Christine Diefenbach was up early on the morning of Sunday, February 7, 1988. As she did every week, the 14-year-old left her Queens, New York home around 7:30 am to walk to a nearby newsstand to pick up the Sunday papers. It was a ritual that usually only took her a few minutes, but on this morning she failed to return home.
Christine’s parents, John and Margaret Diefenbach, were concerned when the teenager wasn’t back within 30 minutes, and John went out and walked along the route she would normally take to the newsstand. He didn’t see any sign of his daughter and the newsstand owner told him that he hadn’t seen Christine yet that day. John returned home, hoping that Christine had met up with one of her friends and lost track of time. As lunchtime approached without any word from the teenager, John decided to call the New York Police Department and report her missing. He was told that he couldn’t file a report until she had been missing for more than 24 hours.
That morning, John and Margaret had a young boy stay with them. Around 12:30 pm, they decided to drive him home so they could focus on looking for Christine. They quickly drove to the boy’s house after putting the boy and their 5-year-old daughter Patricia in the family car. John saw something that stopped his heart on the way home: two police cars and an ambulance parked next to the Long Island railroad tracks. He thought the worst right away.
Near the corner of 121st Street and 89th Avenue in Richmond Hills, Queens, four blocks away from the family’s home on 125th Street, were the railroad tracks. A lot of people in the area used the tracks as a quick way to get from the neighborhood to nearby businesses, but Christine wasn’t one of them. Since her dad worked for the Transit Authority, he told her not to go near the tracks for her own safety.
John stopped his car and rushed up to a police officer. It was Christine’s picture that he showed the police officer and told them he needed help finding her. As they calmly led John away from the scene, the police told him they had found the body of a teenager. It was said that they were 90% sure it was my little girl.
John and Margaret were not allowed to see the victim because she had serious injuries to her face and head. They were told to go home and wait for official word once the medical examiner had taken possession of the body.
Soon, officials confirmed that Christine’s body was the one they had found. Police in New York said that she had been brutally attacked and that “it appears that it was a heavy blow to the skull that ki*lled her.” Someone walking by found her d*ead body. Her shirt was torn open and her pants were pulled down around her ankles. One of her shoes wasn’t there. Police found a piece of gum and four quarters in her pockets. This is the money she was going to use to buy her newspapers.
For Christine’s de*ath, the medical examiner found “crushing injuries of the skull and extensive lacerations of the brain.” She had been hit with a heavy, blunt object, which left her head and neck badly hurt. There was no proof that she had been sexually assaulted, even though her pants were pulled down around her ankles. They thought she had fought with her kil*ler, but scrapings from her nails showed no proof because she was wearing gloves at the time of the attack.
Police searched the area around the railroad tracks for hours looking for the mur*der weapon, but they still weren’t sure what had been used to ki*ll Christine. “There’s a lot of things that could have been used,” said New York Police Capt. William Roe. “But we haven’t found anything with blood on it.” They thought she might have been hit with a big rock that was then taken away.
Everyone who knew Christine was shocked when she was kil*led. She went to Intermediate School 217 and was in the ninth grade. She was known for being artistic there. There was talk in her class about going to an art-focused high school, but she wasn’t sure if that was what she wanted to do. John told the news media, “She liked drawing animals in general.” She loved horses and meant to either own one or work in a stable.
Christine’s art teacher, Lee Olshan, told reporters that the teenager was very talented. Whenever there was a contest to see who had the best bulletin board, Christine’s teachers would often ask her to draw pictures for it. The teachers knew that any art that Christine brought in would help them beat the other kids. “We will miss her as a person and as an artist…In person, she was the picture of sweetness, innocence, and goodness.
Christine had bought a newspaper every Sunday for the past two years at the newsstand. She often cut out articles to use in different school classes, but her main goal was to see if there was any news about musician Wayne Newton. She loved the singer so much that she talked her dad into taking her to one of his concerts a few months ago. A lot of the time, he was in the “Parade” magazine that came with the Sunday edition of the local paper. Christine always made sure she got a copy. Her parents thought it was safe for her to go to and from the newsstand by herself because she never said she had any problems.
Christine passed away tragically just two months before her family was going to leave Queens for Selden, a small town on Long Island, New York They had just decided to move there. “I just wanted to get out of the city and make a better life for the kids,” John said with sadness. I never liked New York City, but this area was never really bad.
Christine was known for being quiet and not wanting to talk to new people. She had been taught to stay away from strangers, and her father told reporters that he didn’t think she would have gone down to the train tracks with someone she didn’t know. “I think she was either tricked or forced into going through the rail yard.” Anyone, but a stranger, would not go with her.
There were people being searched for who saw Christine after she left her home on Sunday morning. Even though her father had told her not to take the short cut through the railroad yard, they thought she was going toward the tracks when she was attacked. The only thing they didn’t know was if she had been by herself at the time. They were hoping that someone had seen her walking.
