One possible explanation for the disappearance of Ray Gricar is that he left voluntarily. This explanation is far from the “least likely” explanation for the mystery surrounding the missing former Centre County district attorney; I give it a 50% chance of being the explanation. My fellow blogger, Slamdunk, puts it a 49%.1 While we both give it higher odds than any other explanation, neither one of us says that it above 50%, i.e. that walkaway is probable reason that Mr. Gricar vanished. We both, however, have raised the odds on it since we started blogging about this case.
There is a reason why I, and presumably Slamdunk, have the odds on voluntary departure higher than any other possibility. The evidence for walkaway is stronger, and there is more of it, that it is for any other explanation. There is a reason why I, and presumably Slamdunk, don’t have the odds higher and say that they exceed the odds of all other possibilities combined. That evidence, while stronger, is still not strong. There is plenty of room for doubt, reasonable or otherwise.
Never miss a local story.
Last year, I looked at the evidence for voluntary departure, but there is more. Let’s look at it again. What is the strongest evidence pointing to walkaway?
6. Mr. Gricar borrowed a copy of the novel 20/20 Vision in 1990-91 from a Pennsylvania State Trooper. The book has many similarities to the details in this case; the major one is that all the action takes place on April 14 and 15 (of different years).2 One plot point is that a character fakes his own death.
Virtually no one made the connection until the author, Pamela West, who consulted Mr. Gricar while researching the book, noted the similarities. There are a limited number of people that knew or could have known that Mr. Gricar read the book; even Ms. West did not know when she made the connection.3
5. Mr. Gricar talked about the Wiley case with Mr. Sloane. Chief Wiley disappeared five years after Mr. Gricar moved to State College and, while Chief Wiley was from the outskirts of Cleveland, he was not in Mr. Gricar’s jurisdiction; Mr. Sloane didn’t start working at the office until seven years after that. Ms. Arnold also thought the case was more generally discussed in the office. Chief Wiley, whose disappearance was voluntary, has no connection with Centre County, Mr. Gricar apparently never knew him, and Chief Wiley disappeared roughly five years after Mr. Gricar moved to State College.4
4. Mr. Gricar purchased the Mini Cooper and put it in the name of his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola. It would not protect him from liability issues, the stated reason for putting it in Ms. Fornicola’s name. The county carried liability insurance on Mr. Gricar, so any personal assets would be protected. Ms. Fornicola rarely drove the Mini and had a car that she principally drove; Mr. Gricar was the principal driver of the Mini.5
One correspondent of mine thought that perhaps Mr. Gricar having an affair and bought the car out of guilt. The problem is, she almost never drove it; in that respect, it wasn’t too much of a “gift.” While the car was legally Ms. Fornicola’s, it was, de facto, Mr. Gricar’s car. He didn’t have another one to drive.
The only reason that makes sense is that, if Mr. Gricar wasn’t there, Ms. Fornicola would get the car. The Mini was purchased more than nine months prior to Mr. Gricar’s disappearance, and I’ve never heard of anyone definitely planning suicide nine months in advance.
3. Mr. Gricar’s assets seem to be very low, based on the fact that for the seven years prior to his disappearance, he was grossing more than $100,000 per year. During his divorce, he also disposed of property, which should have increased his assets, even taking the final settlement into account.5 The reported amount of Mr. Gricar’s assets at the time of his disappearance was slightly over $100,000. Every time I get a tidbit of information on his finances, a red flag gets raised. For example, I found out that Mr. Gricar’s second wife worked, at least part time. The household income would have been more. While he had a daughter, her mother worked, and possibly was the principal earner during their marriage.6
This could point to Mr. Gricar sheltering assets that he could access if he walked away. A deeper view of Mr. Gricar’s finances by law enforcement is needed, and is being done.
2. This is the sighting of Carolyn Fenton (now Ms. Larabee), then a law clerk, of Mr. Gricar in a different, metallic colored, car behind the Courthouse in Bellefonte at 3:00 PM on 4/15/05. She knew Mr. Gricar and, from what has been reported, there are no witnesses that put Mr. Gricar in Lewisburg at that time.7
I cannot come up with a reasonable explanation outside of the context of walkaway. I can come up with two explanations in the context of walkaway:
A. After acquiring a car, Mr. Gricar wanted to get something from the house and didn’t want Ms. Fornicola to walk in on him. He checked the parking lot to see if her car was there before heading to the house.
B. He was dropping off the helper who delivered the car to him in Lewisburg (and that helper might be on the video tape from the security camera).
1. The sighting of Mr. Gricar by a retired police officer in Southfield, MI, on 5/27/05 is the single strongest piece of evidence that Mr. Gricar walked away. The witness, aside from being a former police officer, was also a composite artist; of all people, he should be able to make an excellent facial identification.8 The witness’s contact with the man he identified as Mr. Gricar was prolonged, and, they spoke briefly to each other. Let’s all face it. If Mr. Gricar was alive, and eating a meal, in the Detroit suburbs on 5/27/05, he was neither murdered nor committed suicide in Pennsylvania in April 2005.
