chatham-Kent Police Service.
Family and friends headed to Kingston to help search for him physically through the woods, hills, canvassing hospitals and circulating flyers. They did whatever they could do to help find Joe.
They searched tirelessly but did not find Joe.
Joe’s body was found floating in the Cataraqui River on November 13, twenty-two days later. The Canadian Forces initial theory about the death was “suicide by drowning”.
“I’m open to all scenarios that have to do with the death,” said Joe’s father, Ron. “The thing is, there’s been no evidence, nothing to support suicide, that we have heard or have read or have come across.”
There were a lot of questions the family wanted answers to.
Why was he not alive?
Why did it take three weeks to find his body?
Why was there no water in his lungs when he was found?
Why was his body found half-naked?
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Criminal Investigation took over the investigation in February 2004. The Military Board of Inquiry was put on hold, pending the OPP’s investigation results. Five months later, a final autopsy report was given with ‘no specific cause of death identified’.
In the fall of 2004, Joe’s body was exhumed, and a second autopsy was conducted, and the cause of death was identified as “unascertained”. A year later, in November 2005, Ontario’s deputy chief coroner, Jim Cairns, said the OPP had ruled out foul play in the death.
In October 2006, an Ontario Coroner’s “inquest” began in Kingston but was abruptly stopped after five days. It was stopped due to “the interests of fairness”.
A second “inquest” was held in Kingston. After a month of hearings, the resulting verdict stated the cause of death was “unascertained, non-natural”, and the manner of death was “undetermined”.
Seventeen years later, there are still no answers as to what happened to Joe.
“We believe someone knows what happened to Joe,” said Ron. “There are so many questions that remain unanswered.”
But according to Ron, Joe left clues to this mystery.
“A body that was not badly decomposed enough to explain 22 days in the water, three shirts and a belt missing and never found, shoes still on but untied, unexplained distress to his pants, bruises on his nose and lip, a broken tooth, a bruise on his arm, blood on his clothing and a full meal in his stomach that no one can explain,” reads a post on Ron’s website, veritasforjoe.com, a website dedicated to the mysteries and unanswered questions of his son’s case. “There’s a list of items never followed up on, evidence gone missing, and autopsy tests still never completed.”
In February 2020, a special play, “Veritas”, about Joe’s disappearance was produced by Lynda Martens (Playwright) and Dale Hirlehey (Director).
According to Ron, he was optimistic the play would bring the circumstances of Joe’s death to the public eye.
Ron and his daughter, Nikki, sent a letter in February 2020 to Ontario’s chief coroner, Dirk Huyer, asking the case be reviewed.
Coincidentally, just as the play was being performed in London, Ron was able to get a meeting with the Chief Corner of the Province of Ontario, Dr. Huyer.
“We had a meeting with him in the middle of when the play was going on,” said Ron. “We were able to provide him with enough information that he is willing to take another look at this case. That, for us, was a huge step.”
Ron wishes to thank everyone who attended the play and showed support for Joe’s case and his family.
“From our perspective, the play was a huge success in sharing the family’s experience through this tragedy and sharing information about the case that was never made public before,” added Ron.
Seventeen years later, there are still many unanswered questions. Ron said he is not searching for vengeance, but rather just the truth.
“We just want to know what happened to Joe,” said Ron. “Regardless of what the answer is, as long as it’s the correct answer, we will certainly accept that.”
Ron and his family are waiting to hear back from Dr. Huyer with the next steps. According to Ron, Dr. Huyer indicated Joe’s case warranted review; however, the review has not started yet.
“Because of the COVID-19 situation, things have been put on hold with social distancing, etc.,” added Ron. “I’m sure he is swamped with all kinds of work. It’s on hold right now, but I expect once things calm down a bit, we’re going to be back in contact with him.”
In the meantime, Ron suggested anyone interested in the case to check out his website, www.veritasforjoe.com. The website offers information with regard to what this case is all about. There are various reports, the autopsy report and several other newspaper articles from 17 years ago.
“Even more importantly, if anyone has any information to share, someone who knows something, there is a link to contact our family on the site,” said Ron. “We encourage anyone with information to come forward, even if you think it is insignificant, it may not be. So please reach out.”
• The Ridgetown Independent