London theatre production will explore disappearance, death of area student Joe Grozelle

A London theatre production will retrace many of the steps taken in a police investigation and coroner’s inquest to train a spotlight on the 2003 death of a local student.

Joe Grozelle

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A London theatre production will retrace many steps taken in police and coroner’s probes to train a spotlight on the 2003 death of a local student.

The Palace Theatre will stage Veritas, a play about the death of Joe Grozelle, a native of the Chatham-Kent community of Ridgetown whose body was found in the Cataraqui River near Kingston’s Royal Military College, where he was a cadet.

For Grozelle’s family, questions linger about his death and the play, which opens Friday, is a chance to help the healing process, said Nikki Grozelle, Joe’s sister.

“It’s surreal. My dad and I were at rehearsals this week and the cast has captured our personalities, how we speak, the family dynamic,” Grozelle said.

“It does help. It triggers validation, to know people still care. We’re not on a crusade, but there are valid questions” about the death.

“It’s hard. It’s personal.”

The play, written by Londoner Lynda Martens and directed by Dale Hirlehey, will run until Feb. 9 at the 710 Dundas St. theatre in London’s Old East Village.

John Reid, playing Ron Grozelle shakes hands with the real Ron Grozelle and his daughter Nikki Grozelle. Charlotte Weeks left, plays Nikki, while Charlene McNabb plays the mom Minnie Grozelle in the new play Veritas, written by Londoner Lynda Martens about the death of Chatham area soldier Joe Grozelle. The play is at the Palace theatre and is being staged by the London Community Players. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

Joe went missing from RMC in November 2003 and his body was pulled from the river three weeks later. An autopsy was conducted, but about two weeks later the body was exhumed for a second autopsy.

A coroner’s inquest was held in October 2006, but was shut down due to issues of “procedural fairness.” A second inquest, held  in 2007, found the cause of death was “unascertained” and “undetermined.”

An OPP investigation ruled out foul play.

In 2018 the chief coroner and the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service launched an internal process, called a “concealed homicide review,” to cover missed homicide cases stretching back to 1990. The Grozelles have reached out to the coroner, asking that Joe’s case be made part of that review and be considered a cold, rather than closed, case, Nikki Grozelle said.

“Our goal is to move the case forward,” she added. “This has never stopped for us. We live this every day.”

Martens said crafting the script was a roughly five-year journey, including three years reading transcripts, talking to the Grozelles and officials, and making visits to Kingston.

Joe Grozelle

“It was completely different from any other script I’ve written, because it was all true,” she said.

“There are a few scenes that I created that are fiction, but most of it is from transcripts and interviews and visits with family and trips to Kingston. It’s been a wonderful experience and the family was so helpful.”

Martens said the facts of the story, which she heard after meeting Nikki Grozelle at a private party, drew her attention.

“My writing always affects me emotionally,” said Martens. “I only write stories that affect me and the more I heard about the story, the more I thought it would be a very cool play.”

Director Hirlehey said he was drawn to the play by the “theatrical pureness” of Marten’s writing.

“Her script lets actors be actors and storytellers in a very creative way,” said Hirlehey.

“Veritas combines a very compelling personal story with a multimedia component drawn from the news media as well as from clips and photographs from the Grozelle family themselves. This case remains unsolved.”


IF YOU GO

What: Veritas

Where: Palace Theatre, 710 Dundas St.

When: Jan. 30 to Feb. 9.

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