More Musings on the Laptop

Posted on January 21, 2013 


            About four years ago, my predecessor here, Pete Bosak, wrote a blog that was titled “Musings on the Laptop.”  He looked at the information that was publicly revealed about laptop that belonged to former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.  It ended up in the Susquehanna River.

            Since that time, we have learned more about the laptop and Mr. Gricar.  I want to look at all the information available and look how this fits into various scenarios.  

            First we will look at what has come out over the years: 

            A.  Mr. Gricar was interested in getting rid of the data on the laptop.1  He had purchased software to erase the drive and had asked someone outside the office about methods for doing it.  As this was a defense attorney, it would not be case related.  I wish I could shed more light on who it was, but I am not able to at the present time.

            B.  Prior to his disappearance, Mr. Gricar was doing searches on his home computer for terms like “water damage to a notebook computer,” “how to wreak a hard drive,” and “how to fry a hard drive.”1  The date was on the drive and destroying the drive would destroy the data.

            C.  While hinted as early as November 2005, and by numerous Internet rumors since,2 it was not reported until now that at least one witness saw Mr. Gricar with his laptop in the Mini Cooper.  The laptop did not have a wi fi connection, so he was not using it to communicate with anyone.  Even Mr. Bosak, in his blog, noted that no one saw Mr. Gricar outside of the Mini, but he never said no one saw him with it in Lewisburg.

            D.  Mr. Gricar was seen, by at least three witnesses in very close proximity to the spot where the drive was found.3  The distance from where the Mini was parked to the bank of the river is 50-75 yards.  As can be seen in these photographs Mr. Gricar could have easily walked there.  Further, he was seen sitting on one of those benches, so he did get out of the Mini.

            There is a fifth point, a more general one, about Mr. Gricar.  He was very private.  People did not know about his private life.  He was not a particularly gregarious person.  A neighbor of his in the mid 1980’s described the Gricars as a “stay at home family,” in the FBI background check.4  Robert Mix, his predecessor as DA, described him as “reserved,” in the same report.  His ex-wife, Emma, indicated told a friend that it seemed she could never connect with him.1  So the fifth point is:

            E.  Mr. Gricar was not one to share data about himself with others.  In looking at the destruction of the drive and the data on it, that factor that is often overlooked.

            Well, that is a very solid case that Mr. Gricar tossed the drive into the Susquehanna, with the intent of destroying the data on it.  It has the three elements for a solid case.  He expressed an interest in destroying that data and there were computer searches (motivation).  He was in Lewisburg with the laptop (opportunity), according to at least one witness.  He was close to the spot where the drive was found (means), again according to several witnesses.  That is a very solid case that Mr. Gricar tossed the drive, for the purpose of destroying the data on it, but doesn’t tell us what happened to him after that.

            Well, there are three main scenarios as to what happened to Mr. Gricar, suicide, voluntary departure, and foul play.  Mr. Gricar destroying the data on the drive fits in directly with two, but not directly with the third.  There are also three possibilities about why Mr. Gricar wanted to destroy that data, and one of them has nothing to do with either suicide or voluntary departure.  Let’s look at each possibility.

            1.  A suicidal Mr. Gricar was still a private Mr. Gricar.  He may not have wanted investigators, or even his next of kin, pouring over his computer records.  He might have had notes about the performance of various staff members, which he didn’t want to see public.  He might have not wanted his web surfing habits noted.  He might have had family photos of his daughter, and didn’t like the idea of some stranger ogling them.

            Mr. Gricar also might have been doing searches on words like “depression” and “suicide.” Many people are sensitive about health problems, and a presumably suicidal Mr. Gricar could have been one of them.  He might have been keeping notes on his own mental state on the laptop, sort of a digital journal, that he never wanted publically revealed.  All of those reasons are possible why Mr. Gricar would have tossed the drive, if he ended up committing suicide.

            2.  A Mr. Gricar that wanted to walk away wanted to do so anonymously.  Any travel arrangement could have been on that laptop, like transportation schedules and maps or such things as account information.  While traveling with a laptop would have helped him check these on the road, those checks would have been traceable.  Each computer has an IP address, unique to that device, which is traceable.5  If Mr. Gricar was sitting at a bar, downing a Grey Goose martini someplace in Slovenia or Ukraine, and decided to check on how the investigation was progressing, that would be discovered.  Since it was a county owned laptop, they should have been able to get the IP address.  This would be a good reason to toss the drive.

            3.  Would a murderer have wanted the information on the laptop?  Would a murderer have wanted to destroy something on the laptop, something incriminating?

            The first question would be how would a murderer know what was on the laptop.  Mr. Gricar had at least three computers and the laptop was not one he used on a daily basis.  If a presumed murderer just wanted some information, why go to the trouble of removing the drive?

            The presumed murderer who wanted to eliminate incriminating data would have had a worse time of it.  Unless he/she was with that computer for every minute since the data was placed on it, there would be no way of knowing if Mr. Gricar had hard copies on file, copied it to another computer, to a CD or flash drive, or to an online storage site, or all of those things.  Tossing the drive simply does not fit with murder, if tossing the drive were those purposes.  There is another possibility that does fit with murder.

            4.  The destruction of the drive is not directly tied to the disappearance.  Mr. Gricar voluntarily tossed the drive, but when he did so, he had the intent of being at work on Monday morning.  Mr. Gricar was a private person, and did get rid of the data on that hard drive.  Further, he may not have wanted things like his credit card number to get out.  So, he asked people about destroying the drive, did those searches, took the laptop to Lewisburg, removed the drive, and tossed it into the Susquehanna.  That would be prudent way of eliminating the data on the drive.

            One thing I didn’t realize until recently was that the laptop was an older model; it had been replaced by the company in 2004.6  Mr. Gricar had had it for about a year.  It would not have a huge value, because there were newer models.  When the time came to return it, he simply could indicate that he had dropped it the water and that it was beyond repair.  Then he could have written a check for its value.  It would have been a small check.

            If Mr. Gricar had returned, absolutely no one would have been looking for the laptop or the drive.  It would have been one more piece of junk in the otherwise pristine Susquehanna.  It only became important when he did not return home.

            It is possible that the destruction of the laptop was not related to an act of foul play against Mr. Gricar.  It might have a coincidence, a convenient one for a murderer

            This scenario is consistent with the witness accounts.  Mr. Gricar was seen in Lewisburg around lunchtime, across from the Packwood Museum about 50-75 yards from the drive was tossed.  He could have tossed it then, or he could have been scouting a location to toss it.  He was seen later in the day in the Street of Shops and its parking lot.  There is a several hour gap when he could have been meeting someone (if the report of him behind the Courthouse in Bellefonte is incorrect).

            The destruction of the hard drive and the data on it points to Mr. Gricar’s disappearance being a voluntary act, either suicide or walkaway.  Lead detective Matt Rickard said, of the various foul play theories, “Throw in hard-drive searches and it doesn’t kill the theories, but it makes them virtually impossible.”1  I would agree, if we knew that Mr. Gricar’s disappearance was directly related to the ultimate destruction of the data on the hard drive.  We don’t know that, however.  A wild coincidence is possible.

End Notes


1 P-N, 4/15/12












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