CONTENT WARNING: This article refers to certain historic criminal cases, the details of which some readers may find disturbing.
Friday, June 23, 1978, was a typical early summer day in Kingston. The sun rose at 6:14 a.m. and, with overcast skies and recurring drizzle, the afternoon high was just 20 degrees Celsius. It is more likely that Christine thought of it as 68 degrees Fahrenheit, having grown up with the imperial system.
Christine Zieomkiewicz, 27, went to work her job as a lab technician at Queen’s University, in the Physiology Department inside Abramsky Hall. At work, she got along with her colleagues who thought of her as “reliable” and “conscientious.”
After work, she took a trip to the grocery store for weekend supplies then she picked out a new sweater at the Kingston Centre. She had recently purchased a brand new bright red Honda Civic of which she was very proud. One wonders what kind of music she listened to on the radio as she parked at her building on the corner of Park and Regent Streets.
A neighbour chatted a bit with the friendly young woman with the warm smile and hazel eyes, before Christine entered the building, carrying her bags. Then, it seems, she went downstairs to her basement apartment and simply vanished.
Since then, her story has been told in much the same way, over and over. First, it was in newspapers: stories marked each year, each decade, and then the quarter century since her disappearance. More recently, part-time sleuths delve into the mystery of her disappearance on social media sites like Reddit.
The cruel fact is that 45 years have passed and very little else is known.
Few are left who remember the radiant smile and kind eyes behind each portrait of Christine. Very little information has been revealed from police investigations into her disappearance. There was no sign of forced entry into her little apartment, no sign of a struggle. Her car was still left parked. The only thing missing seemed to be her brown leather purse.
The mind strains to comprehend her story. How can someone with every expectation of a bright future, with friends and family who loved her, seemingly vanish off the face of the earth?
Christine’s brother, Bernie Ziomkiewicz, was also a researcher in a different department at Queen’s. The then 25-year-old got a Sunday night call from his mother; she was worried about Christine, who hadn’t made her usual Sunday visit to her parents and couldn’t be reached by phone.
“I think I was 25, she was 27, and our older brother, who would have been 28… was living in Toronto at the time. We were all kind of living on our own and starting our own lives. So we weren’t necessarily in touch with each other all the time, but more sort of self-focused, you know? Self-absorbed, in a sense,” explains the youngest Ziomkiewicz.
The three young Ziomkiewiczs were well-educated, with good jobs; they were finding homes and finding themselves. So Bernie tried not to worry. He tried to call his sister at work on Monday, but she had not arrived. The same thing happened on Tuesday. Something was wrong. She hadn’t even called to report her absences.
Police were called. Nothing unusual was found at Christine’s apartment, and the only thing that seemed to be missing was her little brown purse.
Could the young woman have just decided to leave? Bernie says he has never thought Christine left of her own volition: “No. That doesn’t make sense to me. I think after some length of time, of course… after two or three days, especially a week, the probability of somebody being found is very low. I don’t believe she left voluntarily. And so it’s not likely she’ll come back voluntarily.”
“She left a car that was almost new with less than 1,000 miles on it and [an untouched] bank account,” he points out. “If someone left voluntarily, they would not leave that behind.”
The family and friends of a missing person are left to grapple with the sudden void.
“It was such a shock that threw everybody off balance, of course,” remembers Bernie, noting that his parents, Stefan and Joan, were devastated.
Bernie also remembers feeling a gnawing paranoia: “When something completely unexpected, completely out of the blue, something unimaginable happens, it really throws you off guard. It does make one wonder, ‘can it happen again? Will it happen again? And who will be the next person that it happens to?’ That’s something that I was feeling… but I never hear people talk about that particular aspect of a disappearance.”
In the days and weeks that followed, it became more and more clear to the family that the police had no clues. Bernie says that, at the time, “there was some feeling that the police force in Kingston was not the best.”
The first Christmas after Christine’s disappearance, Bernie says, the sight of her empty chair was devastating. The family had spent every Christmas together.
In frustration, Stefan and Joan Ziomkiewicz turned to a private investigator (PI) to help them search for their daughter. The PI determined that Christine had been calling someone, quite often it seemed, from her work phone. Yet by all accounts, no one ever found out who that someone was.
The private investigator concluded that Christine had started seeing a new boyfriend shortly before her disappearance, Bernie recalls, “So apparently there was someone the people at work knew about, but I didn’t know who that was.”
Bernie remembers a friend suggested a psychic and gave him a name. “I think such things are possible; the police do sometimes use psychics,” he says, but nothing came of it.
One account notes that, on the advice of a psychic, Stefan and Joan drove 40 kilometres outside of Kingston to the intersection of Highways 15 and 32 to look for their daughter’s remains. They wandered the woods there for hours, but found nothing.
The loss and the not knowing wore on the family, and Bernie believes his parents’ lives were deeply impacted. They rarely involved their sons in their search for Christine, and it took up untold amounts of time and money for them. It took them away from other activities the couple might have enjoyed, Bernie says, explaining that his mother “said she felt guilty enjoying anything.”
