Special Reports

Thumbing It


            Another missing person case, with Central Pennsylvania, was solved recently.  That was the case of Lititz resident Brenda Heist.  She vanished in February 2002, but was found alive in Florida, living as a homeless person, eleven years later.  Actually, she wasn’t found; she had, in desperation over her deteriorating life in Florida, turned herself into the police.

            I have to admit that there are some superficial similarities between Ms. Heist’s disappearance and the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.  Ms. Heist spoke to her significant other, her then husband, mid-day on the day she disappeared; Mr. Gricar spoke to his then girlfriend mid-day on the day he disappeared.  The significant others of both were accounted for all day.  People who knew her, her children, saw her that morning when they left to school; at least one person who knew Mr. Gricar recognized him on his way to Lewisburg, but in route.  The car Mr. Gricar was driving was found about 50 miles from his residence, in a populated area.  The car Ms. Heist was driving was 30 miles from her residence, in a populated area.  Neither showed any evidence of a crime. 

            We know not only that Ms. Heist walked away, but we know how Ms. Heist got out of Lewisburg.  She hitchhiked with a group of homeless people.  In hindsight, there is a clue. The car was found about a half mile from the interchange of Interstate 83 and along its branch Business Route 83.  One of the prime questions that I ask about Mr. Gricar’s disappearance is, “How did Mr. Gricar get out of Lewisburg?”  Could the answer be the same, that Mr. Gricar used his thumb to hitch a ride? 

            Let’s look at two possible scenarios for Mr. Gricar deciding to walk away.  First, his decision could have been well planned, with thumbing a ride out just being the first leg of his journey.  Second, like Ms. Heist, Mr. Gricar could have decided to walk away with little or no planning, on a whim.

            There are some problems with hitchhiking being Mr. Gricar’s first step in a well-planned walkaway.   First, hitchhiking is, by its nature, unreliable; Mr. Gricar would have no way of knowing when someone might pick him up.  Second, the witnesses put Mr. Gricar in Lewisburg, driving the Mini Cooper in the early evening, around 5:30 PM; there is a fairly solid timeline on him on 4/15/05.2  It is fairly late in the day to start hitchhiking.  If he were walk to the nearest major highway, Interstate 80, he probably wouldn’t arrive there until dusk.  It is possible to hitchhike at night, but it limits a driver’s ability to see the hitchhiker.  Then there are the three witnesses, at least, that saw him between 11:30 AM and noon on 4/16/05.  That kind of indicates that this wasn’t well thought out.

            There is another possibility.  What if, like Ms. Heist, Mr. Gricar left on a whim, with just a few days planning?  What if he opted for a life on the road?  He enjoyed traveling.  His daughter would eventually inherit; she was more than 2000 miles away, had been on her own for a while.  He had a girlfriend, but they were not married, and Mr. Gricar had paid some of her bills and bought her the Mini Cooper.  He was retiring in 8 months and was not planning to practice law.  Those things could fit.

            There are some problems.  First, the bloodhound brought in to search for Mr. Gricar did not find his scent outside of the parking lot.  In theory, it would be possible that, because of the different surfaces, a dirt and gravel parking lot verses a paved road, or because of exhaust from cars masked it, that the dog could not Mr. Gricar’s scent.  That would not explain why there are not a string of people who saw Mr. Gricar, thumb out, standing alone the road.  Still, Mr. Gricar could have gotten a ride directly from the parking lot across from the Street of Shops.

            So, could Mr. Gricar have hitched a ride with a complete stranger and rode off into a new life, just like Ms. Heist?  Possibly, but there is one big difference between the two disappearances, and that difference is media coverage.  Ms. Heist may have been picked up by a driver that was not from the area; that driver may never have known that Ms. Heist was a missing person.  The news stories of her disappearance were primarily local and even that was not extensive.  Even posters on websites that were from the area had not heard of the case.  The car she drove was found four days after she was reported missing.  Mr. Gricar’s disappearance made cable news shows, and were repeated over the weeks and months after his disappearance.  In 2011, there were two waves of media coverage.  The first was when he was declared dead and a lookalike, finally identified as Phillip K Beavers, was being held in jail in Provo, UT.3  After the Sandusky scandal, there was yet another wave of both national, and even international, coverage of Mr. Gricar’s disappearance.  No one came forward to say, “I picked up a guy outside of Lewisburg on 4/16/05 (or “4/15/05”) and drove him to Harrisburg.  It was that Gricar fellow.”

            It is possible that Mr. Gricar hitchhiked out of Lewisburg and into a new life, like Ms. Heist, but it is very unlikely.  As walkaway scenarios go, it might be the least likely.  Still, unless Mr. Gricar’s remains are found, or there is solid evidence of how he left Lewisburg, it will remain a possibility, if a very slight one.

End Notes

1 http://www.centredaily.com/2013/05/20/3622716/two-solutions.html


2 http://www.centredaily.com/2009/03/12/2396594/the-lewisburg-witnesses-april.html


3 http://www.newser.com/story/124382/utahs-mystery-john-doe-inmate-identified-as-phillip-t-beavers.html


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 scorg@live.com