CONSPIRACY theories naturally follow major news events, so it's no surprise that a few, from far-out to fathomable, are kicking around the Penn State story.

The far-out? Joe Paterno's football "family" whacked a district attorney familiar with allegations against Jerry Sandusky.

I know. Sounds like the spine of a screenplay. But, like most conspiracy theories, it has some meat.

In 1998, then-Centre County D.A. Ray Gricar ran a sting operation after claims surfaced that Sandusky allegedly abused boys. Detectives heard Sandusky admit to the mother of an 11-year-old that he had inappropriate contact with the boy in a shower. Nothing happened. Nobody knows why, but Gricar never filed charges, and the current D.A. says that there are no records of the case.

In April 2005, at age 59, after saying that he wouldn't seek re-election, Gricar vanished. His car turned up 50 miles east of his Bellefonte office. His laptop was found in the Susquehanna River - without its hard drive.

This year, Gricar was declared presumed dead. Montour County D.A. Robert Buehner, a close friend, told the Associated Press he believes that Gricar was murdered. Buehner also said that Gricar likely had sound legal reasons for not filing charges in '98.

Maybe so. But conspiracy theorists suggest that Gricar was about to come forward with something new, perhaps linked to the 2002 allegation of Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in a football locker-room shower.

The lead investigator in Gricar's disappearance, Bellefonte Detective Matthew Rickard, says that there's no evidence linking Gricar's disappearance to child-sex allegations but that he'll review the case out of "curiosity."

It is curious. Still, I rate it low on the believability scale.

Moving on: Gov. Corbett, as attorney general, slowed Sandusky's investigation so as not to anger the Penn State nation, including 215,000 in-state alumni, while he ran for governor.

This theory's popular because the probe took three years; Corbett got the case in March 2009 and was elected governor in 2010. But it has flaws.

The A.G.'s office is run by veteran prosecutors who tend to stay in place regardless of who's A.G.; attempting to slow a high-profile probe for political reasons is a high-risk venture with, in this case, low reward; public anger would not be - and is not - directed at Corbett and prosecutors as much as at Sandusky and PSU.

I rate this theory good for the yet-to-be-written novel, but a real stretch in the real world.

Next theory: Sandusky's presentment was timed for release on the one fall weekend when Penn State did not have a football game, so as not to disrupt the team or the schedule or cause riots or whatever.

It's true that the 23-page grand-jury summary went up on the state courts' website Friday, Nov. 4, the day prior to PSU's sole bye date this season. But I give the theory a thumbs-down.

The A.G.'s office says that the posting was a mistake; the report was to be released concurrent with Sandusky's planned arrest Nov. 7. It's easy to believe that mistakes were made. Plus, it was such a bombshell that it wouldn't matter when it was released.

This gets us to the "they had to know" theory: JoePa, other coaches, school officials, board members etc., knew of allegations and did nothing.

To me this is highly believable.

PSU insiders say that Paterno was an all-knowing presence and power, especially related to anything football.

PSU president Graham Spanier signed off on banning Sandusky from bringing kids to football facilities after then-grad assistant Mike McQueary said that he witnessed that '02 shower rape. Why agree to a ban absent knowledge of bad behavior?

Sandusky, after the '98 investigation, announced his retirement, at age 55, at the start of the '99 season. He was a two-time winner of the national Assistant Coach of the Year Award, yet never went anywhere else or even got serious offers, just talks with the University of Virginia in 2000 that ended in an impasse.

I think people knew. And for a long time. But, hey, that's just a theory.

For recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at www.philly.com/BaerGrowls.