On April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, the Centre County district attorney, left his office in the county's brick-and-limestone courthouse, got into his red Mini Cooper and drove away. He called his girlfriend, Patricia Fornicola, around 11:30 a.m. to say that he was traveling on Route 192. That was the last anyone heard of Ray Gricar.
Fornicola reported her boyfriend missing that night. The next day, Gricar's car was found in a Lewisburg, Pa., parking lot with his cellphone inside. Three months later, fisherman on the nearby Susquehannah River discovered Gricar's county-issued laptop in the water, wedged against a bridge. The hard drive was missing. Three months after that, police found the drive on the riverbank, damaged so badly that no data could be recovered. Four more years would pass before investigators would reveal the internet searches someone had run on Gricar's home computer before his disappearance: "how to wreck a hard drive," "how to fry a hard drive," and "water damage to a notebook computer."
The details about the prosecutor's disappearance were, to say the least, suspicious and alluring. Newspapers around Pennsylvania picked up the story. America's Most Wanted profiled Gricar. The Discovery
Channel Communications' Investigation Discovery network launched an investigation. And strange theories proliferated. Someone claimed to have seen Gricar sitting in the Oprah studio audience. Another person snapped a photograph of a man who looked like Gricar eating at a Chili's in Nacogdoches, Texas, four months after his disappearance. The local police even agreed to work with a California psychic in the hopes of turning up a lead.
No leads presented themselves. In July of this year, Gricar's daughter successfully petitioned a court to declare Gricar deceased and bring the saga to an end. But the saga will not end. That's because Gricar is the man who may have let Jerry Sandusky off the hook in 1998, when reports first surfaced of Sandusky's sexual misconduct (showering with an 11-year-old boy). From The New York Times yesterday:
[A]s the Sandusky investigation moves forward, questions will be asked anew about why Gricar did not pursue charges against him 13 years ago. A small but strident minority believes Gricar did not want to tackle a case that involved a hometown icon. Others who knew and worked with Gricar say he was a meticulous, independent and tough-minded prosecutor who was unbowed by Penn State, its football program and political pressure in general
Gricar was, according to people who knew him, a cautious but hard-nosed prosecutor who didn't shy away from high-profile cases. His disappearance came right after he'd broken up a major heroin-trafficking ring, the county's biggest drug bust at the time. It's hard to imagine a guy willing to take on heroin dealers who wouldn't go after a pederast.
Maybe Gricar was killed or committed suicide or intentionally dropped off the grid. If anyone would know how to hide his trail from investigators, it'd be a district attorney. The natural conspiracist in all of us craves a good story. And if Gricar's disappearance has something to do with Sandusky, that'd sure make for a greasy little secondary narrative in this colossal trough of turpitude. For now, though, it'll have to remain a mystery.