The Investigation, Part Four: Misstatements, Mistakes and Media until 4/30/05

Posted by JJinPhila on August 17, 2009 

[This is the fourth part of a series on the investigation into the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.]


While the investigation was good, and accomplished a lot in the fortnight after Mr. Gricar was reported missing, there were mistakes and misstatements, or in the words of Mr. Gricar’s nephew Tony Gricar, ”mistakements.” 

There were two noted misstatements, one minor, and one very major. 

The minor misstatement was about the phone call from Mr. Gricar placed from the Brush Valley area.  At the press conference of 4/18/05, Chief Dixon said that it was to tell Ms. Fornicola, and the office, that he, Mr. Gricar, was planning to take the whole day off1.  No reporting prior to this indicated that2.  Ms. Fornicola spoke about a month later and said that this call was about the dog3.  While this created plenty of Internet fodder, it looks like a fairly simple misstatement by the former chief and was corrected within a month.

The second misstatement was Chief Dixon’s claim that five fingerprints were found in the Mini Cooper, three identified as belonging to Mr. Gricar4.  This was incorrect on a number of counts.  First, while the Mini was not wiped down, the fingerprints were not readable; no solid identification could be made.  Second, there were three fingerprints, though two were lifted twice5.  One fingerprint, on the outside window of the driver’s side door, was found to belong to Mr. Gricar.  No prints were found belonging to anyone else.  This misstatement was cleared up until the early months of 2008 by the current detective handling the case, Det. Mathew Rickard.

Some of the mistakes were things not done, while some were perception problems.

A probable mistake is the failure of the police to get a sketch artist to draw the “Mystery Woman.”  As noted in a prior blog, The Investigation, Part Two: The Second Day, no later than the morning of 4/17/05,  people assumed that Mr. Gricar was with a known person; the witness reported the Mystery Woman as early as 4/16/05.6  They never reported that they followed Mr. Buehner’s suggestion, made later, to check female registrants of motels and attempt to find the “Mystery Woman’s” identity7.

Even this might not have been possible.  It has never been reported that the witness got a good look at the “Mystery Woman’s” face.  However, the police never stated that they tried to get a drawing of this woman.  Det. Zaccagni indicated the descriptions was not sufficient to get a sketch.8  It still was worth a shot.

A more likely mistake was the dismissal of the report of Carolyn Fenton.  Ms. Fenton saw Mr. Gricar driving a different car (not the Mini) at 3:00 PM on 4/15/05, behind the Courthouse in Bellefonte.  The reason given by Det. Zaccagni was that did not fit the timeline.9  It did fit the time line, unless there are a several unreported witnesses that place him in Lewisburg, or someplace else, at that time.  The witnesses that saw Mr. Gricar across from the Packwood House saw him in the early afternoon.  The next reported witness that saw Mr. Gricar in Lewisburg, McKnight’s Witness, saw him between 4:00 PM and 5:00 PM.  There was enough time for Mr. Gricar to have driven to Lewisburg, acquire a different car, drive to Bellefonte, return to Lewisburg, get the Mini, and be seen by McKnight’s witness.  See:

The Time Line of the Witness Sightings Between 11:00 AM 4/15/05 and 11:59 PM 4/18/05

What this didn’t fit were the scenarios that Mr. Gricar jumped, fell, or was pushed into the Susquehanna, or that his body was dumped there.  The perception was that this was suicide and it was generated by two sources, both outside the Bellefonte Police Department.

The first generator was an unnamed State Police profiler, who looked at the situation and concluded that Mr. Gricar committed suicide.9  The second was Mr. Gricar’s nephew, Tony Gricar, who thought suicide when the police told him the car was found at a corner of Water Street in Lewisburg.  Tony’s father, and Ray Gricar’s bother, Roy Gricar, committed suicide.  Tony had noted the similarities of Lewisburg and the site of Roy’s suicide.  The local police were faced then with a presumed expert saying that Mr. Gricar probably committed suicide and Mr. Gricar’s nephew (who wasn’t any place near Lewisburg on 4/15, and therefore not a suspect), saying it so very reminiscent of Mr. Gricar’s brother’s suicide.10, 11  Those two things led to an early focus on suicide; it would be a natural focus.  As can be seen today, suicide, even if a natural focus, is probably the wrong explanation.

The Bellefonte Police Department also had to deal with the press.  Let’s face it, the disappearance of Ray Gricar was probably the highest profile, most widely covered story, in the history of the Bellefonte Police Department.  This was a nationally covered story, often still archived on the Internet, and one that subjected the police to an unbelievable level of scrutiny.  They had to be careful what they said, and they were (and still are).  Some things were hidden (and probably still are).  In some cases, this helped push the investigation forward (but probably not any more). 

In this regard, look at four pieces of information, all of which were known by 4/30/05 and some of which were released by that date.  The dog handler thought that the dog acted as if Mr. Gricar got into another car (released).  Two witnesses, a bar tender (released) and a police officer (unreleased) saw Mr. Gricar on 4/18/05 in Wilkes-Barre.  At least one witness saw Mr. Gricar with a “Mystery Woman” in Lewisburg on 4/15/05 (unreleased).  Ms. Fenton saw Mr. Gricar in a different car on 4/15/05 behind the Courthouse in Bellefonte (unreleased).  What would be the result in terms of public relations?  Obviously that Mr. Gricar ran off, possibly with a woman.  Here, by not releasing the information, the police did the case a service.   They, correctly, did not try to sway public opinion to walkaway.  We can see today that the same evidence is swaying public opinion to walkaway, perhaps incorrectly. 

By not releasing this information immediately, the police did a service to the case.  They did not jump to a conclusion and did not lead the public to a conclusion, which still is unsupported by any public evidence, in the weeks after the disappearance.  It was not a mistake to keep this data out of the public eye at the time.

The public didn’t have this information, but the police did.  What did they do with it?

[Part 5, Before the Leaves All Fell, is next]


1 PPG, 4/19/05

2 CDT, 4/17/05

3 Fox News, 5/16/05,2933,156683,00.html

4 PPG, 4/26/05

5 CDT, 2/26/08  This was first disclosed in the Q and A Forum on 2/11/08

6 CDT, 5/11/06:

7 A source indicates this was raised before the end of summer in 2005.

8 CDT 5/10/05

9 CDT, 5/13/06

10 CFT, 11/16/05  

11 After this very long series, I plan to look at these similarities.

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