Perched on the edge of the Royal Military College campus rises its imposing limestone and granite Memorial Arch, engraved with the names of graduates who perished in the great wartime battles of the past century. Fifty metres away, at the mouth of the Cataraqui River, sits a far more modest shrine of plastic flowers and family photographs, dedicated to a popular third-year cadet whose body drifted ashore last year in less glorious circumstances, apparently a victim of drowning.
Without the dogged efforts of that cadet's father, who believes his son was very likely murdered, the story might have ended there: a promising 21-year life inexplicably snuffed out in its prime.
But it has not ended. The strange, tragic disappearance of Joe Grozelle has taken a decidedly more sinister twist.
As part of a team that included a lawyer and private investigator, his father, Ron, assembled a meticulous compendium of disturbing evidence that poses three broad questions: Did someone interfere with the contents of the hard drive on Joe's computer in his college dormitory? How to explain the odd circumstances surrounding the movement of the young man's personal effects? And -- perhaps crucial -- why the apparently conflicting information about the state of his body when it floated to shore, three weeks after he mysteriously vanished?
That legwork was instrumental in getting the case quietly reopened in February.
As a result, authorities will take the highly unusual step of exhuming the young man's body on Thursday for a second autopsy that will be far more detailed than the first.
"We're not taking this lightly," said Ontario Provincial Police Detective Inspector Ian Grant, who heads a four-officer team working full-time on the revived investigation, originally conducted by the Canadian military's National Investigation Service, aided by Kingston police.
Nor is anyone else.
A storm of controversy erupted in Kingston this week after deputy chief coroner Jim Cairns suggested in an interview with The Globe and Mail that the initial investigation had been less than perfect. (Dr. Cairns later conceded he had overstated the role of the Kingston police, who were stung by his criticism. Chief Bill Closs said his force had been "tarnished" by the coroner's remarks.)
Det. Insp. Grant will not describe his inquiries as a homicide investigation. Foul play, he says, is just one avenue being explored. Suicide or an accident are the other possibilities.
But Ron Grozelle has little doubt his son was killed. He further believes that more than one person has information about what happened and that they have so far kept silent.
And while he is reluctant to discuss his strong "gut feeling" as to who may be involved, he is certain the original investigation was deeply flawed.
"My sense, if I could sum it up, of what I saw of the investigation was that if you don't want to know if the window is broken behind the barn, you just don't go there," he said.
Police commonly encounter such a reaction among bereaved relatives and friends when a sudden death occurs. But the letters Mr. Grozelle dispatched to the provincial coroner's office and to the OPP last January went far beyond listing complaints of incompetence or spinning conspiracy tales.
Not everyone on and around campus is convinced there is more to the cadet's death than meets the eye.
"I think the OPP is being silly," one military officer said. "They're just trying to score points by rehashing something the military police and Kingston police have already investigated."
For its part, the NIS vigorously defends its investigation.
"This was one of our larger files in 2003-2004 and was given top priority," said spokesman Captain Mark Giles. "Every resource that a civilian police agency would have, we used. . . . If there was a stone unturned, I'm not aware of it."
Yet whatever the outcome of this second go-round, what's clear is that provincial police and the coroner's office are taking Mr. Grozelle's package of evidence extremely seriously.
"He's a very logical man, a person prone to precise arguments. His questions are good questions," Det. Insp. Grant says of Mr. Grozelle, a trained engineer employed by Union Gas since graduating from the University of Waterloo 30 years ago. "He's a concerned father whose son is gone, and he wants answers."
Nor does the police officer disagree with the grieving father's view that the truth about what happened is perhaps being concealed.
An eight-month investigation preceded the decision to exhume the young man's remains from Greenwood Cemetery, near Chatham, where he was laid to rest in a military ceremony attended by friends, relatives and 200 uniformed cadets.
"I'm in a position where I can't believe everything I've been told because it doesn't add up," Det. Insp. Grant said. "The question is: Which parts are wrong?"
By all accounts, Joe Grozelle was the kind of well-adjusted military cadet who had everything going for him. He played guard on the campus basketball team; he was healthy; he had no financial problems, and in his drive to become a logistics specialist, his academic marks were good. Raised on a farm, he was a loving member of a large family, the fourth of Ron and Minnie Grozelle's five children, and he had a long-term girlfriend.
So it was no surprise for investigators to learn that on the night of Oct. 21 last year, shortly before he vanished, he was apparently studying in his dormitory room.
With him, she said, was his girlfriend, fellow cadet Melissa Haggart. She told authorities that after falling asleep, she awoke around 5:30 a.m. to find her friend gone; she spent the day anxiously quizzing friends about her normally predictable boyfriend's whereabouts.
The Grozelle family was alerted to Joe's disappearance roughly 12 hours later, with a telephone call from the basketball coach wondering whether there was an emergency at home because he had never before missed a practice.
Reached this week, Ms. Haggart, now in her fourth year at RMC, told The Globe and Mail she would need permission from school officials before consenting to an interview. After that was given, however, she declined to discuss the case.
In a lengthy interview with the Kingston Whig-Standard in December, Ms Haggart described a mate who "loved life" and "loved me."
Suicide, she said, seemed highly unlikely because "there wasn't any sign that stress was getting to him, or he didn't want to handle it."
