Special Reports

A Call About the Dog

On April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar placed a call to his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, who was at work in the Centre County District Attorney’s Office.  The time has been reported as being 11:12 AM.  The subject of the call was a simple request for Ms. Fornicola.  Mr. Gricar was on Route 192, heading toward Lewisburg, and asked Ms. Fornicola to walk their aged dog, Honey.  This was the last reported time that anyone who knew Mr. Gricar prior to April 15, 2005 actually spoke with him.

            We can only go by Ms. Fornicola’s report of the conversation, because only she and Mr. Gricar were on the line (thought she did pass a polygraph, which included questions about the call).   The important thing is not what was said, but that call was made.  It was made on a cell phone, so there is both a record of the call, and the general location of where the phone was when the call was made.

            I really should give you a brief, non-technical (I’m doing it, so it better be non-technical) description of how cell phones work, “Cell Phone 101.”  When the caller places the call, it is carried by a tower, at least a tower within the network the phone uses.  The caller cannot choose which tower within the network that will carry the call.

            A number of factors determine what tower carries the call.  One is the distance to the tower; a rule of thumb is that the phone has to be within five miles of the call.  Atmospherics can affect the call.  Some object can block the signal.  How many other calls are going through that cell tower at that time can affect that call.  I once used a cell phone called 911 from North Philadelphia and the call was routed to a cell tower in Montgomery County, about three miles from where I was located.  I tried again in a few minutes, from within 10 feet of where I called before and got Philadelphia 911; the several closer towers were probably all carrying other calls. 

       The phone companies involved keep records of the call and what tower was used to carry the call, and the length of the call.  They do this because they charge for these services.  That’s Economics 101 (and, okay, that was my minor, but I still don’t have to get too technical.)

            The area around Brush Valley has a minimum number of cell towers.  There was also a “dead zone” east of Rebersburg, an area where there is no local cell tower; as a result, the cell call could not have been placed from there.  The call would have been within a five mile radius of the tower that covered that area.  The police were able to determine which tower (and they may have been only one) carried the call.

            The call gave the police a start point to look for Mr. Gricar, both on the ground and the air.  They began, on Saturday, April 16, searching along Route 192.  That would make sense, based on what they knew.  Brush Valley is sparsely populated and there was a possibility that Mr. Gricar had had an accident; only after the car was found could that theory be refuted. 

The call had this effect.  It drew the searchers to a location 30-40 miles away from where the Mini was found.  The police spent most of Saturday not looking in Lewisburg or in the Susquehanna River, but in Brush Valley.  Had Mr. Gricar called from the house, or sent an e-mail before he left, the police would not have been looking in Brush Valley.  It may not have meant that the car would have been found sooner, but it certainly had the police looking in a different area.  That was the effect, but was it the intent?

Let’s assume that it was the intent; what would that point to? 

If Mr. Gricar were planning suicide, he would not have had to lead the police away.  He would have driven to Lewisburg and killed himself; there would have been ample time.

Assume that the call a murderer forced Mr. Gricar to make the call at gunpoint.  It would have given the murderer more time to hide the body after killing Mr. Gricar.  Well, if this was a murder, the murderer did such a good job that the body has yet to be found.  He didn’t need the extra time.  On top of that, there were numerous witnesses to both Mr. Gricar and the car being in Lewisburg later that day (more on that later).

The call would point to a voluntary departure, beyond question.   While the Mini, parked in the middle of a parking lot in the middle of Lewisburg, would be found, it might take several days to discover it.  In the meantime, the police are busily looking for clues along Route 192.  Even after the Mini was found, the police double checked along Route 192. http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2005/04/04-29-05tdc/04-29-05dnews-10.asp

So, the call either was an effort on Mr. Gricar’s part to misdirect the police to Brush Valley, or it was a call about the dog.