We often hear about people going missing, but we never think it would happen to the girl next door, teachers or people in positions of power. But, one high school teacher went missing for over a decade and was presumed dead by pretty much everyone. Tara Grinstead, a teacher from Georgia, went missing on the night of October 23, 2005.
The history teacher and former beauty queen was a popular and successful teacher. Tara was last seen after attending a pageant and going to see friends at a barbecue. She left the barbecue at around 10:30 pm to return home, and she was never seen or heard from again.
Getting to Know Tara
Tara Grinstead was born in Hawkinsville, Georgia in November of 1974. She developed a passion for beauty pageants at a young age and won the 1999 Miss Tifton pageant. She also competed in the Miss Georgia beauty pageant in the same year.
Tara began her career as a teacher in 1998 and would go on to teach history to high school kids. This is where Tara’s story takes a tragic turn. She was well-liked and good at her job, and that’s why the whole community was shocked when she vanished without a trace. Or, at least, that’s what everyone thought happened.
Building a Bright Future
As a teacher, Tara was responsible for helping to shape the future minds of America. Her leadership and impact on the children she taught was invaluable, and her pupils have spoken of the influence she had on their lives. But, Tara’s important influence was not limited to simply high school teaching.
She also helped to coach up-and-coming women in the world of beauty pageants. It can be a daunting and cruel experience for many of them, and Tara was just the mentor these girls needed. Furthermore, she used her beauty pageant winnings to fund and obtain a master’s degree. She was one smart cookie!
The Night Before
The night before her disappearance was Sunday, October 23, 2005. Tara had been attending a beauty pageant during the day and was acting in a coaching capacity. There were a lot of young women at the pageant and Tara was on hand to offer support and advice to them for the competition.
As we know, after the pageant she headed to a friend’s house to attend a barbecue. The evening went just like any other, and Tara was then seen leaving at around 10:30 pm. This is the last recorded sighting anyone has made of her, and she hasn’t been seen or heard from since that time.
It was her diligence, dedication, and professionalism that led to colleagues becoming suspicious when she didn’t show up to work. Tara was due to be at work as usual on Monday, October 24th. Not turning up was out of character for the teacher, and this is one of the things that led to her co-workers calling the police.
After going to check out Tara’s home, the police found it was empty, and that she had left her car and cell phone. This is what set in motion the chain of events that would lead police to spend over a decade trying to find out what had happened to this young beauty Queen.
Police showed up at her home and found that, in addition to her leaving her car and cell phone, the car was also unlocked, and had clay on the tires, as well as an adjusted seat. This implied that someone who wasn’t Tara had been driving the car at some point. But where had they driven to, and where had the clay come from?
Another peculiar discovery was that there was a single latex glove on the front lawn, and a business card was jammed between the front door. This was alarming to stay the least, and the police grew suspicious. However, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined no evidence of foul play.
Of course, as is always the case in these situations, the police looked into any exes that Tara may have had who could have been involved. It turned out that she had recently broken off a long-term relationship, but police found no history of violence or crime relating to her ex-partner. There were others, though…
Tara had also been involved in several other romantic entanglements. Most recently, she had been dating a local married police officer named Vickers. Tara was said to often visit him, and the business card found at her home belonged to him. The police were quick to question Vickers.
These are the sorts of relationships in which tragedy can very easily occur. Did Tara tell Vickers she wanted to break things off with him? Perhaps she threatened to tell his wife they had been having an affair, and he killed her to silence her? There were dozens of possibilities that the police were entertaining.
However, the interrogation did not provide many answers and certainly didn’t help to find Tara. He claimed that he showed up at her home on the night of her disappearance, but she didn’t answer the door. He also had an alibi; however, there was the issue of two dozen voicemails on Tara’s phone.
The police were stumped by this as it had seemed the most likely line of inquiry. So, they decided to turn their attentions elsewhere. Specifically, they began to look into the students Tara had taught. She was a very popular and beautiful woman and had a lot of admirers among the male students.
One guy, in particular, stood out. He had a history of harassment and had even been arrested for it earlier that year. He had also been seen banging on his teacher’s door on more than one occasion. But, the lead, as with all the other ones, suddenly and unexpectedly went cold.
Not to be beaten, the cops decided that, as a precaution, they would DNA test Vickers and Tara’s ex-boyfriend, and try to compare them to DNA found on the latex glove. This would help to rule them out completely if the DNA came back as negative, and the police could turn their attentions elsewhere.
So, testing began, but, unfortunately, the DNA came back as no match. The men also had airtight alibis for the time-frame of Tara’s disappearance. It certainly wasn’t either of them. But, this would not be Vickers’ last involvement in this case, as there was a mysterious and disturbing phone call…
The Phone Call
Vickers told police officers that, not long after Tara’s disappearance he received a strange and upsetting phone call. Shortly after Grinstead was reported to have gone missing, Vickers’ phone was called by a frantic and distressed woman. He said that she was so upset and emotionally distraught he couldn’t understand her.
