Use Penn State

Posted by JJinPhila on June 21, 2009 

The police have a resource in discovering the cause of the disappearance of Ray Gricar.  There have never been any reports of anyone tapping this resource.  It is about ten miles south by southwest of Bellefonte, and well within the jurisdiction of Centre County.  It is called the Pennsylvania State University.

            Penn State offers a variety of programs, including criminology.  Students in these programs could prove to be valuable asset in investigating.  Further, the university has numerous people with technical expertise that could prove useful in investigating the case.

            There are basically several types of things the university could do.  First, serve as auxiliary investigators.  Second, experiment and attempt to duplicate an effect.  Third, attempt to find patterns.

            In the case of auxiliary investigators, I am not suggesting that a group of students grab Shaggy and Scooby-Doo and pile into the Mystery Machine to go off sleuthing in Lewisburg.  They would be working under the direction of the police (perhaps in an internship) and primarily do that very unglamorous but useful work of looking at records.  One piece of time consuming work would be to look at car purchases within a ten mile radius of Lewisburg around the time Mr. Gricar disappeared, perhaps from 4/7/05 to 4/17/05, and match them to real people.  Then check to see how many of them reregistered them at the same address, when the registration came due.  They could develop a similar check with car rentals.  There might be similar record checking that could be done.

            There are numerous questions that could be resolved with experimentation, something at which Penn State is quite adept.  If you remember the blog entitled The Code Book , I mentioned attempting to try to see if books could hold the page that was last opened three days before.  I obviously could not duplicate all the conditions of the office where the book was found, but this could be with a controlled experiment, which Penn State has the ability to conduct.  An experiment could be conducted on how long it would take for water to produce the damage found on the laptop, i.e. how long it would take for the plastic covering to separate from the computer?  That could tell us when the laptop was tossed.  There was dust in the Mini Cooper when it was found.  What kind of dust; would it naturally occur if the car was parked overnight in Lewisburg?  Would it point to the Mini Cooper being in a particularly dusty area?  That could tell us where the Mini was driven that day.  Moisture can damage fingerprints; could the humidity levels in Lewisburg that day, a car sitting in the sunlight, cause the prints to become unreadable?  That might be an indication of when the car was last driven.  A look at the wind patterns in the parking lot (and Penn State did some groundbreaking work on microclimates) might tell the police if the scent detected by the dogs drifted.

            Third, there are people at Penn State that can look for patterns.  First, those people specializing in psychology can try to look at patterns in behavior, basically a second profiling of the case, but with new information.  Second, there is a geographic element to this case.  Those experts in the subject can look at Mr. Gricar’s known movements in the weeks before he disappeared and on the day of his disappearance; a pattern might emerge, something that a trained geographer might see.  (I will admit to starting out as a geography major but switching majors when I realized no new continents would likely surface to map in my professional lifetime.)

            Most of these things have an additional advantage; the cost would be nearly nonexistent.  These things can be done as part of supervised student projects.  Students get practical experience, the university might get some publicity, and the police might get the lead needed to solve the case.

(And you all knew I'd have to mention my alma mater.)

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