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Queens Chronicle

Unsolved murder turns 31 today

Cops push again to find out who killed 14-year-old in Richmond Hill

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:55 pm, Thu Feb 14, 2019.

The murder of 14-year-old Christine Diefenbach, who went out for the Sunday paper 31 years today and never came home, is back in the headlines.

The killer of the Richmond Hill teen was never identified, let alone caught. But detectives are still trying.

“Do you know what happened to Christine Diefenbach?” reads several recent post on the NYPD’s Twitter page.

Under the request for help is a heartbreaking school photo of Christine in a blue print dress and bow taken shortly before she was killed on Feb. 7, 1988.

A large feature story on the unsolved case also appeared in the Sunday Daily News, filled with the kind of details from past investigations that could come only from usually closed-mouth detectives.

The public push for new information is the kind of Hail Mary pass thrown by investigators who are otherwise out of options, says retired NYPD detective Joseph Giacolone, now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

“On cold cases, you try to drum up interest around anniversaries and holidays,” he said. “At times like that, you might reach someone who is feeling guilty about what they know or what they did.”

Hope as they might for a tip or new lead in the case, as of last week, none has come, said a police spokesman.

Christine left her house around 7 a.m., headed for a newstand on Lefferts Boulevard to buy a Sunday paper for the family, her father, John, told police that morning.

He scoured the neighborhood when she didn’t return but couldn’t find anyone who’d seen her.

Apparently, Christine took a shortcut at 89th Avenue, climbing up an embankment and walking along the Long Island Rail Road tracks to Lefferts rather than using the streets.

The short cut was well-known to kids in the neighborhood and that’s where police found her body, badly beaten, her top torn open and her jeans pulled down.

It was February and Christine was wearing gloves, which meant that police could not retrieve any usable DNA material from her hands or under her nails.

If she were alive today, Christine would be 45 years old and likely would not have a hard time recognizing her neighborhood.

The row houses on her old block and the warehouses along 89th Avenue have changed little since her childhood.

Six months or so after the murder, the LIRR put a new fence around its maintenance and storage yards south of her house.

“The word was they did that because that’s where they found her body,” said Ike Ilkiw, a retired detective who moved into Richmond Hill two years before the murder.

“My wife said to me, ‘What have we gotten ourselves into?’ ” he said.

He had to explain the neighborhood was generally safe and the murder was “an aberration,” as he put it.

“She was tiny kid, less than 5 feet tall, dumped on the railroad tracks,” Ilkiw said. It was the kind of crime that leaves a deep mark on a neighborhood.

The ethnic makeup of the area is markedly different from then, he says. From an overwhemingly Irish, German and Hispanic population, the area is now more West Indian.

Christine’s parents did not stick around long enough to see that happen. Not long after the murder, they packed up and moved to Suffolk County on Long Island.

Phone messages left at a phone number listed under John Diefenbach’s name were not returned last week.

An art award was established at the school in Richmond Hill that Christine, who love to paint, attended so that her memory would not fade.

“Funny thing about living in New York,” said Giacolone. “In cold cases, you can go back to the addresses of people in those old reports. Go knock on the door and they still live there.”

The push for new information on the internet “can’t do any harm,” said Giacolone. “It might just spark someone’s interest.

“It happens all the time. People find religion, they’re terminally ill and they want to get something off their chest.”

In recent years, the Police Department, however, has been reducing the number of detectives assigned to cold cases, which not long ago numbered 5,000.

The cold case squad in Queens used to be headquartered in the 105th Precinct in Queens Village. But the borough-based cold-case squads were shut down a number of years ago.

Today, all cold cases in the city are handled by a single, dedicated squad stationed at the precinct in Downtown Brooklyn.

“When I started in the squad, we had 60 detectives,” Giacolone recalled. “When I left, there was 11.”

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