London

Father hopes play about military cadet's death will lead to information, 16 years later

Veritas, a play about 21-year-old Royal Military College student Joe Grozelle's disappearance and death in 2003, opens at The Palace Theatre in London on Friday.   

Ron Grozelle hopes the play will lead to the truth about his son's death

Joe was a cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, when he disappeared on Oct. 21, 2003. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

A woman stands front and centre on stage. Her arm reaches out and she points into an audience, shrouded in darkness.

"Somebody knows. Somebody knows something," she says, in a loud voice.

It's at that moment, during a play about his son's mysterious death 16 years ago, that Ron Grozelle feels shivers run down his spine.

"The fact that she's asking – suggesting to the audience – that somebody knows," Ron begins to explain. "It's exactly how I feel."

Veritas, a play about 21-year-old Royal Military College student Joe Grozelle's disappearance and death in 2003, opens at The Palace Theatre in London on Friday.   

Ron can describe its various scenes, some that make his heart lurch, because he and his family have played an active role in bring it to the stage.

Ron Grozelle says seeing his son's disappearance and death, dramatized on stage, brings the case back vividly in his mind and heart. But he hopes it'll bring forward a new piece of information that helps them towards understanding what happened to Joe, 16 years ago.

"It brings back the case so vividly in our minds and our hearts," said Ron. "It's been a bit of a challenge, obviously, to go through this again. We're reliving what happened 16 years ago."

The nightmare began with a phone call from a basketball coach at the college in Kingston asking where Joe was on Oct 21. His body was found floating on the Cataraqui River, at the base of the Rideau Canal,  21 days later.

"We want to know why, and what happened," explained Ron.

The Grozelles have questions about the way various investigations into Joe's death unfolded, and take issue with the findings of a coroner's inquest: a jury listed the cause of death as "unascertained, non-natural causes" and the manner of death as "undetermined."

"We're hoping that the play will allow for maybe somebody to come forward with some information that will be able to move the investigation a step closer to identifying the truth."

'It's almost like we have another family now'

Dale Hirlehey, the director of Veritas, said it's "surreal" to have people who are being portrayed in the play among members of the audience.

"You feel a responsibility to them to do it well and right," said Hirlehey.

The Grozelles helped playwright Lynda Martens develop a transcript. They've met with members of the cast, and have attended rehearsals too.

"We wanted their input. We wanted to talk to them, not only me and the production team, but the cast. We found it very inspiring and rewarding," said Hirlehey.

"You just feel like you're part of it, when you're with them."

Ron also feels a bond between his family and those who are in the cast.

"It's almost like we have a new family now," he said.

There's a public preview of Veritas on Thursday, followed by an official opening night at the Palace Theatre on Friday. It runs until a Sunday Feb. 9, with the family attending a pair of talk back sessions on Feb. 1 and 7.   

About the Author

Liny Lamberink

Reporter/Editor

Liny Lamberink is a reporter in London, ON. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

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