The 1978 disappearance of a 27-year-old Queen’s lab technician goes unsolved

How police, family conducted a forty-year search for Christine Ziomkiewicz

Ziomkiewicz, centre, in the lab at Abramsky Hall.
Credit: 
Photo supplied by Bernie Ziomkiewicz
Forty years ago, Christine Ziomkiewicz vanished without a trace. 
 
She was last seen on June 23, 1978. The following decades revealed little of the 27-year-old Queen’s lab technician’s disappearance. What happened that day left family and police with few answers.
 
Ziomkiewicz grew up in Kingston with her two brothers, Chris and Bernie. After earning a Bachelor of Science from Brock University, she returned to Kingston in 1974.
 
She worked a few temporary jobs before securing a position with the Physiology Department at Queen’s, working in the labs of what is now Abramsky Hall.
 
When she disappeared on June 23, it would’ve been an ordinary Friday evening for her. She simply shopped at the Kingston Centre after work, bought a new sweater, and went home. Arriving at her downtown Kingston apartment on Park Street, she chatted with a neighbour before going inside.
 
It was the last time anyone heard from her. 
 
Concern grew when she missed her normal weekend visit with her parents, Stefan and Joan. The latter asked Ziomkiewicz’s younger brother, Bernie, who also worked as a technician at Queen’s, to check in on her. 
 
Bernie called Ziomkiewicz’s lab on the Monday and Tuesday. Both times, Ziomkiewicz wasn’t at work, and hadn’t called ahead about her absence. Days went by with no word. The family’s worry deepened, and they reported her missing to the police later that week. 
 
At the time, Ziomkiewicz’s case missed major media attention, with the exception of a brief article featured in The Kingston Whig-Standard on June 30, 1978.
 
Decades later, time has done little to develop the case. Most leads the police have followed have dried up, leading nowhere.  
 
Several reporters at The Whig have followed up on the case over the years, interviewing various friends and family members, but little information has emerged. 

 

Searching for answers

Both of Ziomkiewicz’s brothers said that her disappearance was difficult for their parents.
 
Her parents doggedly searched for their daughter, turning to at least one private investigator and psychic for help within the first year of her disappearance. 
 
Their private investigator concluded that Ziomkiewicz had started seeing a new boyfriend shortly before her disappearance, but little came from the revelation. 
 
Another day, Stefan and Joan drove 40 kilometres outside of Kingston to the intersection of Highways 15 and 32 km to look for Ziomkiewicz’s remains on advice from a psychic. They  trekked though the forest with shovels for hours, and found nothing. 
 
As time dragged on, her loss wore on the family, according to her brother Chris. There were too many unknowns for them to rest. 
 
“It’s the not knowing,” Chris told The Journal. “If you know what happened, even if it’s the worst of the worst, you can accept it and get over it. When you don’t know and you can’t get closure, it eats away at you.”  
 
Chris said the lack of closure haunted his parents. The search soon became their project for years, driving them on a journey to discover her whereabouts. 
 
It was hard. The first Christmas after her disappearance, Chris watched his parents, knowing how their lost daughter weighed on them.
 
Barring the previous year, the family spent every Christmas together, Joan told The Whig in 1979. 
 
Except that year, “there was an empty chair,” Stefan said. Around this time, Ziomkiewicz’s parents stored her 
belongings in their basement, ready for her to return home. 
 
On the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, Stefan told The Whig, “Every hour of the day, we think of her. I wake up at night. If only we knew, we are tormented very badly.” 
 
“This has taken the interest out of many things for us. You almost feel guilty about having a good time. You wonder if she is suffering,” Joan added about her daughter.  
 
In their long wait, Stefan and Joan Ziomkiewicz passed away—Stefan in 2002, and Joan in 2007. 

 

The woman behind the photo

By all accounts, Ziomkiewicz had a tight, close-knit network of friends, and was well-liked by her colleagues and classmates. 
 
In an interview with The Journal, Chris said his sister was focused and driven. 
 
“Anything she did, she’d finish it. She wasn’t one to start something and then drop it for something else. She would always focus [on it].” 
 
“She had a real sense of not letting people down when she worked with them: if she said she was going to do something, she was going to do it. She was dedicated and always wanted to be helpful,” Chris said. 
 
Ziomkiewicz got along well with children, and her brother wonders about her having a family, if things were different. 
 
He told The Journal he remembers Christine working as a don at the YMCA during her time at Brock, assisting people who needed shelter.
 
He said she accepted people and worked with them through difficult times as they put their lives back together. 
“She found personal reward in doing it, not from seeing her name in lights or anything, but just from helping other people,” Chris said. 

 

The cold case 

Ziomkiewicz’s disappearance is one of nine cold cases being investigated by the Kingston Police’s Cold Case Unit (CCU). 
 
The CCU was formed in 2005 under the direction of Chief William Closs after the murder of Queen’s student Justin Schwieg at A.J’s Hangar bar, now Ale House. 
 
After seeing the profound impact of the murder on Schwieg’s family, Closs decided to create the unit to compile all of the information on cold cases in the department, and to find new leads. 
 
Christine’s other brother, Bernie, told The Journal he was invited to the police station with the families of other cold case victims for the announcement of the special unit.
 
Last year, Sgt. Jay Finn took over the Major Crimes and Cold Case Unit.
 
Finn and his team have spent the past year going through Christine’s case file and following up on potential leads that could be further investigated. 
 
In an interview with The Journal, Sgt. Finn said the police tried to follow new leads as they’ve come up. Last year, there were two but neither led anywhere.
 
“Its horrible. It’s sad. I couldn’t imagine being a parent and not knowing what happened to their daughter,” Finn said. 
 
Outside of Finn’s office, there’s a photo display of the cold case subjects on the CCU’s docket. A sign reading “Never Give Up” hangs in big red letters above the cold case photos. 
 
“Christine’s not forgotten by us. On the wall outside my office, everyday we walk in here, we see those [people] from the cold cases we work with,” Finn said. 
 
With next to no physical evidence and a large window of time between when she was last seen and when it was noticed she was missing, the case is difficult to investigate. 
 
In addition to limited staff assigned to cold cases, time presents a common barrier, according to Finn. Witnesses tend to forget and records aren’t always kept, making verification difficult. As a missing person’s case, police also don’t always have the same lawful authority to investigate as when there’s proof of a crime.
 
While she is the focus of missing persons notices and true crime message boards, Ziomkiewicz remains in the daily lives of investigators and her family, who learned to live with an empty chair on their first Christmas without her.
 
They’ve faced the unimaginable, according to Bernie.
 
“When something that serious and that tragic happens very close to you, it makes you wonder whether its going to happen again and who it’s going to happen to next,” Bernie said.
 
“When something beyond your imagination happens to you, you wonder what else beyond your imagination can happen.” 
 
Anyone with information about Christine’s disappearance is encouraged to contact the Kingston Police’s Major Crimes and Cold Case Unit at 613-549-4660.

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