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Crime News Dateline

District Attorney Once Linked To Jerry Sandusky Investigation Disappears: "It’s Truly Like He Did Vanish Into Thin Air"

District Attorney Ray Gricar was just eight months away from retirement when he mysteriously vanished in 2005 after taking the day off work.

By Jill Sederstrom

Well-respected District Attorney Ray Gricar was nearing the end of his accomplished career when he mysteriously disappeared on April 15, 2005 after going for a drive in his beloved red Mini Cooper.

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The car was discovered in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, about 60 miles away from his home in Bellefonte, parked across the street from an antiques mall he was known to frequent. The car smelled strongly of tobacco — although Ray never smoked — and cigarette ash was found on the passenger seat. 

Gricar’s cell phone was locked inside the vehicle, but the district attorney was nowhere to be found.

“It’s truly like he did vanish into thin air,” his live-in girlfriend Patty Fornicola told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered

Nearly two decades later, there are still no answers and those closest to him are left wondering whether his career putting away dangerous criminals had anything to do with his disappearance.

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In an unsettling twist, Gricar was the first prosecutor to look into child sexual abuse claims in 1998 against former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. At the time, Gricar opted not to charge Sandusky — who went on to abuse other children and was eventually convicted of 45 child sex charges in 2012. 

Could his link to the famous case be connected to his disappearance or was there something else that altered his path that day? 

Ray Gricar

Who is Ray Gricar? 

Ray spent the better part of five terms serving as the district attorney of Centre County, Pennsylvania and was just eight months away from retirement when he vanished. 

He was known to those around him as a meticulous, by-the-book prosecutor.

“He was the most serious prosecutor I’ve ever met,” remembered Bob Buehner, Ray’s friend and former Montour County District Attorney. “He was the most serious guy, the most ethical guy.” 

Ray also found success in his personal life. He was close with his 27-year-old daughter Lara, who was living in Washington at the time, and was living with Fornicola, his long-time girlfriend.

The pair were already planning how they planned to spend his upcoming retirement.

“We were going to drive across the country, take our time, visit the national parks and end up on the west coast visiting his daughter,” Patty recalled. 

Ray Gricar's Mini Cooper Located

Ray seemed to be ready to shift to a more low-key lifestyle and told Fornicola the day he disappeared that he was going to skip work that day. 

He called her around 11:30 a.m. that morning to tell her that he was out enjoying a long drive. “He said ‘I love you and I said I love you too’ and we terminated the phone call,” she said. 

When Fornicola got home after work, Ray still hadn’t returned and so, unconcerned, she went to the gym. But when Fornicola came back home and there was still no sign of Ray, she began to worry. She called his cell phone but it went straight to voicemail. 

After three hours of unreturned phone calls, a frantic Forincola called 911. 

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"To me, it was an emergency. This was not like him. It’s unusual behavior,” she said. “You know, they know who I am, they know who Ray is so when I called to report you know Ray is not home, this is not like him, it’s unusual behavior, they quickly responded.”

The next day, fearing he may have gotten into an accident, police launched an aerial search for his distinctive car. The vehicle was eventually discovered in Lewisburg parked near the Street of Shops, an antique mall. 

Several witnesses reported seeing Ray at the antique mall that day with an unknown dark-haired woman, but authorities were never able to identify the person and found no evidence that Ray was having an affair.

The Theories Behind Ray Gricar’s Disappearance

In the years since his disappearance, three prominent theories have emerged. The first is that Ray may have taken his own life that day.

His abandoned car was found under eerily similar circumstances to his brother Roy Gricar’s death nine years earlier. Roy Gricar had left his car parked near a park by a bridge going over the Great Miami River in Dayton, Ohio. His body was later discovered in the river and the medical examiner ruled the death a suicide. 

Ray’s car was also found near a park by a bridge overlooking a river. 

“To say that it was an eerie parallel would be the understatement of the century,” Ray’s nephew, Tony Gricar, told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered of the scene.  “It was the exact same thing.”

But Ray’s body was never found, despite what Shawn Weaver, then the police chief of the Bellefonte Police Department, described as favorable search conditions. 

 “At the time they could see right to the bottom of the river,” he recalled. “It was like looking through clear water. It’s pretty much a — the bottom of the river is a flat rock and you could see it very easily from the sky.” 

Ray also had no documented history of depression and by all accounts had been happy in his relationship with Fornicola. 

Strange Clues Found in Ray Gricar's Car

Authorities also considered the possibility that Ray had chosen to walk away from his life, assuming another identity perhaps because of something he feared or something he wanted to put behind him.

But taking on a new life would have taken considerable planning, and FBI financial investigators found no evidence that Ray had moved any money around to help him establish a new life.

The final possibility was that Ray could have met with foul play that day. In the summer of 2005, his badly damaged work computer was discovered in the river by two fishermen, but its hard drive had been removed. 

The hard drive was recovered separately a short time later, but investigators were unable to recover anything from the water-logged piece of electronics. Authorities also discovered that before he disappeared, Ray had searched on his home computer, “how to wreck a hard drive.” 

Then there was that cigarette smell in his car, which caused police to wonder whether he had crossed paths that day with someone. Could his disappearance have been linked to one of his past cases?

“Who knows who got out of jail 20 years ago who’s still holding a grudge against Ray,” former Bellefonte police officer Darrel Zaccagni said.

Ray Gricar’s Tie to Jerry Sandusky

For years, the case went cold until Sandusky was arrested in 2011 for child sex crimes. It was then that many learned for the first time that Gricar had investigated Sandusky years earlier in 1998, after the mother of an 11-year-old boy reported her son had been naked and taking a shower when Sandusky gave him a bear hug.

Dateline did not have Gricar’s original case file, but noted that, for some reason, the district attorney opted not to charge Sandusky. When he was arrested years later and his link to Gricar was revealed, some wondered whether the two cases could be connected.

“For anybody, anybody to suggest otherwise is I think incredibly naive,” Dr. Ceril Wecht, a forensic pathologist, who had no direct tie to Gricar’s case, told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered

Yet, the Centre County prosecutor’s officer has said there is no evidence to suggest the two cases are linked and those who knew Gricar don’t believe there was any connection.

"I see absolutely no connection between Ray Gricar’s disappearance in 2005 and anything connected with Jerry Sandusky,” Buehner said. 

Investigators hope that in time, new technology may be able to recover the data on Ray’s hard drive or that someone might come forward with new information to help crack the case, but until then, the mystery remains unsolved. 

“We all have our personal thoughts on the case,” Weaver said. “Everyone who’s ever looked at the case has their own theory.”