This blog, and the next one, will cover conclusions about the investigation. This one will focus on the police, the “boots on the ground,” in this investigation. The next will be focused on the District Attorney’s office, and the current District Attorney.
I want to start by saying that the Bellefonte Police Department is not perfect; I do not expect them to be perfect. People, humans, make human error; the Bellefonte Police Department is made up of humans. I have the advantage of near perfect 20/20 hindsight; they did not have that advantage in April of 2005. Many things that have been bandied about as “mistakes” were bluntly the same mistakes that I would have made, at the time.
Even with the scrutiny of 20/20 hindsight, I cannot fault the conduct of Detective Zaccagni during the crucial 48 hours after Mr. Gricar was reported missing. While Det. Zaccagni said:
Initially, I thought that probably Ray just got involved in doing something. He met a friend and he would just have to explain it to Patty why he didn’t come home.1
That may have been his thought (and he may have been partially right), but Det. Zaccagni suppressed this thought, and didn’t wait to investigate. Within the first 48 hours, the car he drove was located, the phone records were check, getting a location of the last call, two witnesses were found that reported seeing Mr. Gricar in Lewisburg, the Susquehanna was searched by helicopter, and evidence was secured.
One piece of criticism that I have heard was the focus on finding Mr. Gricar’s remains in the Susquehanna and that the police spent too much time, in the early weeks of the investigation. That criticism is one of 20/20 hindsight. There were several factors in that. First, if Mr. Gricar had been murdered, an ideal place to dump the body was the Susquehanna. Second, if Mr. Gricar committed suicide, drowning was a likely method, and was the method used by his brother, Roy. This was coupled with two important sources, a State Police profiler concluding that Mr. Gricar committed suicide and Mr. Gricar’s nephew, Tony, noting the similarities between the site of Roy Gricar’s (Tony’s father) suicide and Lewisburg. Tony Gricar still had suicide in forefront more than six months after Ray Gricar’s disappearance2. I can understand the repeated searches of the Susquehanna.
I’ll focus on Det. Zaccagni, though I think they apply to the entire Bellefonte Police Department. In the initial investigation, he was near perfect in those first 48 hours; even after that, in the first few weeks, he was outstanding. I have heard some folks refer to him as “Barney Fife,” but that is possibly the greatest mischaracterization in the case. It the first weeks of the investigation, Det. Zaccagni an outstanding job. As a first responder, he and the Bellefonte Police were probably better than most police forces in the state, if not the nation. If I had disappeared intentionally, I would not have wanted Det. Zaccagni to be handling the case in the first 48 hours.
The problems in the investigation began with the follow up. It is possibly the least glamorous part of police work, research. This is where problems began to arise. We’ve seen several. Mr. Bosak noted in his blog that a person, and old girlfriend of Mr. Gricar that matched the vague description of the famous “Mystery Woman” never had been thoroughly checked. Ms. Fenton’s sighting of Mr. Gricar was ignored. The police had done a thorough search Mr. Gricar’s home computer. No one should expect these things to be the initial things that the police should do in a missing person case, but they should have been done at some point.
To use a football analogy (appropriate for this time of year), the police fumbled the ball, after a sting of very good plays and repeated first downs. This is seen in a comment from Det. Zaccagni. When asked about interviewing courthouse employees, he was quoted as saying:
It may be worthwhile, it may not be. But I really don't have an answer to that. It could be a lot of time to lead us nowhere. It could provide us a real lead.
But it more likely would just lead us toward a theory.3
The police basically stopped looking at the possibilities and did not try to rule anything out. Here the police fumbled the ball.
Since that comment the police recovered the ball. The Pennsylvania State Police-Criminal Investigation Analysis (PSP-CIA) Unit reviewed the evidence. It looks like they may have found some things. As pointed out in several blogs, Mr. Gricar’s home computer was searched and the searches about how to destroy hard drives were discovered. The Investigation Part 11: The PSP-CIA Review The Investigation Part 15: Rebooting the Computer This discovery was made at the same time the PSP-CIA review was conducted and was hidden from public view for 2 ½ years.4 I have found out that since Mr. Bosak was told about not checking the person a number of people thought to be the “Mystery Woman,” she has at least been partially checked. She was out of the state, according to a source. More has been done, but the public has not been told what has been done.
Did the police check to see if Mr. Gricar found a way out of Lewisburg? Did they check to see if he could have purchased a car under an assumed identity? Did they ever look at that “Inner Circle” to se one of them drove him out or made a straw purchase or straw rental of a car for him? Those things have never been revealed (and I have not heard any more about it than I’ve posted). If they did not, that could be the greatest failure in the Gricar investigation. I suspect that it would be logical that they have been checked. The results of that would, even if they did not find anything, would greatly influence my thoughts on the case. Bluntly, if there is not evidence Mr. Gricar walked away, he probably did not walk away.
Is it the Bellefonte Police that is keeping this information from us? Maybe, but it is important to note that they are not the ones that called for PSP-CIA review. That was the District Attorney, Michael T. Madeira. His role will be examined next.
1 Dateline , 5/15/06, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12756052/ns/dateline_nbc/
4 DC 4/16/09, http://tiny.cc/PSPCI9