BELLEFONTE — Bellefonte police have begun working with a California psychic in hopes of generating new clues in their investigation into the disappearance of District Attorney Ray Gricar nearly one month ago.
Police officer Darrel Zaccagni said Gricar's loved ones brought up the possibility of using a psychic in the investigation during a meeting. He immediately thought of Carla Baron, a former Lock Haven resident who has worked on Ferguson Township's probe into the Nov. 1, 2001, disappearance of Penn State student Hyun Jong "Cindy" Song.
Song's disappearance remains unsolved.
After talking to Ferguson Township police about Baron, Zaccagni took the idea back to Gricar's loved ones. Bellefonte Police Chief Duane Dixon approved the proposal, and Zaccagni called her last week.
Although Zaccagni is skeptical of psychics in general, he said he can't discount them.
"I believe in God, and if I believe in God, I have to believe there are spirits out there," he said. "If you look, more and more police are using psychics."
But Don Zettlemoyer, director of the Justice and Safety Institute at Penn State, said it's pretty uncommon for police to use psychics for investigations.
"They often end up being used when everything else has hit a dead end," he said.
The 10-year veteran of Michigan police work said he knows of no empirical evidence that psychics can help an investigation.
"If it detracts from the time an officer is actually investigating, then it can hurt an investigation," Zettlemoyer said. "But sometimes police departments come under fire for not doing enough investigating. It can display a willingness to pursue every avenue."
Barbara Gray, Gricar's ex-wife and the mother of his daughter, Lara, said she and other family members and friends were interested in using a psychic because police are running out of angles to investigate.
"At this point, we have no clues," Gray said. "We're hoping anything we can learn will be beneficial."
Gricar, 59, was last heard from on April 15, when he called girlfriend and housemate Patty Fornicola about 11:30 a.m. to say he was taking a drive along state Route 192 in the Brush Valley area. Fornicola called police about 11:30 p.m. when Gricar hadn't returned home. The red-and-white Mini Cooper he was driving was found in a parking lot in Lewisburg April 16, police said.
Fornicola declined to comment on Baron's involvement.
Baron has made several TV appearances, including Court TV's "Psychic Detectives," to talk about her involvement in the Song case. She said she plans to do future segments on Gricar's disappearance for "Court TV." She said the family and police are aware of her intentions.
Neither police nor the family are paying Baron for her assistance.
Baron, who became involved with Song's case on the recommendation of Penn State's Paranormal Research Society, uses a process she calls remote profiling to come up with scenes, landmarks, conversations and other details about a case she's working on.
"I'm not here to solve this thing," she said. "I'm here to contribute pieces of the puzzle."
Zaccagni said police are taking the information she provides and "keeping it in the back of our mind" while they continue to investigate the case.
"For example, if she sees a blue barn with a red roof, we're not going to go all over the state looking for it," he said.
So far, Baron said, she's gotten several impressions about Gricar's personality and habits that police have told her are "pretty accurate." She also said she's "seen" someone leaning into a car and having a conversation with Gricar.
Based on what she's "seen," Baron believes Gricar was killed, possibly by someone he'd prosecuted in the past.
"I don't believe he's with us any longer," she said, adding, "I'm not infallible. I hope I'm wrong."
Zaccagni said he still thinks Gricar is "out there somewhere, alive and well" but said foul play is not beyond the scope of possibilities. He does not think Gricar committed suicide, despite the similarities in this case to Gricar's brother's disappearance in Ohio in 1996. Officials there found Roy Gricar's body in a river and determined the cause of death to be suicide by drowning.
"With as much time as we've been in that (Susquehanna) river, we would have found him by now," Zaccagni said. "Every avenue is still open. And if you believe he's no longer with us, you have to look at foul play."
Erin L. Nissley can be reached at 231-4616.