We've written about Ray Gricar before. He's the former Centre County district attorney who declined to prosecute Jerry Sandusky in 1998, despite a psychologist's warning that Sandusky showed a "likely pedophile's pattern" of behavior. On April 15, 2005, Gricar mysteriously disappeared from central Pennsylvania and, seemingly, from this earthly realm. Gone. No trail. Just an empty car with a cell phone inside.
Three months later, fishermen discovered Gricar's government-issued laptop in the Susquehanna River. Police later found his hard drive on a riverbank, damaged so badly that no data could be recovered. They also learned about the Internet searches run on the DA'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."
Cases like this often don't get solved. Rather, conspiracy theories pop up, some more wackadoodle than others. And when news about Sandusky's alleged crimes broke last year, the tinfoil-hat crowd really rolled out the Reynolds Wrap. There was never any evidence to connect Gricar's disappearance to his Sandusky investigation. But so what? We figured his disappearance was bizarre enough that it warranted a FOIA request with the FBI. The documents we got back deal with an "URGENT" 1986 background check the FBI did on Gricar, when he was appointed by the local U.S. attorney to try federal cases. The documents don't reveal anything about the investigation into Gricar's disappearance, likely because the investigation is ongoing, but they do contain material that will raise eyebrows under all those tinfoil hats.
For one, the FBI consulted with the CIA before responding to my request. And the CIA refused to allow certain information to be released because it's classified "in the interest of national defense or foreign policy" and can't be disclosed in order to protect "intelligence sources and methods" as well as the names, titles, etc., of CIA personnel.
For two, the FBI destroyed three Gricar-related files. The FBI can't say what was in them because, hey, they've been destroyed. But that's not as suspicious. The destroyed files had similar tracking numbers to the one we got, and their contents probably didn't differ much from what's in our file, according to FOIA expert Michael Ravnitzky. Also, it's standard practice for the federal government to vaporize unnecessary records after a period of time.
The CIA "excisions" are more curious. For those, I got in touch with a friend in the intelligence community known as "The Wolf." I'm not making that up. That's what people call him. The Wolf didn't make too much of the CIA interfering with my FBI response. The forms and procedures followed were routine at the time, he told me. It's perfectly normal in the course of a background check for the FBI to contact the CIA for a "name check," which is basically a database query for related records. But that's also where things get a little weird. Here's the relevant text from the Gricar file:
The Central Intelligence Agency, responding to an FBI name check request, advised that they have [REDACTED] relating to the captioned individual.
The Wolf didn't quite know what to make of that. One can only guess at what's behind the redaction. I reckon it's a page count for documents, unless it says "no records" and the CIA are redacting to prevent us from knowing they don't know anything. Which would be very CIA-ish: secrecy for secrecy's sake, even when nothing's at stake. Typically, however, the feds don't redact non-information. I'm not even sure that's legal. So it appears the spooks might actually have something on Gricar, which drags us partway into conspiracy territory. Let's enjoy the ride for a moment.
For years, the Gricar conspiracy theorists have suggested that the missing DA might be hiding out in Slovenia, where he's said to have relatives. In 1993, a crooked judge from Pennsylvania's Cambria County, which borders Gricar's Centre County, absconded to Slovenia rather than serve a prison sentence for corruption. There's no way Gricar wouldn't have known about that incident, which is why a reported sighting of the DA in Southfield, Mich., a month after his disappearance generated so much interest. The sighting was made by a retired police officer who worked as a composite artist, of all things. It was, in other words, a credible sighting.
As the conspiracy theorists pointed out, Southfield is a Detroit suburb with a Macedonian consulate. As they further pointed out, if one cared to obtain a visa to enter Macedonia and thereafter progress into, say, one's ancestral homeland of Slovenia, one might first come to the consulate in Southfield, especially if one were lying low in Canada at the time.
Normally, this is the type of thing you laugh off, provided you are sane. Federal investigators would have to be pretty half-ass not to run down a visa for a vanished man. But consider this: Macedonia was part of the former Yugoslavia. So was Slovenia. And Gricar's FBI file reveals trips to communist Yugoslavia during the Cold War (in 1973 and 1984). These caught the attention of the federal background checkers in 1986. They noted the Yugoslavia travel on the "name check" forms submitted to the CIA.
Was Gricar spooking in the Balkans? Was he merely visiting family members in Slovenia? Or was he doing something else entirely? I emailed and called Gricar's nephew, Tony, to find out more. Tony is the Gricar family spokesman. He was Johnny-on-the-spot when we ran our first Gricar story. (Tony didn't like the headline.) But he didn't respond to any of my messages about the FBI and the CIA and overseas travel. So I returned to The Wolf, who had another interesting observation after studying Gricar's SF-86 form, which is the mandatory questionnaire the FBI gives to people up for national security jobs:
There may be something worth following up. Gricar did not include his summer spent at John Carroll University (Cleveland, OH) on his SF-86. Unusual for him, because he was one of those boring, precise and extremely responsible individuals who never overlooked anything. The FBI interviewed several people at JCU, including the asst. dean who said that Gricar "took Economics 101 from an instructor who was a _______________ and departed from the staff after the summer of 1966 and did not list an address". I inserted Yugoslav in the space, and it fit.
I contacted John Carroll University to find out who Gricar's instructor would have been. They told me it'd be almost impossible to find out. No records left. How convenient. Let a hundred more conspiracy theories bloom.
Image by Jim Cooke