Yet that appears to have been the working theory of the NIS as they interviewed the missing cadet's friends and associates. "When they were talking to me, they kept barking up that tree," said Craig Norman, who coached basketball at RMC and is now head coach at McGill University.
"The theory they seemed to be working on was that he was about to get cut from the team and couldn't handle the pressure, and it couldn't have been farther from the truth. He was a third-year player who was part of the leadership of that team, but they kept barking up that tree. He struggled at the university level early in his career, but he had overcome those obstacles. It was so frustrating because Joe was a great kid and had everything so together."
Seemingly, the NIS so focused on the idea that the cadet might have committed suicide that six weeks after his body was discovered Ms. Haggart passed a polygraph test they asked her to take in order to determine whether she had concealed a suicide note.
As to whether Joe Grozelle somehow accidentally slipped into the water and drowned, his family is skeptical because, contrary to some published reports, he was able to swim and had passed the basic test required of all cadets.
Nor was there any good reason for him to be out of doors that night, since it was raining heavily.
Ms. Haggart returned home to stay with her parents for most of the next two weeks, but came back to Kingston to speak further with investigators. "They were looking in dumpsters and places that I didn't want to be looking for my best friend," she told the Whig-Standard.
Scores of officials, fellow cadets and volunteers did take part, fanning out across land, air and water, aided by helicopter-mounted thermal imaging equipment.
The search drew a blank.
Three weeks later, on Nov. 13, after days of fierce winds and rain, a passerby spotted what proved to be the cadet's body, floating close to where the Cataraqui River flows into Lake Ontario. By the time authorities arrived, it had drifted close to shore, less than a kilometre from the young man's dormitory.
Later that day, at a Kingston hospital morgue, Ron Grozelle tearfully identified the body as that of his son. Along with that gruesome confirmation, he sought answers as to what might have happened.
In the weeks that followed, he says, none appeared to be forthcoming. So he and his team swiftly launched their own investigation and within weeks forwarded their findings to provincial police and the coroner's office, requesting a new investigation and an inquest.
Authorities responded positively, perhaps because Mr. Grozelle had unearthed information he found deeply disturbing.
Scrutiny of his son's computer showed that at around 9:30 a.m. on the day of his disappearance, a disk had been placed in the floppy drive. Missing from the hard drive was any trace of computer activity from the previous 16 days, even though Joe had used the computer as a regular part of his studies.
When a technician was able to locate and restore the computer files, something else emerged.
On the afternoon and evening before he vanished, the cadet had been at basketball practice. Yet during that time, from 4:45 to 6:45 p.m, six files were created on the computer. These related to a law assignment the cadet's class was working on, due to be handed in the next day.
"The significant part of this is that we feel that someone was at Joe's computer, typing something in to make it look like he was there," Mr. Grozelle said in an interview. "Basically, the computer activity does not support the time line of Joe's activities on the afternoon of Oct. 21 and the early hours of Oct. 22, as they were reported."
Equally puzzling to Mr. Grozelle is that, according to him, the cadet's wristwatch and keys mysteriously reappeared in his room.
But what particularly bothers him is what he saw on the morgue slab.
Mr. Grozelle says the body was described by authorities as "badly decomposed," as was to be expected if it had been underwater for three weeks, drifting around the stony riverbed and then surfacing in a storm. But he insists the body he viewed was anything but decomposed.
On the contrary, he wrote in the letters that resulted the case being reopened, the body was essentially intact, "a bit swollen and his eyes bulging somewhat, but he was easily recognizable. Outside of some redness from above his eyebrows . . . and a small red mark on his forearm . . . Joe was in perfect condition."
Equally perplexing to him was the fact that his son was naked from the waist up. Gone were three layers of clothing -- his T-shirt, polo shirt and a hooded sweatshirt -- along with his trousers belt.
"I dispute the NIS's contention that water currents could have taken Joe's belt out of the loops on his pants and that water currents could have ripped all his upper body clothing off without so much as a mark, bruise or break in his skin," Mr. Grozelle wrote.
His own conclusion: His son had almost certainly been in the water for considerably less than three weeks.
The official, incomplete view in that regard is unclear. Not until 11 days ago did Mr. Grozelle receive documents from the coroner's office containing two autopsy reports, written in May and July. Together, they said merely that his son's death probably resulted from asphyxia as a result of drowning, with hypothermia a possible contributing factor.
But neither report offered an explanation as to how, why or when the cadet might have drowned.
In the renewed effort to answer that question, Det. Insp. Grant is hopeful light will be shed by the second autopsy, to be conducted in Toronto on Nov. 25 by Michael Pollanen, director of the provincial coroner's forensic pathology unit. Also present will be John Butt, a former chief medical examiner in Alberta and Nova Scotia, who has been retained by the Grozelle family.
At most, there are only a handful of exhumations in Ontario each year. "I've been in homicide investigations for a long, long time, and this is only my third, after 25 years on the job," Det. Insp. Grant said.
Nor is there any guarantee the postmortem will be conclusive, he said. "But I think I'd be remiss if I didn't at least try."
Mr. Grozelle is keener still. "It's been a tough year because I'm so focused on this," he said.
"The rest of the family is trying to carry as best as normal. But for me it's something more because I'm on a mission. I have one shot at doing this, and it's happening now."