Occasionally, I do look at cases other that the disappearance of Ray Gricar. When I do, I like to try to relate it to the case of Centre County’s missing former district attorney. This is one that I’ve wanted to write about for a while. I’d like to compare them both.
It is a missing person case, but the person who went missing disappeared just under 2 ½ years after Mr. Gricar disappeared. Presumably, any police department could have looked at the fairly massive publicity surrounding the investigation and said, “Here is how we’ll avoid the mistakes the Bellefonte Police made.” Further, as a well-publicized case, anyone faced with missing loved one could look at the role played by Mr. Gricar’s loved ones, especially his live in girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, and said, “Here is what I should do.”
The missing person in this case is named Tanya Rider; her husband is Tom Rider.
Ms. Rider worked at a grocery store in Bellevue, WA, on the night shift. On September 20, 2007, she left work, and vanished. On 9/21 or 9/22/07, Mr. Rider contacted her employer and then the Bellevue Police. They checked the video of the store, and found that she had indeed left the store around 9:00 AM; they called him back and indicated that it was out of their jurisdiction and to call the King County Sherriff’s Office.1, 6
We should note something about sheriff’s offices in Pennsylvania.2 They provide security for county offices and transport prisoners. They have a large administrative role in the county. They don’t patrol nor do they have a major investigative role. In most other states, they do and may have substantially greater resources. In King County, they both patrol and investigate crimes. 3 The Office has a staff of more than 730.7 If you are looking for a missing, they might be the best equipped local agency to do it.
Mr. Rider then called, at 7:44 AM on 9/22/07, the King County Sherriff’s Office, to be told that his wife did not meet the criteria of a missing person. Mr. Rider actually called his wife’s employer and asked him to also report it, which he did at 10:59. Another employee call at 11:02 AM and said of Mr. Rider, "something's not right with this guy's story." She was referred to the Bellevue Police.4
Mr. Rider called back in the afternoon and on the next day, at 10:15 AM. The Sherriff’s Office still would not take the report. It was not until 8:00 AM on 9/24/07 that they took the report; she spoke to him at 9:05 AM, about four days after Ms. Rider was last seen.
There was confusion on if Mr. Rider could access a bank account. The bank, according to the Sherriff’s Office, told them initially that he could not and there were withdrawals during the time she was missing; Mr. Rider could and had made some withdrawls.5
On 9/27/07, the police requested Ms. Rider’s cell phone information.4 They also asked Mr. Rider to take a polygraph test; he agreed1. He was to take it around 2:30 PM that afternoon. He never took it.
As the test was being explained to Mr. Rider, the Sherriff’s Office found the car. Ms. Rider was in it, in bad shape but alive. Her car had run off the road; she was trapped and dehydrated. While this bureaucratic pantomime was taking place, she was near death, trapped in her car.5 After substantial rehabilitation, she has recovered.
A deputy said, to the press, “It’s not that we didn’t take him seriously. We don’t take every missing person report on adults. ... If we did, we’d be doing nothing but going after missing person reports.” 5 Other observers felt differently.8
Now I want to contrast what happened in the initial hours of the Rider case with the Gricar case, in terms of the investigation. It might be unfair to compare a department with a department more than one tenth the population of Bellefonte, with the “cracker-barrel” Bellefonte Police and the then lead investigator in the case, often compared to “Barney Fife,” Darrel Zaccagni. Well, life is not fair.
Let’s start with comparing the people who first contacted the police, Tom Rider, and Patty Fornicola. Surprisingly, a few people online suspect some nefarious delay on her part in Mr. Gricar’s disappearance. Mr. Rider, who worked two jobs, hadn’t realized that his wife was missing immediately and called the police after 48-96 hours after the last contact. He had expected her to be home 24 to 48 prior to calling the police, when he couldn’t reach her. Ms. Fornicola, who heard from Mr. Gricar at about 11:12 AM on 4/15/05, expected him home when she finished work, around 5:00 PM. She had expected him to be home about 7-8 hours before calling the police, when she could not reach him and when there were no responses to the voicemail she left. Both triggered the investigation, but Ms. Fornicola triggered in much more quickly. So much for her nefarious delay in reporting Mr. Gricar missing.
When the report was made, what happened? In Ms. Rider’s case, Mr. Rider contacted the Bellevue Police, they determined that she wasn’t in Bellevue and had him call the King County Sherriff’s Office. This led to a back and forth between the two jurisdictions. The Bellefonte Police Department got the call, and they still have the case. In the first days, a centralized investigative agency arguably helped.
Now, what was actually done by the Bellefonte Police, in the person of then lead Detective Zaccagni? Within an hour of the call a “be on the lookout (BOLO)” was issued for the Mini Cooper. On the morning of 4/16/05, the police were getting Mr. Gricar’s cell phone records and were contacting his friends. In contacting his friends and coworkers, Steve Sloane, a close friend and then assistant district attorney, noted that Mr. Gricar had once gone to a Cleveland Indians game; the Bellefonte Police contacted Jacobs Field in Cleveland. By midafternoon on 4/16/05 both ground and aerial searches were conducted from Centre Hall to Lewisburg along Routes 192 and 45. It took three days to do most of these things in the Rider case. The Mini Cooper, though not Mr. Gricar, was located within 20 hours of the first call to the police.
Ms. Fornicola’s actions deserve special comment. When she contacted the police, this is what she knew. She had last seen her boyfriend that morning, before she left for work. He had called her, saying he was on Route 192. That route would take him into a sparsely populated area without cell coverage. He was known to be an “adventurous driver.” He had not responded to her voicemail. She might have thought, as the police did, that he had been in an accident. She quickly called the police when she couldn’t contact her boyfriend.
The Bellefonte Police also responded quickly, pulling out the BOLO within an hour of Ms. Fornicola’s call. The next morning, they were checking Mr. Gricar’s cell phone records and contacting people who knew him. This level of investigation literally took days in the Rider case. Then lead detective Zaccagni indicated, in his interview with the television show Disappeared that Mr. Gricar was a “brother law enforcement officer,” and “you want to take care of you own.” That aspect was not present in the Rider case, but fortunately, it was in the Gricar case.
I am critical of many aspect of the Bellefonte Police Department’s investigation into the disappearance of Ray Gricar. My problems are the release of information and some of the longer term investigative aspects. In terms of the first response, however, the Bellefonte Police did a phenomenal job. In this aspect, the Bellefonte Police Department certainly was not a “cracker-barrel” police department with “Barney Fife” as the lead detective.
Centre Daily Times Ray Gricar Section: http://www.centredaily.com/138/
Link to the Main Index for Sporadic Comments on Ray Gricar: http://www.centredaily.com/2011/03/21/2597340/main-index-32011.html
E-mail J. J. in Phila at firstname.lastname@example.org