One of the questions surrounding the sex-abuse case against Jerry Sandusky is why a former district attorney chose not to prosecute the then-Penn State assistant coach in 1998 after reports surfaced that he had inappropriate interactions with a boy.
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times, via Associated Press
The answer is unknowable because of an unsolved mystery: What happened to Ray Gricar, the Centre County, Pa., district attorney?
Gricar went missing in April 2005. The murky circumstances surrounding his disappearance — an abandoned car, a laptop recovered months later in a river without a hard drive, his body was never found — have spawned Web sites, television programs and conspiracy theories. More than six years later, the police still receive tips and reports of sightings. The police in central Pennsylvania continue to investigate even though Gricar’s daughter, Lara, successfully petitioned in July to have her father declared legally dead so the family could find some closure and begin dividing his estate.
Yet as 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.
“No one got a bye with Ray,” said Anthony De Boef, who worked as an assistant district attorney under Gricar for five years. “He didn’t care who you were; he had a job to do.”
De Boef said Gricar did not share any information with him about the case in 1998, which involved Sandusky allegedly showering with an 11-year-old boy. Gricar, he said, reviewed the police reports in private including, presumably, notes or recordings of two conversations that the police heard between Sandusky and the boy’s mother. But Gricar had a reputation for thoroughness, and if he thought he had enough to charge Sandusky, he would have, De Boef and other lawyers said.
Still, the circumstances surrounding Gricar’s disappearance prompt many questions.
On April 15, 2005, Gricar, then 59, took the day off. At about 11:30 a.m., he called his girlfriend, Patricia Fornicola, to say he was taking a drive on Route 192. About 12 hours later, she reported him missing.
The next day, Gricar’s Mini Cooper was found in a parking lot in Lewisburg, about 50 miles from his home in Bellefonte. Gricar’s cellphone was in the car, but not his laptop, wallet or keys, which were never recovered. Months later, the laptop was found in the Susquehanna River without its hard drive, which was discovered later. It was too damaged to yield any information. On the fourth anniversary of his disappearance, investigators revealed that a search of his home computer yielded a history of Internet searches for phrases like “how to wreck a hard drive,” according to a report at the time in The Centre Daily Times.
When Gricar disappeared helicopters, dive teams and patrol cars were deployed, and the F.B.I. was brought in. Reports of Gricar turning up in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland and other states proved to be dead ends.
So what happened? Friends and colleagues say Gricar was not the type to walk away. His bank accounts were not touched after he disappeared, he had no other sources of income and he had no major debts, said Robert Buehner Jr., a friend and the district attorney in Montour County. Though divorced twice, he seemed happy with his girlfriend and close with his daughter. Gricar had already announced that he was retiring at the end of his term.
“He was absolutely looking forward to his future,” Buehner said.
If Gricar committed suicide, Buehner added, he would have wanted the body to be found. Foul play is the next possible conclusion. By the nature of their jobs prosecuting criminals, district attorneys end up having many enemies. But no credible suspects have emerged.
“I don’t think you’ll find too many district attorneys who disappear,” said Ken Mains, a detective who works on cold cases in Lycoming County. “D. B. Cooper, Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, until a body is found, there are going to be conspiracy theories.”