Foul play has been one of the possible explanations for the mysterious disappearance of Ray Gricar from the start of the investigation. The likelihood of Centre County’s former district attorney being murdered is debatable, with different rankings. In terms of the ranking, the incumbent District Attorney, Stacy Parks Miller, has said that “homicide is the least likely,” explanation for Mr. Gricar’s disappearance. I give the possibility that Mr. Gricar was the victim of foul play at being 41%, reasonably likely, though not the most likely possibility. There is a lot of daylight between are two stated positions. In all fairness, the police do not give bloggers access to the files, and I might agree if I saw all the evidence. As of now, based on the publicly released evidence and those few pieces that I’m also aware of, I don’t reach that conclusion.
I disagree with those folks who say that there is no evidence that foul play. There is some evidence that could point to murder. That evidence, however, is not direct, i.e. no one saw him being murdered, and most of it is not physical. Let’s look at the evidence.
5. Mr. Gricar could have claimed his pension had he retired, as planned.1 He
bluntly, could have resigned on 4/15/05 and collected it. By vanishing, he cannot collect it. That points to his vanishing being involuntary.
4. Mr. Gricar loved his daughter, Lara. He would never leave without putting her through the trauma of his disappearance, even if he planned to contact her later, after she was polygraphed.2
3. The “Lewisburg Mystery Woman.” In the early evening of 4/15/05, Mr. Gricar was seen in the Street of Shops with an unknown woman; the witness, a business man thought they were together. That woman has not come forward. That is strongly suspicious.3
2. The scent of smoke in the Mini Cooper and the trace of ash on its floor. Mr. Gricar didn’t smoke and didn’t permit smoking in the Mini. That could be a strong indication that someone else was in that Mini, perhaps a murderer. Whoever it was, suspiciously, has not come forward.4
1. The location of the laptop itself, but not the drive. The laptop was on the north side of the bridge and most likely tossed from the bridge, but that is the wrong side of the bridge.5 This deserves greater explanation.
First, it is hugely likely that the drive was removed prior to the laptop being tossed; the drive was found about 90-150 yards away from the drive, upstream, and very near to the bank. The drive could have been tossed from the bank; it was found in the water near the park where Mr. Gricar was seen.
The laptop was found near the north side of the bridge, where it most likely was tossed from the bridge, but from the side where traffic would be heading to Lewisburg; it easily could have been toss from a slow moving car, even by the driver. If Mr. Gricar was the person who tossed it, he would have had, after removing the drive, had to do one of two things. One, he drove the Mini across the Susquehanna from Lewisburg, turned around, drove the Mini back across the bridge, and dropped the laptop. Two, Mr. Gricar walked into traffic about a quarter of the way across the bridge, dropped it, and when on his way.
There are further complications. There is a walkway on the south side of the bridge. It is far easier to drop the laptop into the river from there, if on foot. Had Mr. Gricar tossed both the drive and the laptop, it would have far easier to toss the drive from the bridge, at another point, either on foot or from a vehicle. The water is deeper and it would be unlikely that the drive would be found, even by this point. The drive is much smaller and lighter than the laptop, and much easier to dispose from the bridge.
This leads to an interesting possibility, the same person who tossed the drive may not be the same person who tossed the laptop. We know that Mr. Gricar didn’t want something on the drive to ever see the light of day; he talked to people about eliminating the data perhaps a year prior to his disappearance and did searches on how to destroy a drive (I think we’ll be hearing more about this one day).6 He obviously would have had a motivation for tossing the drive. He was seen by multiple witnesses near where the drive was found. Those things point fairly strongly to Mr. Gricar tossing the drive. They don’t point to him tossing the laptop itself, without the drive.
Assume that Mr. Gricar took the laptop with him with the intent of tossing the drive, though that was not the prime purpose of the trip. He could have been planning to meet someone, possibly a woman (like the Lewisburg Mystery Woman). He’d leave with her in her car. He would arrive their earlier, and toss the drive; he had a nonworking laptop but he was worried that someone might break in to the parked Mini Cooper, not knowing it was nonworking, and steal it. He took it with him when he left. Over the weekend, he and the woman quarreled and she, in a moment of rage, killed him; panicked, she hid his body, but she forgot about the laptop sitting in her trunk. Conversely, the woman’s significant other showed up after she left, possibly misinterpreting something innocent.
Perhaps a few days or weeks later, she discovers that she has a piece of evidence, clearly linking her to Mr. Gricar. Perhaps Mr. Gricar even mentioned that he “threw the drive in the river.” Knowing, at least, that Mr. Gricar had been in Lewisburg, she tosses the laptop from the bridge.
Remember my experiment with rusting the drive?7 I could conclude that the drive had been in the water for at least two months, but I could never conclude it was in the Susquehanna from 4/15.
How strong is all of this? Some is surprising weak.
5. If Mr. Gricar wanted to disappear, where his pension check was sent would be a dead giveaway to his location. Further, if Mr. Gricar is never seen again, his pension can be claimed by his heir, his daughter.8 As the payment would be above six digits, his provides an excellent way for him to provide for his daughter. That one can be dismissed, provided that Mr. Gricar had other funds to live on afterward. It is interesting to note that the review panel is looking with greater depth at his finances.9
4. For Ms. Gricar to ever get the pension money, and if a body is never found, she will have to petition the court to declare her father dead. She will have to swear that she has not heard from him.9 If Mr. Gricar contacts her, he would put her in the position where she might have to commit perjury, a prison offense, technically. What loving father would want his daughter to go to jail to protect him? That is a very good reason for not telling Ms. Gricar, or at least for her not to move to declare him dead.
3. Only one witness reported seeing the “Mystery Woman,” even though two witnesses put Mr. Gricar in the Street of Shops at the same time, according to reports. Could the witness have misinterpreted what he saw? Could this just have been another shopper just heading in the same direction? Could it have been someone who just struck up a brief conversation with Mr. Gricar, or asked him for the time? It’s not strong.
2. Maybe it wasn’t someone else. Before the smoke and ash information was released, the Wilkes-Barre witnesses reported that were sure was Mr. Gricar was smoking.10 One, a visiting police officer, though that, from how he held the cigarette, the man was not a regular smoker. If Mr. Gricar wanted to create a disguise of sorts, a cigarette is ideal. When you take a puff on a cigarette, you raise it to your lips, blocking your face from viewers.
There is another possibility. The person smoking was not a murderer, but a helper, helping Mr. Gricar get out of Lewisburg and walking away from his life.
This one is harder to explain outside of the foul
play context, but not impossible. Could Mr. Gricar have looked at his laptop, minus the drive, and thought, If I leave the laptop here, everybody will know that the drive is missing. If I toss the laptop into the river, nobody will know that the drive is missing until they find the laptop. Possibly, but, if Mr. Gricar walked away, it was not a spur of the moment thing. It was well planned and was this last detail just an oversight? Maybe, but even with that, why wouldn’t Mr. Gricar just tuck the laptop under his fleece and walk on the walkway on the south side of the bridge, and toss it from there. It is about a five minute stroll, if that.11
Well, out of these five, numbers five and four make just about as much sense as evidence for walkaway. Three and two, are weak, at best, and may just as easily point to a “helper,” someone that assisted Mr. Gricar’s voluntary departure.
Number one, where the laptop was found, is different. It does not really fit the voluntary departure theory, even knowing that Mr. Gricar really wanted the data on the drive to never see the light of day. That is a good part of that 41% chance of foul play that is keeping me up at night.
E-mail J. J. in Phila at firstname.lastname@example.org