Will We Ever Know?

by Tom Ashley

“Hi, Tom, may I sit down?”

It was 1996 and Roy Gricar and I were back at our prep school, Gilmour Academy, for our 35th reunion. I had been diligent about returning to Gilmour every five years, and this particular year I had made the trip from London just for the event. The place meant a lot to me, having been a refuge and safe haven from my chaotic childhood home and abusive father. But Gricar had not had the same dedication; this was his first time back and the first time I saw him since we graduated.

I wasn’t close to him when we were classmates. Even in our small class of forty-nine there was a fundamental difference between day students and us boarders. Boarders lived under the same roof, took meals together, and gathered in the lounge in the evening. We were a tight group. Roy, a day student, wasn’t in the group and I had little interaction with him.

But now, decades later and in the place where we met, Roy and I had a few drinks and conversation became easy. He knew that I was in the television business and asked if I knew his college classmate, Don Novello, one of the comedic geniuses of the medium. I didn’t know him, but of course I knew about him. Roy and I discussed him for much of the evening.

Eventually we said goodnight and exchanged business cards. Roy said, “I see you now live in London,” and we went our separate ways.

A year later my phone rang. It was Roy. “Tom, I’m going to be in London in two weeks,” he said. “Can we get together?” We arranged that he and his wife Carol would come to the flat where I lived with my girlfriend and that we’d have dinner together there.

Roy and Carol arrived on time and we had a nice meal with several bottles of Bordeaux. At one point in the evening, Roy pulled me aside and asked if we could speak privately. He had seemed jumpy and slightly (or not so slightly) nervous. We stepped outside into the garden. He then told me his story.

“My job is Civilian Approval Expenditure Manager for Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.” My eyes widened. We had all read stories about the continuing scandals of the military’s needless expenditures for $350 hammers and useless equipment, and overbilling and overpaying practices. I was primed for listening to a secret.

Gricar told me about an action he had recently taken regarding a contract for the maintenance of Air Force jet engine cargo planes. This new contract, which cost substantially less money than the previous one, actually provided very little necessary service. In the past, in order to check the bolts holding the engine in place, the service engineers had been required to remove the engine entirely and bring it down to floor level. There the engine and the bolts would be examined and tested. But the new contract made no such requirement. Now maintenance crews could simply take the service platform up to the engine and check the bolts from there. Roy felt that was an unsafe and incorrect procedure, and in the report he filed he said so and refused to sign off on the contract.

Not long afterward, Roy said, a cargo jet crashed, killing all crew members. He immediately went back to check his files on the plane maintenance orders and recommendations. But they, along with his computer, were gone. Roy went to tell the top commanding officer at the base, but not one of the officers would speak with him about the crash. He then stopped to think and decided it would be unsafe if he went higher up in the military or even to the local police. “Tom, I’m a wreck. What do you think I should do? I feel my life is in danger.”

I was stunned. Thinking of television journalists who do a thorough investigation if they decide to pursue a story I suggested he call two producers I knew—one at Public Broadcasting’s News Hour and the other at CBS’s 60 Minutes—and I gave him their names and offered to call them if he wished me to do so. He said he’d get back to me, thanked me and left with his wife. I never heard from Roy again.

A year after that dinner, one of my classmates, Bill Crookson, called to tell me that Roy Gricar was dead. It had been called a suicide. Apparently he had leapt from a bridge over the Greater Miami River near his home in Dayton. My thoughts ranged from shock and disbelief to shock and belief.

I called Roy’s wife to express my condolences. I wondered aloud about my conversation with him a few months earlier. “Tom, there was no truth to that,” she said. “Roy was bi-polar and hugely depressed. He lost his job and felt he couldn’t go on living. Our family wants peace now.” I respected that wish, but her attitude didn’t make sense. I remained an ocean away in London but continued to brood about what really might have happened and why Roy had told me his story.

Nine years later, in 2005, another classmate of mine, Charles Murray, called. He told me that Ray Gricar, Roy’s brother, who had also been at Gilmour and was the District Attorney of Centre County (home to Penn State University) had disappeared. I didn’t then make any connection to Roy, but it did have a disquieting effect on me.

On December 16, 2011, I was watching the Today Show on NBC, which had a segment promoting that evening’s telecast of Dateline.The story was about the Penn State scandal—Jerry Sandusky’s pedophile crimes. It included the report that former District Attorney Ray Gricar, by this time pronounced legally dead as no remains or whereabouts could be found, had had sufficient evidence to prosecute Sandusky many years back but had failed to do so. The Dateline reporter, Lester Holt, interviewed Roy’s son and Ray’s nephew, Tony Gricar. They discussed the strange similarities between the brothers’ fates but failed to make any connection even after it was noted that D.A. Gricar’s computer had also gone missing, when he did. His computer and hard drive had washed up on the shore of the Susquehanna River months later too badly damaged for information to be retrievable.

I figure that my classmate Roy Gricar must have told his brother about the Wright Patterson Base issue. I continue to have many unanswered questions about a connection between one brother’s death by “suicide” and the other’s by “disappearance.” Ray Gricar’s failure to prosecute Jerry Sandusky in 1998, when he seemingly had enough evidence, is deeply upsetting, too. Sandusky was not sent to prison until 2012, over fourteen years after an act of child molestation on his part was witnessed.

Just recently the Pennsylvania State Police Department has reopened the case of Ray Gricar’s disappearance. NBC will follow the story as well. I am in contact with the network and with Patrick James, a former cable executive who now runs a website and blog seeking truth and justice.

Will we ever know the truth? Some crimes are never solved. I am left with a feeling of uneasiness. Many lives have been changed forever. Why?

After a lifetime in broadcasting I felt the urge to write. I have my IRP coordinators and classmates to thank for guiding me down this stimulating path. I’m forever grateful.