Christine’s parents kept her belongings in their basement at the ready for her return. But sadly, despite their hopeful, sometimes desperate perseverance, both the Ziomkiewiczs passed away with no answers about their missing daughter — Stefan in 2002, and Joan in 2007.
This tragedy bothers Kingston Police (KP) Staff Sergeant Jay Finn.
“What happened to her is a complete mystery,” he says. “It’s terrible. It’s awful… them passing away not knowing what happened to their daughter.”
Finn, a 23-year police veteran, now serves in KP’s General Patrol Unit, but he served four years as an investigator in Major Crime and then three years as the sergeant in charge of Major Crimes.
“I was born and raised in Kingston,” Finn says, noting he knew about Christine’s disappearance long before he even became a police officer, having heard the reports through the media and the various connections that pervade small-town life.
“Out of all of our cold cases, that’s the one that I wish we had some decent concrete answers on,” he says.
Finn spent a significant amount of time re-investigating Christine’s disappearance in 2017 and 2018 when he took over the Major Crime Unit.
“I went across the country on it: [I went] down east, I went out west interviewing people. I mean, we don’t give up on these,” he says.
When DNA technology first started to become more advanced, “around 1993, we obtained DNA from the family and preserved that,” Finn says.
Under his watch, “in 2017-2018, when the DNA data bank for missing people really ramped up operations, we submitted Christine’s as well as our other missing people’s DNA to the data bank.”
“On top of that, one thing that we don’t generally always do is [that], with Christine’s and one other missing person case, I sent a request to the FBI to add their DNA to the missing person data bank in the United States. Given [that Kingston is] a border town, given the history… they took it and have uploaded it to their files,” Finn shares.
“Christine’s case really, really bothers me,” Finn says again. “The Ziomkiewics were and are great people. They weren’t involved in a life of crime. I couldn’t imagine [them having to live with not knowing what happened to their daughter].”
Adding to the mystery of the case is just how much is unknown.
“Based on what we know, I can’t conclude that she was murdered. … She could have gone off and lived a different life under a different name. It’s very unlikely, but It’s still a possibility,” he acknowledges.
Still, Finn notes that Christine left so much behind: a new car, all her belongings, even bank accounts.
“You’d think, if you were going to start your life over, you’d probably take [your] hard-earned money,” he says.
Who was the mysterious person Christine had been contacting on the phone at work? According to Finn, they really don’t know.
“When I looked into the phone calls, back then at Queen’s University you couldn’t make long distance calls without filling out a request,” but otherwise there were no records, he says. It wasn’t like today, where a person’s calls are all indexed by their cell phone provider.
Finn isn’t even sure if the calls were as big of a deal as the PI made out to the family in the 1970s, he expresses. He says he looked carefully at men Christine had been dating, and notes that she had even been engaged to a man and broken it off in the years leading up to her disappearance. But he didn’t find anything suspicious about the men he interviewed.
“There’s several people I interviewed who knew her back then,” Finn says, noting those people were Christine’s connections at Queen’s and more.
But no one stood out.
Kingston, Finn notes, is a prison town, and there were several tips to investigate about known criminals and drifters.
For example, Robert Edward Brown, a likely serial killer, lived in Christine’s neighbourhood at the time. Brown and an accomplice were arrested on February 10, 1982, for killing two women in two other provinces and burning their bodies. He confessed to the RCMP that he had killed seven people between 1964 and 1982, which they found “highly probable.” He later killed himself in prison. Finn was visibly disgusted talking about this possibility.
Finn says they will never give up, and he emphasizes that one of the best things the public and the police can do is to keep Christine’s memory out there.
“You know, people are getting older, but someone knows something that could still help solve this,” the veteran police sergeant says.
Bernie Ziomkiewicz agrees. He believes Christine must have left that night so long ago with someone she knew, someone she trusted.
“She was friendly, perhaps sometimes naively so, but that is what I believe,” he says.
And that person might still be out there, in Kingston or elsewhere.
Bernie has had to move on with his life; after all, it has been 45 years. But he agreed to do this story and bring Christine’s memory before the public, saying, “I’ve been interviewed many times over the years about my sister’s disappearance. I’m older now, but I can do this one more time.”
Anyone with information about Christine Ziomkiewicz’s disappearance in 1978 should call Kingston Police at 613-549-4660. Those with information who prefer not to disclose their identity can contact the Kingston Police general number (613-549-4660 ext. 0) and request to remain anonymous.
‘Suspended Justice’ is an in-depth column written by reporter Michelle Dorey Forestell, which examines cold cases in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) region. Launched in January 2024, the column is published monthly in an attempt to keep cold cases on the minds of those living in the area, with the hope that, in doing so, anyone whose memory is jogged might reach out to police with information.
Kingston Police can be reached at 613-549-4660. Those with information who prefer not to reveal their identity can contact the Kingston Police general number (613-549-4660 ext. 0) and request to remain anonymous.
Information on Kingston Police cold cases can be found here.
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) can be reached at 1-888-310-1122.
Tips about any crime can be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or online here.
If there is a case that’s gone cold in the KFL&A region that you would like Kingstonist to look into, please contact Editor Tori Stafford via email at [email protected].