People who worked for Long Island Railroad at the train yard where Christine’s body was found were shocked by the murd*er and wanted to help. The day after Christine was ki*lled, people started raising money for her family. At the same time, the Transport Workers Union said they would pay $5,000 for information that would help catch the ki*ller.
Police in New York were looking for a homeless man who was seen near the railroad yard just before Christine left her house on Sunday morning, two days after the mu*rder. This was said by Deputy Chief Joseph Borrelli. No one could give a good description of the man; all that was known was that he was African American and poorly dressed. We learned that a lot of creeps liked to hang out in that area.
Detectives quickly found the homeless man in question, even though witnesses only gave them a vague description. They then brought him in for an interview. They found out that he had been near Lefferts Boulevard on Sunday morning, but Christine hadn’t seen him there. He was no longer a suspect in her de*ath.
After Christine’s de*ath, her wake was held at the Leo Kearns Funeral Home. The building was packed with her family, friends, and classmates. Christine’s mother wasn’t there; she was too sad to leave the house. Family members said the de*ath of her oldest daughter had deeply affected her, and they were worried about her mental health. She was laid to rest in Long Island National Cemetery the next day.
A month after Christine was killed, the search for her killer had not gone very far. As the police continued their search for the killer, the city decided to make the area around the railroad yard a little safer. They put up a fence around the whole area and blocked the shortcut that people were using to cross the tracks.
Christine’s school said in April 1988 that they were going to make an award in her honor. Every year, the Christine Ann Diefenbach Memorial Award in Art would be given to a student in the ninth grade who did exceptionally well in art. The head of the school, Jules Weisler, told the press that Christine’s family had also given the school $500 to use however they liked. “In the auditorium, we will make the Christine Ann Diefenbach Gallery.” It will show off the best art that our students have made.”
On the anniversary of Christine’s m*urder one year later, police said they still didn’t understand what happened. They spent thousands of hours looking into the case, but they still didn’t have any witnesses, suspects, or mu*rder weapons. It looked like Christine had been the victim of a horrible and senseless random act.
It was hard for Christine’s parents and sister to rebuild their lives after moving out of Queens. It was written by John: “I ask why this happened and never find an answer.” Still, he didn’t know everything about the attack that kil*led his daughter. “I don’t want to know if she was hurt.” I don’t think I could handle hearing about the last moments of her life.
That person who ki*lled Christine had to be found as soon as possible, even though many of the detectives working on the case had their own kids. But no matter how hard they tried, the investigation soon stopped, and the case went cold. After three years, Detective James Annunziata from New York said, “It’s a very emotional case.” It hits close to home. These are the kinds of girls we see.”
Detective Annunziata told reporters that the k*iller probably knew Christine, even though they didn’t have any leads on who did it. “We think she knew this person because she hung out with them. There would have been screams and fights otherwise.
John only wanted what was best for his daughter. “I don’t think we don’t think about it every day…I just hope that the ki*ller has a heart. I hope it bugs him every time the doorbell rings because he knows it could be the police.
Years went by, and no one heard anything about Christine’s case. That same year, in December 2018, police said they were re-examining the m*urder to try to solve it for good. They sent in more evidence to be tested for DNA and went through the case files again, looking for something that might not have been found the first time. “We think that a second look could be very fruitful,” Detective John Roberts said. This case touched the hearts of both the investigators and the people in the community, but it never went anywhere.
A few months after Christine was k*illed, police said they got a call from someone who didn’t want to be named that said a man named Tennessee had k*illed Christine. In 1988, Tennessee, who was in his 50s at the time, often went to a bar close to the crime scene. He had a history of violence and had been questioned about the mur*der, but he insisted he wasn’t involved and had a good reason to believe this.
Someone called police from a payphone at Glenn’s Tavern, a bar that no longer exists, saying Tennessee had admitted to the crime. The caller wouldn’t give their name and never called back with any more information. Detective Roberts hoped that the person who called was still alive and would call the police. “Their life could be in a very different place now.” They can say, “Hey, pay attention, it’s time.” This has been with me for a long time. Please do not let anything bad happen to anyone in my family. Someone should do the right thing.
Christine Ann Diefenbach was k*illed very badly in Queens, New York, on February 7, 1988. She was only 14 years old. Christine was attacked as she walked to a newsstand to buy the Sunday paper. She is a shy and artistic teen. Christine’s case has been cold for decades, but detectives think there are still people in the New York area who know what they need to know to finally bring Christine justice. They want to hear from anyone who knew a man named Tennessee in 1988. An anonymous caller said Tennessee was responsible for Christine’s death, and they want to find proof of what he said. Please call Crime Stoppers at 800–577–8477 if you know anything about Christine’s death.