Special Reports

Happenstance, Coincidence, Enemy Action

Yesterday, I posted new odds on the explanation for what happened to Ray Gricar, the former Centre County District Attorney; I had not changed them for more than a year.  The reason those odds changed was largely due to research into the Southfield, Michigan sighting.

When trying to figure out what happened to Ray Gricar, I talk to people, bounce ideas off of them, ask questions, and do research.  Sometimes a fresh look at old evidence will yield something new.  Sometimes it is just something new to me; sometimes it is something that is new not just to me, but to most of the people following the case.  That happened again, and it was sufficient to change my odds on what happened to Mr. Gricar a bit.  There is some that is old, it was always there, but managed to escape comment by both the press and the chattering class, until recently. 

Most of it is circumstantial.  As was pointed out, however, people can be convicted on circumstantial evidence, and were by then District Attorney Gricar.1  Some of it is direct evidence, a witness sighting.  None of it is physical; I’ll say that upfront.  That lack of physical evidence is the reason you didn’t see a huge jump.

It was Ian Fleming, the creator James Bond, who wrote, “One is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.”  There are a lot of things in this case that I might write off being coincidence.  The famous Code Book2, found on First Assistant District Attorney Mark Smith’s desk, is one. The fact that there multiple jurisdictions and police agencies involved.3  The fact that on 4/18/05, with Mr. Gricar’s disappearance, Mr. Smith could not realistically would be in charge of the District Attorney’s Office in nine months; nobody could have known.  This would make a long term leadership of the investigation difficult.4

            All of these things could easily be coincidental.  The river is obviously a good spot for a criminal to drop evidence, just to get rid of it; it was also in the same broad area where Mr. Gricar was seen and where the Mini was found.  The Code Book could have been checked, and forgotten, earlier in the day.  A killer, or even a suicidal Mr. Gricar, might not to have cared or even known, the impact that no permanent district attorney could have on the investigation.

And then the there is the Southfield, MI sighting, of 5/27/05; that sighting is still considered “credible.”  Nobody came forward, a Ray Gricar lookalike and said, “Oh, that witness is mistaken.  That was me with Aunt Millie.”  The witness is an experienced observer, not only a retired police officer, but a composite artist; he might be the best person in the world to recognize a face.5  The contact was prolonged and close; the retired officer saw the subject while eating and spoke to him afterward.6  While the retired officer’s daughter also identified the man as Mr. Gricar, she and her father discussed the case, and possibly saw a photo of Mr. Gricar on television after her father called her.  It lacks the independent corroboration of the Wilkes-Barre sighting, and both the physical evidence and independent corroborations of the 4/15/05 Lewisburg sightings.  It short, the Southfield sighting is “credible” but not as supported as these others.

There is, however, circumstantial evidence.  First is the location, second is the closeness to an expressway, and third is the day and attendant press coverage.

First, there are some interesting aspects to the location of Southfield, a suburb of Detroit.  There are two parts to this.  Part A, it provides several quick routes to the Canadian border.  The Lodge Freeway, which bisects Southfield, leads to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel; the Freeway ends within 200 yards of the Tunnel’s entrance.  A bit further, but just off I-75, which connects with the Freeway, in the Ambassador Bridge.  Both routes lead to Ontario.  Likewise, from Southfield, someone could take I-696, which runs along Southfield’s northern border, to I-94 and cross into Canada at Port Huron, about 70 miles north.  Part B, there is a Consulate of Republic of Macedonia in Southfield.  That is a former Yugoslavian Republic, as is Slovenia, the ancestral home the Gricar family.  Slovenia is an area that Mr. Gricar visited, and still has some distant cousins; I don’t know it he ever actually went to Macedonia. It is a location where someone interested in traveling to the area (or staying in Canada) might get the appropriate documentation.7


Second, there seems to be common characteristic between the Southfield and Wilkes-Barre sightings.  Both were in food serving establishments very close to limited access highways with quick connections to Interstate highways; they both appear within four miles of an exit.8   It was near a motel9; most of those are within two miles of an exit.  That can be indicative of someone using the Interstate to travel by car.  Now, true, there are lot of Interstates, but being that close, twice seems like a pattern.  To put this into perspective, if you are in State College now, you are more than four miles from a limited access highway that connects with an Interstate.


Third, there is another common characteristic.  It has been noted, in the series on the evidence, that Mr. Gricar disappeared on a Friday.  It was also noted how that had the effect on the public dissemination on the story; it took several days for the story to spread effectively.  The Southfield sighting also happened on a Friday, but not just any Friday.  It was Friday, May 27, 2005, the Friday before Memorial Day, the traditional start of Summer, when many people would not be tuning into the news or reading news online.  It was one of the worst times to get media coverage.  If someone, traveling incognito, needed to be in a more public place and was worried about being spotted and reported in the media, it was one of the best time to appear all year.  If that was the case, it worked.  It wasn’t reported in the press for 12 days.10

Enemy Action?

Do I really think that there is a Ray Gricar lookalike driving the Interstate system, near consulates and international borders, just stopping to eat or have a round, and just coming out when the report would have limited public reception?  No, I do not.

We can also look at the evidence for the other options.  So far, after five and a quarter years, there is not even circumstantial evidence that Mr. Gricar was a crime victim; perhaps the closest is that as District Attorney , Mr. Gricar was in a position to make violent enemies.  There is nothing else there. 

There is some evidence for suicide; most of it, however, could also be evidence of Mr. Gricar walking away.  I hope to do a blog on that in the future.  For the evidence that points exclusively to suicide, we have a family history of suicide and the report of the State Police profiler, which was made prior to many of the witness reports.  It lacks one major piece of evidence, a dead body.  Mr. Gricar’s dead body, if it is indeed dead, has never been found after more than five and a quarter years.

The witness sighting itself is considered direct evidence.  The rest, the foreign connection, the Interstate similarities, and the Fridays are circumstantial.  There can be problems with circumstantial evidence.

About six weeks ago, I wrote about Michelle “Shelli” Whitaker.  Ms. Whitaker disappeared in August 16, 2006.  She was a waitress at a small restaurant; about a month later, another waitress,  Heather Sellars, also disappeared.  That should be strong circumstantial evidence that both met with foul play.  I certainly would have said so.  In Ms. Whitaker’s case (though, unfortunately, not in Ms. Sellar’s case), the circumstantial evidence led in the wrong direction; Ms. Whitaker was alive and well (perhaps better than when she left), and living in Washington state. 11

The circumstantial evidence has its limitations, as can be seen in the Whitaker case (I’m afraid this point was lost on the blogger Txslueth).  It can point, strongly, to a false conclusion.  Still, even dismissing a lot of the evidence as coincidental and looking at it with a very skeptical eye, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence; one piece might point to something incorrectly, but there is more than one piece here.  It seems to be growing over the years.

            These odds might change, in either direction, based on new evidence or even new discoveries on old evidence.   For now, I’m 50% sure Mr. Gricar walked away and I’m 50% sure he didn’t.

End Notes

1   "Motive, your honor, is something we never have to prove."


2   The Code Book


3 Jurisdiction

4 Politics 2005, Part I, Politics 2005, Part 2


5   PPG 6/26/05 http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05177/528156-85.stm


6  Abram’s Report, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8171216/


7 Southfield Sighting


8   Common Characteristics


9 CDT 6/9/05, http://www.centredaily.com/2005/06/09/3783/police-examine-gricar-sighting.html

10 Weekend Media, Friday, Thank God It’s Friday

11 A Disappearance in South Carolina


E-mail J. J. in Phila at scorg@live.com