A Change in Demeanor and Activity

Posted by JJinPhila on February 28, 2009 

            In the weeks before Ray Gricar disappeared, his demeanor changed, noticeably. 

It was noticed by co-workers, friends and members of the Press.  That it was so widely noted is remarkable in itself.

            The first notice occurred on March 8, 2005 (Mr. Joseph was nice enough to provide me with the date).  The CDT’s Mike Joseph (a real journalist, not a blogger like me), was interviewing Mr. Gricar about the upcoming District Attorney’s race.  Both party primaries were contested.  Mr. Joseph asked about GOP primary and Mr. Gricar was “responsive and forthcoming” when stating his choice, Michael Madeira in that primary.

            Then Mr. Joseph asked about the General Election, in the Fall, and then possible Democratic Party nominee, Karen Arnold.  Mr. Joseph wrote:

I was surprised that the question seemed to stun Gricar, or at least to leave him at a loss. He had been so fluid with his answers about the spring primary. But when asked to look beyond that, he stumbled in getting his toughts into words and never really came up with a coherent answer. The difference was remarkable.


            The second was printed in Mr. Bosak’s “Missed Leads” article.  It occurred in a scheduling conference on March 9, 2005, with Mr. Gricar, then President Judge Charles C. Brown, Jr., and then Criminal Court Administrator Cheryl Spotts.  While not printed in the story, it seems to refer to the murder trial of Alejandro Mendez Vargas, who was charged with shaking his baby son, Lucas, to death.  I know of no other death-penalty case before the case at that time (and the readers will hopefully correct me if I’m wrong).  Here is the passage:

"It just seemed that Ray wasn't with it," Spotts said. "He was just looking around, which kind of shocked me because this was a death-penalty case."

At one point, [Judge] Brown told Gricar he had two weeks available in October for the trial.

"Ray just turned and looked at the bookcases," Spotts said. "He didn't even look at the judge when he said it.

"He just said, 'I won't be here,' " Spotts said.


This conversation occurred less than two days after Mr. Gricar’s conversation with Mr. Joseph.

            Could this be an indication that Mr. Gricar was not planning to be in Centre County to handle cases in the Fall of 2005, or was thinking ahead to the Fall election?  Yes, but yet there could be other reasons for these particular comments as well.

            Mr. Gricar could have thought that Ms. Arnold would lose the primary, but didn’t want to come right out and say that.  He might have thought that she was not up to the job, but didn’t really want to undercut a loyal staffer.

            As for the case, Mr. Gricar’s birthday was October 9; he sometimes took trips to Vermont around that time.  He might have been planning such a trip and would easily explain his “I won't be here,” comment.  If he seemed that he “wasn’t with it,” in Ms. Spotts words, when discussing the case, in may have because his murder case, if this was the Mendez Vargas case, was beginning to unravel.  A description of the case can be found here:  http://www.philly.com/philly/news/homepage/10847837.html?page=10&c=y

            There were some problems with the Mendez Vargas case.  It was almost exclusively a “medical expert” case, where physicians would be giving opinions on if a murder was committed.  The two prosecution experts could not agree, in there written reports, if Baby Lucas had head trauma.   Further, two solid medical experts were lined up to testify for the defense.  One was Dr. Holmes Morton, who was familiar with Vitamin K deficiency, which the defense claimed was the clause of Baby Lucas’ condition; lab tests confirmed that Baby Lucas was suffering from Vitamin K deficiency (the test was not completed until after the baby had died).  The second expert was Dr. Lucy Rourke-Adams, who was the longtime chief of neuro-pathology at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, and had written a text book on child abuse injuries and who usually testified for the prosecution.  You possibly couldn’t get a better expert witness in the state.

It is likely that Mr. Gricar knew of the problems in the Mendez-Vargas case and that might have the reason he seemed that he “wasn’t with it.”  This was going to be, potentially the last murder case he’d prosecute and he might not be ending his career as a prosecutor on an up note.

If these to instances, the comments to Mr. Joseph and those in the conference, were the only ones where Mr. Gricar had a chance of demeanor, I might be inclined to find these explanations to be reasonable.  They did occur, however, over several days and there were others. 