He immediately notified police, wondering if the woman could have been Tara. But, when officers traced the call and phone it was made from, they found it had simply been a wrong number dialed by a troubled stranger. They were still no closer to finding any leads that might point them in the direction of Tara.
A New Hope?
Three years went by, and nobody had seen or heard from Tara Grinstead. In fact, the police were beginning to give up hope, until a 2009 documentary titled 48 Hours Mystery contained a video in which self-proclaimed serial killer Andrew Haley, confessed to murdering 16 women including Tara.
He was arrested and interrogated by police, who were sure they would finally find closure on the case. However, the video turned out to be a hoax, and Haley was simply a very disturbed and troubled young man. If Tara had been murdered, it meant her killer was still out there on the loose.
Legally Declared Dead
By the time 2010 rolled around Tara had been missing for five years now. And her parents had given up hope of ever finding their daughter alive. So, Bill and Faye Grinstead made the heartbreaking decision, at the request of a local judge, to declare their daughter as legally dead.
This meant they could start the grieving and healing process, and work toward trying to get some closure. In spite of this, the FBI refused to confirm it as a cold case and said they were working every week to try to crack the case, with many new leads coming in all the time.
It wasn’t just Tara’s parents who mourned her disappearance, and classification as ‘dead.’ She had touched the lives of so many people and made such a big difference in her community. She was loved by all, and people wanted to show their respect for her by mourning her disappearance and praying for her safe return.
Indeed, Irwin County High School principal, Bobby Conner, described Tara as having a “magnetic personality,” and said that the kids all loved her. Two local candlelit vigils were held in Tara’s name; one at the courthouse in Ocilla, and the other at the Baptist Church in Hawkinsville.
The community, and the country, never stopped believing in Tara’s return, or that we might find information to help discover her whereabouts. A website was even created called findtara.com, which was constantly updated with information about the case and continued pleas for help and information.
The hope was that someday we might find a conclusion to what happened to this bright young woman. It is important for people to have closure when events like this take place, and the website is a great way of helping generate more attention. Of course, it wouldn’t be the only media interest in the case.
Up and Vanished
The great thing about modern media is that it can reach unexpected places, and allows cases to be covered across different mediums. A good example of this is the podcast Up and Vanished, produced by Payne Lindsey. The podcast covered the case of Tara’s disappearance at length, looking at all the possibilities surrounding the case.
The 18 episode series went through the event and investigation with a fine tooth comb for listeners. This put Tara’s story back in the media spotlight, but many people believed the case would never be solved. That was, of course, until February 23rd, 2017, the date that changed everything.
Police detailed that the podcast had done its job well and had resulted in an anonymous tip. It’s still unclear who the person was, but they got in touch with police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and left a tip. This led investigators to a man named Ryan Alexander Duke.
Duke was a former student of Tara’s and attended Irwin County High School. Police arrested Ryan for the concealment and murder of Tara Grinstead. It is speculated that this may have happened as part of a robbery gone wrong. He’s alleged to have burgled the home and strangled Tara when she found him.
With Ryan Alexander Duke’s arrest, the cops had finally got their man and found out at last what happened to Tara. But, the story did not end there, and the police made a second arrest just a couple of weeks later. It was another of Tara’s students and a classmate of Ryan’s.
Bo Dukes, who is not related to Ryan, was also arrested by officers, and charged with attempting to conceal a death, tampering with evidence, and perverting the course of justice. The story of a robbery gone wrong seems to be the reason being offered, but police are unsure if this is 100% true.
The robbery is the accepted version of what happened in the events leading to Tara’s death. However, there are some things that need to be taken into account at the crime scene. Yes, the broken lamp propped up against a wall would imply a struggle. And the curiosities with the car could have been when Duke moved her body.
But, there are other oddities as well. For example, the glove compartment of the car contained $100 completely untouched. If it had been a robbery, why would Ryan Duke leave that money in the car? Another curious thing was that Tara’s alarm clock was found under her bed, and the time was 6 hours out. How did this happen, and what does it mean, if anything?
When arrests are made, and confessions are secured, it does bookend cases like this nicely. It gives some semblance of end and closure to the case. But, it also still, leaves a whole heap of unanswered questions for police, as well as the friends and family of Tara Grinstead.
We may never know what happened on that fateful October night in 2005. And police may never fully get to the bottom of Tara’s movements. But, for now, at least they have their arrests, and finally, faces can be put to the crime. One thing is certain, Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes will be facing a lengthy jail term.