As most of you know, I’m not the only blogger who discusses the mysterious disappearance of former Centre County Ray Gricar. One who has done a series on it is Slamdunk.
Slamdunk is a former police officer and has a master’s degree in the criminal justice field. His blog is great, and covers other things than crime and policing. There is a hyperlink to his excellent blog on the right. I respect him, but I don’t always agree with him.
There is a little daylight between our positions. For example, he thinks there is a 49% chance Mr. Gricar walked away while I give it a 50% chance. That is not exactly a lot of daylight, but we don’t march in lockstep.
Just over a fortnight ago, Slamdunk, wrote about the Southfield sighting.1 I’m glad he did, because it gives the sighting more coverage. That is good for two reasons.
First, someone might happen across the blog that was in Southfield that day that remembers seeing Mr. Gricar. The might be able to add independent confirmation that, yes, this was Ray Gricar. Conversely, someone could read the entry and realize that he was in Southfield that day with his 70 year old Aunt Sally, at a restaurant. He might realize that he bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Gricar and someone came up to him and said hello while at the restaurant. In short, it might help confirm or disprove this sighting.
Slamdunk went on to make an observation:
The more credible witnesses that authorities have documented in the case file, the more likely it is that Ray Gricar left his life in Pennsylvania voluntarily.
Does it eliminate the other explanations for Gricar's disappearance like crime or suicide victim?
Certainly not, but an unmarried man nearing retirement, with an adult child who lives in another state, and who seemingly had lots of ends tied-up prior to vanishing, could have fled PA to start fresh somewhere else using a different identity.
I generally agree with that statement, and completely agree in the context of the Southfield sighting. To me, if there were ten more undisclosed witnesses that put Mr. Gricar in Lewisburg on 4/15/05, it wouldn’t support the theory that Mr. Gricar walked away. It would be additional evidence that Mr. Gricar was in Lewisburg, but even those sightings would not prove anything beyond that. He very easily could have been murdered or to have committed suicide after 6:00 PM.
The Southfield witnesses, individually, are very good. The main one is a retired Detroit police officer who was also composite sketch artist. He had prolonged contact with the man he identified as Mr. Gricar. His daughter, who was with him, agreed that it was Mr. Gricar. Slamdunk noted these things and linked to my first entry on the sighting. He concluded, with:
I still view Gricar being the victim of a crime as a reasonable possibility, but in my opinion, any of the latest information released about Gricar's disappearance, has only further supported theories that he is alive and chose to leave.
I noted some problems with the sighting, as noted in that entry. The retired officer looked up Mr. Gricar’s photo online and discussed the sighting with his daughter, the second witness; the corroboration was not independent. I noted the relative strength in the entry after the description of the Southfield sighting.2 Yes, it was strong enough to raise the likelihood of voluntary departure from 48% to 50%, but it was not hugely strong, not a (and you knew this was coming) a slam dunk. Actually, even Slamdunk didn’t call it was exceedingly strong either; foul play was still a “reasonable possibility.” He didn’t even adjust his odds on anything.
What interested, frankly stunned, me were the remarks of some of the people commenting on the entry. Here are a few, all from different posters:
“I'm with you....the guy started a new life.”
“My opinion is he's alive and well.”
“I think he left on his own free will.”
“We may never know until we find a body...dead or alive.”
“Sounds most likely that he walked away from his life to start a new one that is if the sightings were indeed him.”
“The fact that the one witness was a composite artist is what has me sold that this man just walked away.”
Most of the comments, at the time of me writing this blog, were like these, almost uniform support for the theory that Mr. Gricar “just walked away.” The commenter that disagreed talked about Lewisburg. The rest of the readers were “sold.”
Well, I’m not sold; neither is Slamdunk, from his odds. Color me skeptical, but I am aware that witnesses can make mistakes, even credible ones.
When looking at witnesses, I look at a number of things. This Southfield sighting has some of those things, but certainly not everything. If it did (and there could be more undiscovered or unreleased details) I would not be giving the theory that Mr. Gricar’s departure was voluntary a 50% likelihood; I’d be giving it a close to 100% likelihood. I would also say that both victim of foul play and suicide had a 0% likelihood.
The Southfield sighting, while solid, strong, and “credible” in the words of the police, is not absolute. In Slamdunk’s words the Southfield sighting, “has only further supported theories that he is alive and chose to leave.” It has supported the theory that Mr. Gricar walked away, but neither he nor I have claimed it proves that Mr. Gricar did walk away. I’m very much surprised at the reaction of many of the commentators.
E-mail J. J. in Phila at firstname.lastname@example.org