The Pulitzer winning reporter, Sara Ganim, wrote an excellent article on the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar on the seventh anniversary of his mysterious disappearance. It got a lot of well-deserved focus by the “chattering class” because it chronicled some of the people Mr. Gricar was interested (platonically or romantically) in over the years, and because Ms. Ganim named some of these women publicly. She even got one of them to speak on the record for the first time. Well, that sent the chattering class chattering. She did something else, however. She gave us some insight into what the investigators and those close to the case thought about what happened.
Here is what she said: Those close to Gricar’s case have always wavered among three possibilities: suicide, walkaway or homicide. Most people, including investigators, considered homicide to be the least likely of the three.1 We’ve heard a similar comment from the incumbent district attorney, Stacy Parks Miller, though she backed away from it a bit last July. We also something from the former District Attorney, Michael T. Madeira; he thinks his immediate predecessor probably walked away.2
Well, I’m not “most people.” Really since 2008, I would not say that foul play was the most likely, or even tied for most likely explanation for Mr. Gricar’s disappearance. I would not call it the least likely explanation either, based on the publicly available information (or other information). The police have not ruled out foul play, checking a cemetery in Blair County last year for his body, but the emphasis is not for murder.3
The possibility that Mr. Gricar’s departure was voluntary has also been considered. Lead Bellefonte Police Detective Matt Rickard has had the missing person flyer distributed in Slovenia.1,4 If Mr. Gricar had fell, jumped, was pushed, or his murdered corpse been dumped in the Susquehanna River, his body would not have floated to the coast of the Adriatic.
There is some circumstantial evidence that points away from murder. Mr. Gricar’s desire to destroy the data on the hard drive, to the point of asking a defense attorney about it well before he disappeared, certainly does not point to murder; I wish I could shed more light on that, but I am unable to do so.1 So does his demeanor in the month prior to his disappearance, in which all commentators describe as odd. While all this could easily point to suicide, the lack of a body, after extensive searches and the passage of seven years, strongly argues against that. Unlike foul play or suicide, all the evidence that has been released is consistent with Mr. Gricar making a voluntary departure.
Being constituent with a theory, however, is not proof. Even weighed together, all the evidence may make the case for voluntary departure the stronger case, but it falls short of proof. Let me put this way, if I were on a jury, given this evidence, and asked the question, “Beyond a reasonable doubt, did Ray Gricar voluntarily walk away from his life,” I would answer, “No.”
Well, what would get me to change my answer to “yes?” Well, short of showing up and saying, “Hey, I’m alive,” at least.5 There are several ways.
1. Prove how Mr. Gricar got out of Lewisburg. There is able evidence he was there. The car he was driving was there, people saw him driving the Mini there, in the parking lot and on the streets, and his scent was there. He isn’t there. How could he have gotten out of Lewisburg? The police checked the busses running, and no one saw him; there is no record of renting a car under his own name. No one saw him hitchhiking. That leaves only a few options. He acquired a car, purchased it or rented it, possibly a straw purchase or rental or someone drove him out. If someone drove him out, it would have to be someone who cared about enough not claim a five digit reward that was offered. That would limit the person, a helper, to only close, and loyal associates, and ones that had some proximity to Lewisburg.6 Could there be a record of those transactions of the purchase or rental of that car. Could the helper be found?
2. Prove that Mr. Gricar was alive well after 4/15/05. As far as I know, there has been only one post Lewisburg sighting that has not yet been ruled out, the 5/27/05 sighting in Southfield, MI. While the witness is good, a retired police officer who was also a composite artist, and the timing and location of the sighting are consistent with the scenario that Mr. Gricar was planning international travel, it still is just a singular sighting. Could there be evidence that it was really Mr. Gricar, like a record of him leaving the country? Is there another post Lewisburg sighting with an even greater probability of being Mr. Gricar?
3. Prove that Mr. Gricar accessed money after he disappeared. We do know, because the police told us so, that Mr. Gricar didn’t use his credit cards after 4/15/05. He did take out cash, but less than $10,000 in the year prior to his disappearance.1, 7 That would be enough to purchase a nice used car, or reimburse someone renting one for him, and get out of Lewisburg. Even with that, it would be enough to live on for a few months. It would not be enough to live on for seven years, but in that leads to some interesting questions.
Since the district attorney position became full time, in 1997, Mr. Gricar’s household income was well over $100,000 gross; the first year, he donated the difference to charity that year. His wife through part of that time was an optician. Now, I’ve never met a millionaire optician, but their income is not terrible. Mr. Gricar’s assets, the amount in the bank, was listed at just over $100,000 and nobody has ever given any credible explanation to why it was so low. There are some possibilities that might account for that. He could have put it in foreign accounts, or he could have invested it in things that would not produce income until cashed in, like savings bonds or gold. It is very possible that there was a huge store of value that would not produce a record.
Even if there was some money stored away, that would not prove walkaway. There might be a tax deferred foreign account with six digits in it, or a safe deposit with 15 pounds of gold in it, neither of which were touched after 4/15/05. The proof would be that he accessed it after, or at least close to time of, his disappearance.
If there was evidence of any of these points, or all of them, there would be enough evidence to say that Mr. Gricar walked away. There is also the possibility that none of this evidence exists because Mr. Gricar did not voluntarily vanish. In that case, I would say that the most likely explanation for his disappearance was murder.
[Because of the press of other activities, I’ll still be more sporadic as usual.]
4 I almost let the cat out of the bag on that point a few years ago, but none of the chattering class picked up on it. http://www.centredaily.com/2010/08/25/2397551/the-philadelphia-blog-tax-police.html The Bellefonte Police had been, correctly, looking at this possibility well before I even started this blog.
5 And, after seven years, Mr. Gricar may have walked away in 2005 and died of natural causes between then and now.
7 This was about $16,000 over the 2 ½ years prior to Mr. Gricar’s disappearance: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05229/555106-85.stm
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 email@example.com