The circumstances of the Southfield sighting further strengthen it. These are:
A. Southfield is at the intersection of two major express ways; one leads, after a about a 20 minute drive to the Canadian border. If Mr. Gricar wanted to leave the area quickly, he could, by a variety of routes.
B. The sighting occurred on the Memorial Day Weekend Friday.9 If Mr. Gricar was spotted, and the police informed the media, it would be difficult to get the story out. Many people have other plans on the traditional start of summer and don’t watch the news and it is sometimes preempted by sports programming; even in Philadelphia, it is hard to see local news on television during a Saturday. If Mr. Gricar was worried about being spotted, and the story being on the news, this was possible the best possible time to avoid it.
C. Southfield contains a foreign consulate, the Consulate of the Republic of Macedonia, one of the former Yugoslavian Republics. The Gricar family was from another former Yugoslavian Republic, Slovenia; Mr. Gricar had previously vacationed in Slovenia and had distant cousins there. He could have been there to get travel documents.10
With these factors, the sighting has an explanation.
The witness reported that Mr. Gricar was with an older woman; there are several explanations for that, within the context of walkaway, that I hope to explore in the future.
How strong is all of this?
6. There were, as noted in the blog on 20/20 Vision, other literary coincidences, even one that happened on April 15. If this was the only thing that pointed to walkaway, I’d be inclined to dismiss it as coincidence (and it might be). It is the weakest piece of evidence that points exclusively to walkaway. 11
5. Though it is hugely unlikely, Wiley could be a coincidence, and the second coincidence in a row. Also, Mr. Gricar could have just found the case fascinating, but not something he’d like to try. I find the case interesting, to the point that I remembered some of the details (though not Wiley’s name) decades later, but I have no intention of “pulling a Wiley.”
4. The titling of the Mini Cooper may have been an attempt at estate planning. In 2005, Mr. Gricar was 59 years old; he may have been worried about suffering a heart attack or a debilitating stroke, just because of age (I’m worried about it at 47).12 He could have put it in Ms. Fornicola’s name just in case something happened. Note that he did have joint accounts with his daughter, Lara, even though she lived more than 2000 miles away; if something happened to him, Ms. Gricar could immediately access the funds.13 She could also have a rather substantial state inheritance tax savings.
3. While the police are digging more deeply into Mr. Gricar’s assets, we don’t know what they’ll find.14 Even finding that Mr. Gricar sheltered some assets would not prove he walked away, in itself. People do shelter assets for a variety of reasons.
Finding that Mr. Gricar had sheltered assets would certainly strengthen walkaway, but only if there was evidence he accessed them after he disappeared, or in clear preparation for his disappearance, would prove walkaway.
2. From everything I’ve heard about Ms. Fenton is a very credible that held and now holds positions of responsibility; she is intelligent and honest. Responsible, intelligent and honest people can make mistakes (and do every day).
No other witness can definitely put Mr. Gricar behind the Courthouse at 3:00 PM on 4/15/05; Judge Grine is unsure of the day. Ms. Fenton saw Mr. Gricar as he drove past, almost the dictionary definition of “fleeting glimpse.” It is possible see saw someone else and mistook him for Mr. Gricar; it’s also possible that she is mistaken about the day. Of all the witnesses from April, I give this sighting the weakest chance of being correct.15 I can explain every other witness account from April fully in the context of Mr. Gricar being murdered and all of them are stronger.
1. The witness, and the sighting, is very strong, but there is no independent corroboration from any other witnesses ever reported. The circumstances around the sighting are surprisingly strong, but there is no known physical evidence.16 It is possible that there could be both stronger physical evidence and more witnesses, but nothing has been released.
Of the list, numbers six and five could (barely) be dismisses as coincidence. Number four could have an alternate explanation. Number three may or may not exist; even if it does, it would not necessarily be conclusive. Number two is a sighting without corroboration. Number one has no reported corroboration, either from other independent witnesses or physical evidence.
There is more evidence for voluntary departure than any other single explanation. The coincidences continue to pile up. All of this together causes me to say that there is a 50% chance that Mr. Gricar’s disappearance was voluntary.
2 CDT 2/26/08 http://porchlightinternationalformissinguid.com/
3 CDT 2/27/08 http://porchlightinternationalformissinguid.com/
4 CDT 2/26/08 http://porchlightinternationalformissinguid.com/,
5 CDT , 5/13/06 http://www.centredaily.com/news/ray_gricar/story/3802.html
7 The Time Line of the Witness Sightings Between 11:00 AM 4/15/05 and 11:59 PM 4/18/05
8 Southfield Sighting, CDT, 6/9/05 http://www.centredaily.com/2005/06/09/3783/police-examine-gricar-sighting.html
13 CDT, 5/13/06 http://www.centredaily.com/news/ray_gricar/story/3802.html
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