[This is the second part of a series on the investigation into the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.]
Sunday, 4/17/05, was a day of multiple theories and multiple actions, none of which a favored any theory. There were many key developments.
First, a helicopter conducted an aerial search of the Susquehanna and the police searched the banks1. This could point to a theory that Mr. Gricar committed suicide. It could have pointed to the theory that he was murdered, and his body dumped in the river. It also could have pointed an accident; Mr. Gricar fell into the river. It is very clear that the helicopter was being used to locate a body; the laptop had not been discovered to be missing and the personal items, e.g. his keys and wallet could not be spotted from the air. It was fruitless.
Second, the police brought in a bloodhound, sometime in the late morning. While the dog picked up the scent, it could not be detected beyond the parking lot; Chief Dixon said, "The handler said the way the dog acted, it could have indicated [Gricar] got into another car.2" This was the first indication that another unknown vehicle was involved in the disappearance of Mr. Gricar; it was not the strongest indication, but it would not be the last. Calling in the bloodhound does not indicate any theory.
Ms. Arnold indicated that she was there early in the morning, leaving around 11:00 and 11:15 AM. The dog had not arrived, the search had not started and Ms. Fornicola was arriving at about the same time that she was departing. Ms. Arnold said this about her visit to Lewisburg: Ray's absence at that point was to my perception clearly being theorized to be volitional and likely in the company of an individual personally known to me to have had a long-standing friendship and admiration for him, and to be a smoker.3
This is interesting, because the witness that saw Mr. Gricar with the Mystery Woman reported it prior to local media reports. The dog handler was not there to raise the possibility of another car at that point. It would have been unlikely that the police would have successfully canvassed the store owner in the Street of Shops that saw the “Mystery Woman” because the Mini was not discovered until the night before; it’s hugely unlikely that the police would be successful in canvassing late on a Saturday night or early on a Sunday morning. This witness possibly came forward when he saw the police, but in any case before he heard about the story in the local media. This was the first witness that put Mr. Gricar in Lewisburg.4 The possibility of Mr. Gricar leaving voluntarily, perhaps for just the weekend, with a woman, was now on the table. The very general description of this “Mystery Woman”, matched that of the woman referred to by Ms. Arnold. It appears that she was contacted; Mr. Madeira said, more than a year later, "there is not a new person of interest (in the case). It isn't something revealed for the first time. It was something that was eliminated within the first 48 hours."5
One other witness, listed as a “business owner,” possibly Mr. Bennett, came forward indicating that he had possibly seen Mr. Gricar on 4/16. This witness, however, could not have been the same witness who saw the “Mystery Woman,” who saw her on 4/15.6
Until the evening of 4/17/05, the police had no idea that Mr. Gricar had a laptop, and nobody knew it was missing. Det. Zaccagni, who was present, recounted the discovery that the laptop was missing:
“Later, we went to the house and his work and collected all the computers he used for processing. [To] see if there was something on his computers to tell us what had happened. When we went to collect the computer from the house, Patty asked us if we wanted his work laptop, too. They had been using his work laptop to do Internet searches and things, but had recently bought a separate one for the home. ‘So we don’t use it anymore,’ Patty said. So she goes up and brings down the empty case and says, ‘It’s not here.’ “ 7
Tony Gricar was also present and gave an almost identical account, verbatim, in a message board posting (the post is gone). Say what you will about Det. Zaccagni and his “mistakements,” when he saw this, he reported it accurately. The police considered it possible that Mr. Gricar had the laptop someplace at the office, and looked for it during the next week. That the laptop was missing was disclosed publicly on 4/22/05.
Now, 48 hours into the investigation, the various police forces had found the Mini, were processing it (it was returned to Ms. Fornicola late in the day on 4/17), began searching the river (there would be more extensive searches), brought in a bloodhound to try and find the scent. They also had multiple theories as to what happened, murder, suicide, an accident (he fell in the water),8 a long weekend with the woman that “had a long-standing friendship and admiration for him.” While the bloodhound handler gave some indication that Mr. Gricar may have gotten into another vehicle, that possibility certainly would not have ruled out murder, though it might have weakened suicide slightly.
Much of what is debated about in the case, nearly 4 ½ years later, was first discovered in these crucial first 48 hours. Again, I cannot fault the police in general, or Det. Zaccagni in particular, for their handling of the case to this point; this was a textbook example of excellent police work. They didn’t settle on a particular theory and they looked at all options.
A brief update: The first witness sighting was reported on the evening of 4/16/059
[Part 3, Police Action Until 4/30/05, is next]
1 DC, 4/19/05, http://tiny.cc/searches1
2 PPG, 4/22/05
4 CDT, 5/10/06, http://tiny.cc/Construction159
5 AP, 5/10/2006: http://z10.invisionfree.com/usedtobedoe/ar/t2226.htm
6 CDT, 4/17/05: http://tiny.cc/Searches2
7 CFT, 11/16/05: http://tiny.cc/Searches3
8 Basically a river search by helicopter would encompass all of these potentials; the only things that could be seen would a large object, like a body.
9 CDT, 5/10/06: http://tiny.cc/Firstsighting