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Missing district attorney

Pennsylvania DA takes a day off work, and is never seen again. Sara James reports.

When Ray Gricar vanished near the quaint town of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, clues were scarce in this baffling mystery.

What’s more, he seemed like a man who could take care of himself since he solved mysteries for a living.

Sara James, Dateline correspondent: Suddenly, the chief law enforcement officer of the county is gone without any explanation?

Patty Fornicola: No. None. None.

Patty Fornicola had lived with 59-year-old district attorney Ray Gricar for three years.  They’d both been married before, and felt no urgency to wed. She says they loved to hike, play scrabble, and especially, go antiquing in Ray’s Mini Cooper. 

Fornicola: We had a wonderful relationship. I think for both of us, we finally found our soul mate.

On the morning of Friday April 15, 2005, Patty left for her job, also in the D.A.’s office, but Ray decided to stay in bed.

Fornicola: He said, “I don’t think I’m going to go to work today.  I think I’m gonna take today off.” I said, “Fine, good for you.”

She says a few hours later, Ray called and told her he was taking a scenic drive along a road which led to one of their favorite antiquing spots, nearby Lewisburg.

Fornicola: He said, “I love you.”  And I said, “I love you, too.”  

Those were the last words she would ever hear him say.

When Ray wasn’t home that night, a frantic patty called 911.

Authorities broadcast a description of the district attorney and his car, even used search planes, but Bellafonte police officer Darrel Zaccagni says in the first hours he wasn’t worried.

Officer Darrel Zaccagni: Initially, I thought that probably Ray just got involved in doing something.  He met a friend and he would just have to explain it to Patty why he didn’t come home.

But the next day there was an ominous sign, the district attorney’s Mini Cooper was discovered in Lewisburg, across from an antiques mall called the Street of Shops, and about a hundred yards from the Susquehanna River.

Zaccagni: Between here and the park are the last two positive sightings we have Ray on April 15th when he disappeared.

But there was no sign of Ray Gricar.

Zaccagni: When he wasn’t back to court Monday morning, we knew he had plans for court. We were concerned then something had happened.James:  What was it like when you woke up and he was still missing?Fornicola: It was truly like I was having a bad dream. I’m still waiting to wake up.

It’s now been a year and a month since Ray Gricar disappeared—and despite an intensive investigation, authorities still have no idea what happened to the district attorney.

Zaccagni: We bounced between homicide, suicide, and walk away.

Zaccagni says initially, suicide seemed likely because Gricar’s behavior had changed, according to his girlfriend, Patty. 

Fornicola: About two weeks prior to his disappearance, I noticed that he was napping more. James: Did he go to the doctor?  Did he see a doctor?Fornicola: No. He tried to brush it off.  

Could Gricar have been ill or depressed? Gricar’s brother had committed suicide nine years before in a strikingly similar location.

Zaccagni: He was about Ray’s age. And he went and parked his car by a river and drowned himself in a river.

Zaccagni thought it possible that Gricar, who wasn’t a strong swimmer, had jumped from this nearby bridge.

James: When did you lose your confidence in that particular theory?                   Zaccagni: Well, I think we started to lose it when we didn’t find the body right away. The river has a history of turning up the bodies relatively soon.

Besides, Ray seemed to be a man with everything to live for.  Medical records showed nothing unusual.  He was looking forward to retirement and had asked 43-year-old Patty to stop working also.  They were planning a trip to Washington state to see his adult daughter.

Fornicola: We were going to drive across the country, take our time, visit the national parks and wind up on the west coast.

If it wasn’t suicide, was it possible Gricar had simply walked away?

If he did, he did so without touching his bank account or waiting a few months to collect his retirement pension, says current Centre County district attorney Mike Madeira.

Mike Madeira, Center County DA: He has no money, he takes no money out with his credit cards.

Could he have somehow set up a whole new identity, perhaps with another woman?

Zaccagni: We had a report in the street of shops that in the man’s mind, he was with another woman. He described her as 5’9 , short brownish black hair your length, very good looking, in her 30s - early 40s maybe. He felt they were together but they weren’t romantically together. 

Police canvassed hotels and homes nearby, searching for the mystery woman, with no luck.

And his family says there is no way he would put them through the agony of not knowing his whereabouts.

Madeira: And then of course, the third theory is that there was some foul play.  Because you’re the chief law enforcement officer, you’ve made enemies over the years. That’s why it seems a possibility.

But while police have checked into some high-profile cases, there are no suspects.

Still, did someone murder Ray Gricar?

When police opened his car, they caught a strong whiff of smoke—yet Ray never touched cigarettes, and didn’t allow smoking in his beloved car.

Zaccagni: They found a minute amount of tobacco ash on the passenger side. Tat could have resulted from anybody leaning in and talking to Ray, maybe smoking a cigarette.

Police found two cigarette butts nearby and recovered DNA from them, but it matched nothing on file: a dead end. 

They also used a bloodhound—but the dog lost Gricar’s scent 20 yards from the car. 

The tracker suggested Gricar got into another vehicle, perhaps with his killer.

But there was no body and no suspects. 

Months into the investigation, there was a break. Fishermen spotted something glinting in the river under a bridge near where Ray’s car had been parked.

Zaccagni: And that was like finding a needle in a haystack.

It was Gricar’s laptop, which he’d taken with him the day he disappeared, something he almost never did.

Zaccagni: We felt the key to this case would be the missing computer. That would tell us, you know, was Ray working on something off the wall that got him killed?  Was Ray planning on disappearing and it was going to tell us that he was sitting in Tahiti drinking Mai-Tais.  You know? Was he planning a suicide and that’s where his farewell letters were?

Police were elated—until they discovered the hard drive was missing—apparently removed.

James: So once again, a dead end.Zaccagni: A dead end.

And then, incredibly, a mother and daughter out skipping stones discovered that hard drive in the riverbed.

Zaccagni: It went out to the Secret Service and the FBI. They took it to a clean room and tore the whole thing down tried to clean it up and their response was, “There’s nothing here we can get.”

And so everyone remains baffled.

James: How hard is that? How frustrating?Zaccagni:  It’s the worst feeling in the world.James: What do you think happened to Ray Gricar?Madeira: I really don’t know.  Fornicola:  Nothing I can say can truly describe what this is like. I just wanted to be with him.  And I don’t even know where he is.

Do you have information regarding the disappearance of Centre County, Pennsylvania District Attorney Ray F. Gricar? Phone number: Bellefonte Police Department at (814) 353-2320
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