A former Beauty Queen and beloved High School teacher, Tara Grinstead was not the type to make any enemies. The 30-year-old was well-liked by everyone. But when she vanished without a trace in 2005, investigators were left wondering if there was more to this sweet southern belle than she ever let her closest loved ones to believes…
For the past 12 years, Grinstead’s disappearance has puzzled police, becoming the largest cold case in Georgia’s history and the most heartbreaking tragedy to rock her small town. Yet when cops seemed to reach all dead ends in this case, they received an anonymous tip that would change everything…
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Who Was She?
Born on November 14, 1974, Tara Grinstead grew up in the small town Ocilla, Georgia, well-known throughout the state for its Annual Sweet Potato Festival. She grew up as an average, all-American girl who soon blossomed into a young beauty with her eye on the pageant scene.
The Beauty Queen of Ocilla
Grinstead loved beauty pageants and the judges loved her. In 1999, the 24-year-old was awarded the title of Miss Tifton at a nearby city’s pageant. She was hooked and went on to compete for the coveted title of Miss Georgia. Best of all, she was able to make some extra money and had big dreams about what she was going to do with the cash…
From Student to Teacher
Tara decided to invest her winnings in her education and graduated from Middle Georgia College in 2003. Soon after, she received her Master’s degree from Valdosta State University. All the while she worked as a history teacher at Irwin County High School in Ocilla.
The Night Before
The young teacher was involved and active in the pageant scene all the way up until the night before her mysterious disappearance. On the evening of October 23, 2005, Grinstead was reported to have stopped by a beauty pageant, where she acted as a coach to young beauty contestants. She then attended a barbecue, where she was seen leaving around 10:30 pm. But she never made it home…
October 24, 2005
When she didn’t show up for work on Monday morning, October 24, 2005, Grinstead’s co-workers called the police. Officers began their investigation by checking the most obvious place: her home. Tara lived alone and when police arrived and entered the house, they found only her cell phone. They also discovered that her car was unlocked in the driveway, but her purse and keys were nowhere to be found.
If The Glove Fits
While searching Tara Grinstead’s place, police were disturbed to find a single latex glove on the front lawn and a business card wedged in between her door. There were signs of possible struggle in the home as well. Most confusing of all was the $100 in cash they discovered in her car’s console. The car also had clay on the tires and the driver’s seat adjusted for a much taller person behind the wheel…
A Bad Feeling…
After getting a bad feeling about the vanished teacher and beauty queen, the small town police squad called up the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on a hunch that something was very wrong. “We didn’t find any signs of forced entry, there was no sign of a struggle,” said GBI chief investigator Gary Rothwell. “But that’s not to say that something couldn’t have happened…”
Case of the Ex
Just a few weeks before her disappearance, the teacher broke up with her boyfriend of six years after a troubled relationship, yet police found no indication of a violent history or cause for revenge. Although Tara was said to be acting normal and happy around the time she vanished, she may have been hurting inside… or hiding a secret.
A Married Man
The attractive teacher was known to have been engaged in multiple romantic relationships at the time of her disappearance, yet investigators struggled to identify a suspect. The business card wedged into her door belonged to a local married man and police officer who visited Tara often.
Forbidden Romance Gone Wrong?
The married officer admitted that he had stopped by Tara’s home the night of her alleged disappearance but claimed that she didn’t answer the door. Although the police officer maintained his innocence and had a cleared alibi, the nearly two dozen voicemails he left on Tara’s phone definitely set off some red flags…
Hot For Teacher?
The attractive educator was a favorite amongst the male teenagers at Irwin County High, but police eyed one former student in particular, who had been arrested earlier that year for harassment and had been seen banging on Grinstead’s door more than once.
Officer Vickers, Grinstead’s police officer “friend”, and her ex-boyfriend, were tested to match the DNA found on the latex glove but came back negative. The men had credible alibis for the 38-hour time frame of Grinstead’s disappearance, but Vickers’ connection to the former teacher’s disappearance became even more suspicious on the night he received a strange phone call…
A Creepy Coincidence
According to Vickers, he received a frantic telephone call from a woman shortly after Grinstead went missing. The woman was so emotional and upset, he said he couldn’t understand her. The once-suspect immediately notified police who traced the call and found that it was simply a wrong number dialed by an inarticulate and emotionally overwrought stranger.
Three years had gone by before the case received renewed attention with a 2008 report on the CBS show 48 Hours Mystery. The show’s investigators even noted the similarity of Grinstead’s missing person’s case to the disappearance of another young woman from Orlando, FL, who vanished three months later…
The Catch Me Killer
In 2009, after the 48 Hours Mystery aired, eerie videos surfaced online from a self-proclaimed serial killer. In the videos, the man who dubbed himself the “Catch Me Killer” detailed the murders of 16 female victims, one who police identified as Tara Grinstead.
It Gets Even Stranger
The man behind the blurred video image was found to be 27-year-old Andrew Haley of Gainesville, GA. Yet when police looked into the claims of the self-professed killer, they found the videos were nothing but a bizarre and elaborate hoax by a deranged man. This meant if Tara Grinstead had been murdered, her killer was still out there…
A Case Gone Cold
By 2010, Bill and Faye Grinstead had given up hope their daughter’s disappearance would ever be solved and at the request of a local judge, Tara Faye Grinstead was declared dead five years after she vanished. “So many people have been hurt by this,” Grinstead’s stepmother said. “We hope with time this community can have closure and start to heal from this.”
Up And Vanished
In 2016, documentarian Payne Lindsey took notice in the cold case and produced the podcast Up and Vanished, which reviewed the evidence of Tara Grinstead’s disappearance took investigation even further. Grinstead’s story was back in the news, yet investigators still believed the cold case would never be solved. Until they received an unprecedented, anonymous tip…
The First Arrest
Twelve years after the teacher and beauty queen vanished, one tip to police led the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to arrest Ryan Alexander Duke, a former student at Irwin County High School for the murder and concealment of Tara Faye Grinstead.
Two weeks later, a supplementary arrest was made public in connection with Tara’s disappearance. Ryan Alexander Duke’s former classmate Bo Dukes (no relation) was charged with attempting to conceal a death, hindering apprehension and tampering with evidence. Investigators are still trying to uncover the motive for what seems to be a robbery gone wrong, but the truth has yet to be uncovered.
Editor’s note Nov. 8, 2018: (13WMAZ.com) – Ryan Duke is scheduled to appear in Irwin County court November 19th and 20th for a motions hearing. LifeDaily will continue updating this story as information becomes available.