For this series, I've tried to solicit outside opinions. I am honored that this is the first. It is from someone that is a fellow blogger, Slamdunk.
“Fellow blogger” is a bit misleading. Slamdunk is a former police officer, with a post graduate degree in a law enforcement field, who has also written extensively on the Gricar case as well as other cold missing persons cases. He not only blogs about law enforcement, but about travel to unusual places (I was taken by his visit to Centralia, PA), family life and interesting Youtube videos. I read his site daily and you can too: http://theslamdunktrove.blogspot.com/
As with all my guest bloggers, if I get anymore, I reserve the right to disagree or agree, but I am glad they say it and that they say it here. This is Slamdunk’s guest blog.]
The question asked is:
How can police inject new life into the Ray Gricar missing person case?
The investigation is now over four years old and has stalled. Very little new information regarding the case has appeared in the news over the past six months. It has become a cold case.
With the short memories of many folks (including myself), I suggest that police proactively bring attention to the Gricar case. For suggestions on how to accomplish this with cold cases, I started at the federal government level with the US Department of Justice.
In July of 2003, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) published a useful bulletin for law enforcement agencies entitled "Cold Case Squads Leaving No Stone Unturned." The document describes how departments can start and use different forms of a cold case squad. The report’s authors advise that the organization and staffing can vary as managers can design a cold case unit using full-timers, part-timers, volunteers, or a combination of personnel.
Two suggestions contained in the BJA report that I found relevant to this case include: 1) involving unpaid yet skilled staff such as retirees (especially those with relevant experience) and college students in the agency’s work to participate; and 2) that such a unit should focus on finding new witnesses or interviewing previously uncooperative witnesses who may have softened over the passage of time.
Recommendation #1: Establish a Cold Case Unit
The unit could work part-time on the case. One sworn supervisor would be charged with leading the group and staff would be supplemented through interested volunteers. These volunteers would be chosen after a selection process, screened, and then required to attend training prior to participating.
Recommendation #2: Make Certain Information about the Case Available to the Public
In May of this year, a journalist and a historian held an open meeting at a Michigan library to discuss a cold case involving the unsolved murders of Richard Robison and his family that had occurred near Detroit in the 1970s. Retired and current police officials attended the meeting to discuss the case. The most helpful resource made available to the public is the seven boxes and multiple binders of reports and interviews on the case that citizens are permitted to examine at a local library.
If the objective is to stimulate interest in the case and to develop new leads, why not let citizens have access to some of the investigative information?
Now, I’ll assume that police have performed the traditional duties involved in a missing person investigation. I am certain that detectives worked diligently to identify and interview potential witnesses in the Lewisburg and Bellefonte areas. Cell phone and computer records were analyzed. Family members were interviewed, financial statements were reviewed, etc. The resulting thoughts lead me to recommend a third action.
Recommendation #3: Try these unconventional methods to generate new leads:
1) Mr. Gricar was a vocal supporter of the Cleveland Indians and had attended professional baseball games in the past. If he is using an assumed identity, it is reasonable that he may attend major league games. Police could contact officials with Major League Baseball and gain their support in distributing Ray Gricar Missing Person flyers at baseball stadiums. For all the venues or at select stadiums, a public service announcement could be made regarding the case—displaying a photo, any related reward money available, and the contact information for the investigating agency.
2) In general, human beings are creatures of habit. This applies to computer activity habits as well. Most of us use one or two user names and passwords for all of our computer accounts.
If Mr. Gricar used a handful of unique user names and passwords for his computer activities, authorities could use this information to search other online accounts for matching credentials. For instance, if Mr. Gricar regularly used the user name “DisplacedTribeFan00” with the password “lovebellefonte”, common search engines could be used to see if those names appear elsewhere on the Internet. In addition, police could search for that user name or a similar combination being used with a Gmail, Yahoo, or AOL email account (this would require extra hoop jumping but I believe is worth a try).
3) Release what information exists (in a sanitized format) related to Mr. Gricar’s computer activity prior to his disappearance including search terms and browsing history. What may appear as irrelevant to one or two people, might be considered important in developing new leads when viewed by other individuals.
4) Release details in the State Police report as to why the investigator believed that Mr. Gricar was likely a suicide victim. Most of the persons who have followed the case through the publicly accessible information rank suicide behind crime victim and voluntary disappearance scenarios.
What did this investigator consider in his/her decision that pushed suicide to the front of likely explanations for Gricar’s disappearance?
5) Maintain a regular dialogue with technical data recovery specialists. Just because the hard drive has been examined twice using mid 2000s technology, does not mean that someone 5 or 10 years later will not be innovative enough to recover data from Gricar’s formerly submerged drive.
In sum, the volume of information pertaining to the case can quickly become overwhelming for those studying the disappearance. By developing a part-time cold case squad, making information on the case publicly available, and trying unconventional means to generate leads, authorities will increase their chances of developing new information to solve the Ray Gricar missing person case.