            Karen Arnold, in her “Ladies and Gentleman of the Jury” noted it, writing:

I have no doubt that Ray was deeply distraught about something the week of his disappearance.  It went well beyond simple busyness or preoccupation. 

It looks like she wasn’t the only one who cited this, for she also writes:

I was asked [on Saturday, 4/16/05, at about 11:30 AM] if I had noticed anything unusual about Ray's behavior that week, and told him that Ray had seemed distraught about something earlier that week. I was told that he [Officer Darryl Zaccagni] had already talked to various other staff members before calling me and that "everyone is telling me [Officer Zaccagni] the same thing".


            And according to Officer Zaccagni, somebody else noticed something different, Patty Fornicola, Mr. Gricar’s housemate and girlfriend.  Zaccagni said:

Well, there is some evidence from what his girlfriend told us towards the end before he disappeared. He was a little more depressed in the sense that he wasn`t as active as he had been, he was not feeling well, he was taking longer naps, a little more moody. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0601/16/ng.01.html

            We now have co-workers, a household member, and a member of the press that noticed this change in demeanor.  The words they are using are “stumbled in getting his thoughts into words,” “wasn’t with it,” “deeply distraught,” and “moody.” That is pretty strong evidence of a change in Mr. Gricar’s demeanor, but something else changed.  In the week prior to his disappearance, Mr. Gricar was working more.

            Ms. Fornicola noted it regarding Mr. Gricar taking the day off, saying:

No. Like all of us, he's [Mr. Gricar is] entitled to take a day off and I know that he had been working a lot of hours on some cases that week and I thought, you know, good for you. You need to take some time off.


            Likewise Ms. Arnold noted in here previously cited “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury,” this:

He [Mr. Gricar] was sometimes abrupt in his answers, particularly when he was especially busy.   But his mood during the week preceding his disappearance was of a different order of things. 

While she thought it was something more than being busy, being busy could be the cause of part of the change in demeanor she observed.

            The question then is why would Mr. Gricar suddenly get so busy?  He was heading for retirement, but that was in eight months; he didn’t even know who his successor would be.  There wasn’t a crime wave in Centre County in the Spring of 2005.  Crime didn’t end and wait for Mr. Gricar to retire, either.  He would have new cases between April and December. 

I can think back to an evaluation that I had when I was working.  My supervisor wrote:  “Mr. ___________ prides himself in completing his work prior to deadline.”  I laughed and said to her, “No I don’t.  I just wanted to get it finished before my vacation.”  (Ah, the joys of being a minor bureaucrat.)

            The only realistic reason I can come up with for Mr. Gricar suddenly accelerating his workload in April was to clear his desk, perhaps planning not to be in the office for at least a bit, maybe longer.  We know that even on the evening prior to his disappearance, he showed up at the office after 6:00 PM and stayed for about two hours and forty-five minutes; he’s on a video tape.

So we have an idea of these three things:

1.  From the comments before Ms. Spotts, and those to Mr. Joseph, Mr. Gricar may have been disinterested in county affairs six months distance.  There may be there other reasons for this, however.

2.  Even discounting the first point, Mr. Gricar’s demeanor changed prior to his disappearance.

3.  Mr. Gricar’s work activities increased, for no apparent reason.

            What does point to?  Suicide is one possibility.  The change in demeanor certainly could be an indication of depression.  Mr. Gricar wouldn’t be the first person who wanted to “get his affairs in order” prior to dying.

            It also could point to a voluntary departure, a walk away from his life and identity.  Mr. Gricar wouldn’t be focusing on future events in a county he was planning to leave.  He was doing some last minute cleanup before he left.  That, in combination with anticipation of this huge life chance, caused him to be “very distraught” or “moody.”

            A third possibility, one rarely if ever mentioned, is an intended short departure, where Mr. Gricar would be away for days, not years; it would be one where he might have planning to leave for a bit, and then return.  (I’ll be exploring that one later.)

            All of these things do point to one thing, Mr. Gricar voluntarily leaving Centre County, either temporarily, a few day, or permanently, by disappearing or killing himself.

Centre Daily Times is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service