Nearly two decades after receiving notification of his son Joe’s death, Ron Grozelle still seeks answers.
Why was his tooth chipped?
Why was his belt removed but his 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 still 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 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 and hills, canvassing hospitals and circulating flyers. They did whatever they could do to help find Joe.
They searched tirelessly but did not find Joe.
Eventually, 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 of Muirkirk. “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 many 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, 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.”
But according to Ron, Joe left clues to this mystery that may help lead to answers.
“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,” said Ron. “There’s a list of items never followed up on, evidence gone missing, and autopsy tests still never completed.”
Nearly 20 years later, there are still no answers about what happened to Joe. But Ron remains hopeful as a fresh set of eyes is now examining the case.
In February 2020, the Grozelle family sat down with Ontario’s Chief Coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer, and Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely. A few months later, Huyer requested that Ontario Provincial Police review all the information and materials relating to Joe’s case.
The officer conducting that review is OPP Det. Insp. Shawn Glassford. He received the Grozelle case this past January. It had originally been given to another OPP investigator, but he recently retired.
As the case now has a new pair of eyes reviewing the evidence, 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 said his family is hopeful and optimistic the new review will translate into results. He added he is hopeful for transparency and that nothing will be held back from them.
“We find it kind of hard to fathom. With all of the agencies involved and people that have looked at this, there hasn’t been anything further regarding what happened to Joe. We believe someone knows what happened to Joe. There are so many questions that remain unanswered,” said Ron.
Glassford said he’s hopeful he can find those answers from the hundreds of tips that were given, as well as every report ever written on the case, which is thousands of pages long.
“I’m hopeful we’ll find answers for the family and for the community,” Glassford said. “But there are no guarantees. That’s the hard part. There are no guarantees.”
According to Ron, transparency and closure are also what he wishes will come for the friends and families affected by the most recent tragic event at the Royal Military College in Kingston.
At approximately 2 a.m. on April 29, a vehicle carrying four Royal Military College cadets on their campus in Kingston, Ont — all in their graduating year — went into the water off Point Frederick, a peninsula that sits between Kingston Harbour and Navy Bay on the St. Lawrence River.
According to an update from the Office of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, there is no evidence to suggest foul play in the deaths of the four.
“The recent situation with the four cadets at RMC that just passed away is a very sad, tragic situation. We certainly hope the families will be getting full disclosure and transparency on the information that would provide them closure for what happened there,” said Ron.
In the meantime, Ron suggested anyone interested in the case check out his website, www.veritasforjoe.com. The website offers information with regard to what this case is all about. He said it’s a website dedicated to the mysteries and unanswered questions of his son’s case. There are various reports, the autopsy report and several other newspaper articles from nearly 20 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.”
Story by Bird Bouchard, Ridgetown Independent News, for the Local Journalism Initiative