Central Pennsylvania Gothic

Posted on February 4, 2012 


            This blog, on the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar started in February 2009; I’d been posting questions and comments about the case since November of 2005.  There were several things that raised my interest in it.

            One thing was the setting, Centre County.  I’d spent my college years there, at Penn State.  I’ve described the county as the most beautiful section of Pennsylvania, especially vibrant Kelly Green fields in the early spring, or the mosaic of reds and oranges on the mountains in the autumn.  The major metropolitan area, State College and its suburbs, was newer and cosmopolitan, but lacked the blight found in most urban areas and it was still pretty and clean.  Even then, you could walk 20 minutes from many locations and find yourself in the middle of a cornfield.  Then there was Bellefonte, with its architectural jewels ranging from late Georgian to late Queen Anne buildings, a virtual story-book example of a small town.

            Of course, Pennsylvania State University dominated the area, socially and economically.  Penn State, however, was one of the treasures of Centre County.  It was, academically, one of the top 50 universities in the United States and by some rankings, in the world1; the Nittany Lions, and their iconic coach, were famous, but their fame included academic achievements.  “Winning with honor,” was the credo, and it was more than a slogan.  Penn State made Centre County a world class location in an almost idyllic rural setting.

            When I was there, I could remember talking to locals, not associated with the university about politics and corruption.  I still remember the comment that there was little corruption in government in Centre County “because everyone knows everyone else.”  That in many ways described Centre County.  It was more cosmopolitan that the average Central Pennsylvania location, but it was still a small town where everyone was connected, the best of both worlds. 

            Then there was Mr. Gricar himself.  In looking at his record, he was not “political” prosecutor.  Mr. Gricar tended to handle the hard cases personally, even though it would be unlikely that he would prevail.2  He was a hard hitting, and principled, prosecutor in that regard, even to the point of being called “a little rigid.”3  There was never a hint of corruption, though he was sanctioned by a judge once.  The judge found that he had improperly contacted a defense expert witness, causing that witness to withdraw.4  Mr. Gricar was sanction, in effect, for being too aggressive.

            Then there was the mystery of Mr. Gricar’s disappearance.  It gave us the very real possibility that a murderer was slithering his way through this bucolic setting, much like the serpent in the Garden of Eden; if so, that murderer could be as crafty as the biblical serpent.  It intruded into this pastoral paradise, but it did not shake it too much.

            Then, on November 5, 2011, the Sandusky scandal broke upon Happy Valley and the countryside beyond.   The veneer of that paradise fell off and shattered on the ground.  What was behind that veneer is what I call “Central Pennsylvania Gothic.”

            The principle institution in Centre County, if not Central Pennsylvania, is shaken. A famed former assistant coach at Penn State, known for his work in charity and a pillar of the community, stands accused as a serial pedophile.  The university’s president and its iconic coach were summarily removed.  Two members of senior staff stand accused of covering it up.  There is a sense that Penn State bred a culture of cover-up and that the tentacles of a monster hidden by the cover-up stretch well beyond the precincts of the university, and entwine others.  Now it is not very good that “everybody knows everyone else.”

            It has all the elements of a gothic horror story, Stephen King meets Peyton Place.  A stalwart of the community alleged to be pedophilic monster, who preyed on young innocent victims. A secular priesthood of administrators allegedly hiding the monster in the cloister of the university.  A pervasive evil allegedly reaching out into the community under the guise of great institutions for learning and charity.  A riot in the streets.  Interconnections between individuals and institutions that looks metaphorically as incestuous as the Habsburg family tree.5 A paladin of law enforcement, who was supposed to fight this monster, who seemingly laid down his sword and later vanishing off the face of the earth.  All these are elements of Central Pennsylvania Gothic, a horror unimagined until 2011. 

            The Gricar case now intersects with the horror story, even if the disappearance is totally unrelated.  I never expected that.  There are many cases where a prosecutor simply cannot prosecute; the evidence is too weak, even to slow a monster, much less cage him.  I can easily understand that.  I never expected eleven charges to be filed in regard to that incident by the new paladin of law enforcement, the State Attorney General Linda Kelly.  I never expected the investigator in the 1998 incident, Ronald Schreffler, to say, “"At the very minimum, there was enough evidence for some charges, like corruption of minors."6  The new paladin has wielded her mace of the grand jury and now will pick up her sword of a trial to do battle with the alleged monster.  We’ll see how it plays out it that arena.

In one of my first blogs, I wrote that, no matter what the cause of the Gricar disappearance, murder, voluntary departure, or suicide, “Happy Valley will not be entirely happy with the answer.”7  It was possibly posted before the grand jury began investigating and certainly prior to the revelation of the 1998 incident.  I never expected, nor wanted, Happy Valley to this unhappy, even though the disappearance may be totally unrelated. 

The Sandusky scandal is a true horror story for all concerned, the alleged victims certainly, but for all those involved, even tangentially.  It is the new shocking and disgusting genre, this Central Pennsylvania Gothic, and it is no work of fiction.  I have a sickening feeling the last chapter has not yet been written.

End Notes


1 http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/page+5



2 http://www.centredaily.com/2010/08/27/2397563/the-legacy-of-district-attorney.html

3  http://www.podcastdirectory.com/podshows/1357346

4 PPG 4/9/03  http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=20030409&id=e6okAAAAIBAJ&sjid=w3ADAAAAIBAJ&pg=5535,5727222


5 For example, the District Judge, Leslie Dutchcot, who originally set Mr. Sandusky’s bail, was removed from the case after it was revealed that various people associated with Second Mile contributed to her campaign and that she was a volunteer with the charity. http://www.timesherald.com/article/20111116/NEWS01/111119752  Further, in a rare move, the entire Centre County bench recused itself from hearing the case. http://www.fox43.com/news/wpmt-centre-county-judges-recused,0,3473814.story


6PPG 12/18/11 http://postgazette.com/pg/11352/1197680-454.stm#ixzz1l8ppO6nR

7 http://www.centredaily.com/2009/02/12/2397056/no-happy-ending-for-the-gricar.html

Centre Daily Times Ray Gricar Section:  http://www.centredaily.com/138/

Link to the Main Index for Sporadic Comments on Ray Gricar:  http://www.centredaily.com/2011/03/21/2597340/main-index-32011.html

E-mail J. J. in Phila at scorg@live.com

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