Gricar photo from FBI missing person poster
|Centre County District Attorney|
|Preceded by||Robert Mix|
|Succeeded by||Michael T. Madeira|
|Born||October 9, 1945|
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||Missing since April 15, 2005 (aged 59); declared legally dead July 25, 2011|
|Alma mater||University of Dayton|
Case Western Reserve University
Ray Frank Gricar (//; born October 9, 1945, missing April 15, 2005) was an American lawyer who served as the district attorney of Centre County, Pennsylvania from 1985 until 2005. On April 15, 2005, Gricar went missing under mysterious circumstances and has not been heard from since. After he had been missing for over six years with no trace of his whereabouts, Centre County authorities declared Gricar legally dead on July 25, 2011.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Gricar received his Juris Doctor degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Law and began his career as a prosecutor for Cuyahoga County. He moved to State College, Pennsylvania, around 1980 and, after a brief stint as an assistant district attorney, was elected district attorney of Centre County in 1985. He was re-elected four times before announcing that he would not run for re-election in the 2005 campaign.
Gricar was reported missing to authorities after failing to return home from a road trip. His car was found in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania with his cell phone inside, and his laptop computer was found in the adjacent Susquehanna River; other than that, no trace of Gricar has been found.
Early life and career
Ray Gricar was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in the city's Collinwood neighborhood. Gricar attended high school at the Gilmour Academy, a prestigious Catholic school in Gates Mills. He went on to attend the University of Dayton, where he became interested in studying law after working as an intern for the prosecutor's office. After graduating, Gricar moved back to Cleveland to study law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He obtained his Juris Doctor and subsequently took a job as a prosecutor for Cuyahoga County, specializing in prosecuting cases of rape and murder.
In 1980, Gricar moved to State College, Pennsylvania, where his wife had taken a job at Pennsylvania State University. He opted to become a stay-at-home dad to his young daughter following the move. However, Centre County District Attorney David E. Grine offered Gricar an assistant position, which he accepted. In 1985, the incumbent district attorney, Robert Mix (Grine's successor), chose not to run for re-election, and Gricar ran for the open position. He won the election by a margin of 600 votes.
Gricar's office was part-time when he was elected, and he successfully campaigned to make it full-time in 1996. He was re-elected in 1989, 1993, 1997, and 2001. During his tenure, in 1998, Gricar declined to press charges against longtime Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky following allegations of child sexual abuse; Sandusky was charged and convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse thirteen years later. In 2004, Gricar announced he would not run for re-election, and would retire from practicing law altogether in December 2005, shortly after his 60th birthday.
Gricar met Barbara Gray during his undergraduate study at the University of Dayton. She moved to Cleveland with him after graduation and they married in 1969. They adopted a baby girl, Lara, in 1978. Ray and Barbara Gricar divorced in 1991; Ray married again in 1996, but divorced in 2001. In 2002 or 2003, Gricar moved in with his girlfriend Patty Fornicola, an employee of the Centre County District Attorney's office. He was living with Fornicola in her childhood home in Bellefonte at the time of his disappearance.
At 11:30 a.m. (EDT) on April 15, 2005, Gricar called Fornicola to inform her that he was driving through the Brush Valley area northeast of Centre Hall. Gricar failed to return home, and late that evening, Fornicola reported him missing.
The following day, investigators identified Gricar's red Mini Cooper in an antique-store parking lot in Lewisburg. The car contained his county-issued cell phone but not his laptop computer, keys, or wallet. Investigators identified no signs of foul play. Police and family members noted that the location of the vehicle, adjacent to two bridges over the Susquehanna River, bore some similarities to the location of the vehicle of Gricar's older brother Roy when he committed suicide in 1996. In the days following the discovery of Gricar's vehicle, authorities searched the river and its banks but found no sign of him. Police also noted that a sniffer dog's behaviour around where Gricar's car was found suggested that he might have gotten into another vehicle with someone else. Pennsylvania authorities asked the FBI to analyze Gricar's bank accounts, credit card records, and cell phone records, but found no clues as to where he may have been.
On July 30, fishermen discovered Gricar's county-issued laptop in the Susquehanna River beneath a bridge between Lewisburg and Milton, but its hard drive was missing. Divers searched the area of the river near where it was found over the next several days, but found nothing else. Two months later, someone recovered a hard drive on the banks of the Susquehanna River about 100 yards (91 m) from the location of the laptop, and investigators hypothesized that it had come from his computer; however, it was badly damaged, and analysis by the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, and the data-recovery firm Kroll Ontrack failed to recover anything from it. In April 2009, Bellefonte police revealed that before Gricar's disappearance, someone had used the home computer at the residence he shared with Fornicola to perform internet searches on topics such as "how to wreck a hard drive", "how to fry a hard drive" and "water damage to a notebook computer".
In June 2011, Gricar's daughter Lara, who was trustee of his estate, petitioned Centre County to declare him dead. County President Judge David E. Grine declared him "dead in absentia" on July 25, 2011. The following day, police in Utah arrested on a misdemeanor charge a man resembling Gricar, who refused to reveal his identity. This "John Doe" resembled Gricar in height and weight, lips, and even some wrinkles, and the similarities led to speculation that Gricar had been found. Centre County authorities sent copies of Gricar's fingerprints to Utah, but they didn't match. Authorities eventually identified the man.
There are three main theories as to what happened to Gricar. The primary theory is he committed suicide just as his brother had done, something supported by the similarities between the two cases. Police working on the case believed this theory to be most likely, although his family did not believe this. Although Gricar was a poor swimmer, he had no medical history of depression or of suicidal thoughts. He was also reportedly looking forward to his upcoming retirement.
The second theory is foul play. Early on it was suggested that Gricar's disappearance might be linked to the unsolved death of Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Luna, an Assistant U.S. Attorney who was found dead in a Lancaster County creek in December 2003. Gricar had recently been involved in a police operation busting a heroin dealing ring, and the criminals concerned were investigated for any links to his disappearance, but none were found. Suggestions were also made that Gricar's decision to decline to prosecute Sandusky for alleged child sexual abuse might be linked to his disappearance. Gricar's own family came under suspicion: both his girlfriend and his stepdaughter were asked to take polygraphs by the police, which they both passed.
The third theory is that Gricar wished to start a new life and therefore engineered his disappearance. He allegedly expressed interest in the case of a Cleveland police chief who had disappeared in order to start a new life. Multiple sightings of Gricar were reported after his disappearance, most notably in a bar in Wilkes-Barre, where both the bartender and an off-duty police officer claimed to have seen him watching a baseball game. It has also been suggested that Gricar may have taken off to central Europe; he was semi-fluent in Russian and fluent in Slovenian. He had relatives in Slovenia and had made trips to this region of the world in the past.
In popular culture
Gricar's disappearance was the subject of television documentary programs, including episodes of Haunting Evidence on Court TV in June 2006, Disappeared on Investigation Discovery in February 2011, news magazine Dateline NBC in December 2011, and an episode of Crime Junkie podcast in January 2020. An episode of the drama Without a Trace on CBS referred to the case.
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