One of things that struck me about the May 27, 2005 Southfield, MI, sighting of the missing then Centre County Ray Gricar was how it basically never entered the public consciousness. For years, the information was sitting there, and, after the initial report, nobody really explored it.
There were some initial comments from the “chattering class.” The indexed Websleuth message board shows some contemporaneous comments, but no one mention that the witness was a retired police officer; one comment was that it could been mistaken identity while another noted the proximity to the Canadian border.1 There wasn’t a lot and nobody was looking at the background of the sighting.
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As note, the sighting was well reported, both in the print media2, 3 and even on cable.4 The Collegian was not publishing because the university was between semesters, but the first issue published after that mentioned it 5. The sighting, however, was reported twelve days after it happened; the witnesses identified the person as Mr. Gricar on 5/27/05 and the first media reports were on 6/9/05. The police didn’t release the name of the restaurant or of the witness, in any event. This, and the distance, about a 400 mile drive from Centre County, one way, basically meant that there would be no follow-up. The presumed Mr. Gricar didn’t return never returned to the residence. It didn’t answer the question, “Where is Ray Gricar?”
It also came out in the midst of other published sightings, which were checked, and then ruled out. This one became just another report in a string of reports, one which didn’t, and still doesn’t, have physical evidence or independent corroboration.
It also didn’t support the mindset of the public at the time. Many, if not most people, thought Mr. Gricar’s body would turn up. It was on June 29, 2005 that then lead investigator Darrel Zaccagni said, “"There's no credit card activity, no bank account activity. That's the biggest thing that leads us to believe he's no longer with us, either because of homicide or suicide."6 That was the mindset of many at the time, including me. We’ve both change our minds a bit since then.
While it was reported to close to the Canadian border, the idea that Mr. Gricar would cross into Canada from Detroit didn’t make too much sense. If Mr. Gricar wanted to cross into Canada, the quickest spot he could reach from Central Pennsylvania would be along the isthmus between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, around Buffalo or Niagara Falls. Even crossing in upstate New York would seem to make more sense. So, this became a sighting that didn’t seem to fit, even a walkaway scenario.
The sighting, even if accurate, did not answer the question everyone was asking, “Where is Ray Gricar?” Detective Zaccagni said, "It might be a good, credible sighting. But without any more, we can't do much."7 That isn’t the right question.
Within five months, this “credible” sighting, the word the police use, largely faded from public memory. James Renner, writing a masterful article on the Gricar disappearance in November 2005, does not mention it.7 In his 2008 book on unsolved cases, The Serial Killer’s Apprentice, which includes an update, there is no mention of it. Southfield or Michigan is not mentioned in my fellow blogger’s Slamdunk’s blog entries on the case, started in January of 2009.8 (It is an excellent blog, and you are encouraged you to read it. The general blog is linked to the left.)
And then there is me. In the series of these blogs on the evidence, there was no separate blog on the Southfield sighting; I don’t recall even a reference to it. I did talk to various people familiar with case before writing it; nobody mentioned Southfield. I did in looking at the investigation; I wrote one full paragraph about it, in a sixteen part series.9 Until about three weeks prior to writing the entry on it, I had not realized the sighting occurred on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, when even immediate media coverage would have limited effect.
And then there was the “chattering class.” The Southfield sighting rarely gets mentioned on message boards, even now. Nobody thought to look at the circumstances around the sighting, including me. I never checked a map of Southfield to see where the Interstates, restaurants, and motels were located . The idea of a staging area for a foreign trip was at least hinted at, because of the proximity to the Canadian border, but not the consulate of the Republic of Macedonia 10; I did know about Mr. Gricar’s family connection to the Balkan region. I didn’t discover the consulate until I looked at Southfield on Wikipedia, just for some background on what I thought was going to be just a brief entry. Nobody in the chattering class connected the dots, even me; even with that, one or more of the dots might just be a smudge on the paper. I don’t exempt myself from criticism for not catching all of these things a lot earlier; I should have and I missed it.
There is another problem for some in the chattering class. Some have a pet theory, usually murder, and even a favorite suspect or suspects. I said, a long time ago, “The truth, whatever it ends up being, will not satisfy some. It will destroy their image of what happened, and possibly their impression of Mr. Gricar.”11 This sighting has, and always did have, the potential of doing that, so they try to avoid the subject; in their view, it does not support their theory, therefore, it shouldn’t be discussed. That is unfortunate.
So now we have the no longer silent Southfield sighting. Even if accurate, it does not answer the question, “Where is Ray Gricar?” It might give us some indication of foreign travel, but not strongly so. The question, “Where is Ray Gricar,” however, is not the right question.
The right question is,”What happened to Ray Gricar.” Did he walkaway? Was he murdered? Did he commit suicide? Is there some other, more obscure reason? What are the chances that the Southfield sighting answers the right question, i.e. “What happened to Mr. Gricar?” 50/50.
2 PPG 6/26/05 http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05177/528156-85.stm
4 Abram’s Report 6/9/05, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8171216/
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