Over the last several months, there were several blog entries titled, the “Least Weak Evidence.” They dealt with the evidence for various theories explaining the disappearance of Ray Gricar, Centre County’s former district attorney. The theories, in the order presented, where that Mr. Gricar committed suicide, that he was murdered, or that he voluntarily walked away.
First is the possibility that Mr. Gricar committed suicide.1 Mr. Gricar’s brother committed suicide. Depression, and related psychological diseases, can be genetic, and can, obviously, lead to suicide. There is no evidence Mr. Gricar ever had a genetic predisposition himself. The rest of the evidence can easily be explained in terms of any of the other theories.
In the case of suicide, and unlike the other two theories, there is a hugely strong argument against suicide. It is nearly impossible to hide your own body after you are dead. The fact that, in more than 5 ½ years, no remains has ever been found, strongly points away from suicide.
Then there is the possibility of murder. 2 Some of the evidence, Mr. Gricar would have claimed his pension and told his daughter it he wasn’t planning to come home is very weak. Had he wished to provide for his daughter and not to put her in a position where she’d have to lie to the police, this is the best way.
Then there is the Mystery Woman seen with Mr. Gricar in Lewisburg by one witness and the trace of ash and the scent of cigarette smoke in the Mini Cooper. The Mystery Woman could have been (even unwittingly) involved in Mr. Gricar murder, and the scent of smoke and ash might point to someone else being in the Mini. A murderer? Maybe, but there are alternative explanations. The Mystery Woman may not have been with Mr. Gricar; the sole witness might have seen just a casual conversation between Mr. Gricar and a fellow shopper. The Mystery Woman may have been a helper, someone that helped Mr. Gricar leave voluntarily. The ash and scent of smoke might have been left by a helper, or even by Mr. Gricar; the witnesses that reported seeing Mr. Gricar in Wilkes-Barre also saw him smoking. At best these two points are inconclusive.
There is one bit of evidence that stands out, where the laptop, but not the drive, ended up. The laptop ended up on the north side of the bridge. Had Mr. Gricar wished to toss both in the river, it would have far easier to toss the drive mid-river. The water is deeper in the center part of the river and had the drive been tossed from the bridge; it might never have been found. Mr. Gricar could have, on foot, tossed the drive where it was found, and walked to the walkway on the south side bridge and toss it from there. There is the possibility that the person who tossed the drive (presumably Mr. Gricar) is not the same person who tossed the laptop minus the drive (possibly a murderer who wanted to get rid of evidence that provided a direct l-i-n-k to Mr. Gricar).
Conversely, Mr. Gricar could have realized, as an afterthought, that if the police discovered his laptop without the drive, they’d be looking specifically for a drive; was it just a last minute mistake that Mr. Gricar tried to remedy at the last minute? If so, it was the one minor mistake in an otherwise flawless plan? It is the one tiny piece of evidence that doesn’t fit too well into the voluntary departure scenario.
The finial possibility is that Mr. Gricar voluntarily walked away.3 Some of the evidence, the similarity to 20/20 Vision, a book Mr. Gricar read, and his interest in the voluntary disappearance of Hinckley Township, Ohio, police chief, Mel Wiley, well after the fact, could be coincidence. Putting the Mini Cooper in the name of his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, name could be an attempt at estate planning; Mr. Gricar was 59 years old, and might have been thinking about his own mortality. While I will admit that these add up to a lot of coincidence, we’ve seen other cases where coincidence was high, but still coincidence.4
Then there is seeming lack of assets that Mr. Gricar left behind. Maybe, after a thorough review, it will be found that every penny is accounted for and that Mr. Gricar made no effort to shelter assets. The review panel is looking, but this still remains inconclusive.
Then we have two witnesses in particular, out the more than a one dozen called “credible.” One is Ms. Fenton’s sighting on at 3:00 PM on 4/15/05 behind the Courthouse in Bellefonte; she reported seeing him in another, unknown, car. The police initially indicated that it did not fit the timeline, but no published witness account shows a conflict. This could be Mr. Gricar checking to see if his girlfriend was there before going back the house or dropping the person off who brought him the car.
Two is the 5/27/05 sighting by a retired police officer, who was also a police sketch artist, that reported seeing Mr. Gricar in a restaurant in Southfield, MI on 5/27/05. The circumstances around this sighting, close to the Canadian border, on a “bad” media day, in proximity to major highways, and in relatively close proximity to a foreign consulate, certainly point to Mr. Gricar’s voluntary departure.
Both witnesses are strong, but neither sighting has been reported to have independent corroboration, either from physical evidence or other witnesses; all the other sightings do. I give each about a 50% chance of being accurate.
In terms of weak evidence, even the strongest evidence for suicide is very weak indeed, the evidence for foul play is much stronger. The evidence for voluntary departure is stronger still. “Stronger” is still not strong. There just is not yet enough evidence to say that one possibility is probable, much less announce a solution.
E-mail J. J. in Phila at firstname.lastname@example.org