Tara Grinstead Case to be Highlighted on FOX News
A seven year old central Georgia cold case of a missing local beauty queen will get national attention this weekend.
The disappearance of Tara Grinstead will be highlighted Saturday night at 9 p.m. on FOX News. ‘Justice with Judge Jeanine’ will feature the case from 2005.
The Irwin County teacher disappeared from her Ocilla home in 2005 without a trace.
Her body was never found and a suspect has never been named in her disappearance.
Investigators renew search for missing beauty queen
FITZGERALD, GA (WALB) -
Investigators used the help of an underwater vehicle as they reinstated a search of a pond in Ben Hill County for the remains of a teacher who mysteriously vanished nearly a decade ago.
They are searching for Tara Grinstead, who disappeared after attending a Georgia sweet potato pageant in October 2005. She was 31 years old at the time.
Officials including a Georgia State Patrol dive team were dispatched to a pond near Satilla Drive, near Fitzgerald.
They placed a submarine into the pond, which was able to detect evidence on the bottom of it.
Crews have been draining the pond since Monday night after obtaining a search warrant.
Over the years, the case of the missing Irwin County teacher and beauty queen has never been declared solved.
A probate judge officially declared Grinstead dead in December 2010.
Georgia law states that a person can be presumed dead if they are missing for four years. Her father Billy Grinstead petitioned for the presumption of her death in September 2010.
In March 2011, a dive team was dispatched to an Irwin County creek to search for Grinstead's remains. At the time, a neighbor claimed that two men were acting suspiciously near the water.
Investigators sent an eight person dive team into the creek for hours, but did not retrieve any evidence.
No one has ever been arrested in the Tara Grinstead case.
Tara Grinstead: Missing Ten Years
Ten years ago Thursday marks the last time anyone reported seeing or talking to Tara Grinstead.
She was a 30-year-old history teacher and former beauty queen, raised in Hawkinsville and living in Ocilla at the time of her disappearance.
Ocilla is located in Irwin County about 100 miles southeast of Macon. It's about an hour and 40 minute drive.
13WMAZ was there ten years ago in the days after Grinstead went missing. We returned to find so much, yet so little changed over a decade.
"Every year when the weather changes to cool, it just reminds us of Tara," Wendy McFarland, a fellow teacher at Irwin County High School, said. "Because it was those cool mornings and nights that we were out looking for her."
Images of late October 2005 play like a worn out movie in McFarland's memory, and as many times as she watches it, it never ends. McFarland was one of the last people to talk to Tara Grinstead. They spoke on the phone around 10 p.m. the night of Saturday, October 22, 2005.
"She had just come in from her pageant and was on her way to the barbecue," McFarland said. "Then, we never heard from her again."
Grinstead lived alone, so it wasn't until Monday morning when she didn't show up at school that friends raised red flags.
"We knew something was wrong immediately," McFarland said. "She was not the kind of teacher that would not show up without alerting somebody."
Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock recalled the same date.
"That morning, I was in my office when I received a telephone call from Tara's neighbor," he said.
Hancock drove the couple of blocks from his office to Grinstead's home. He found her car parked in the carport, the dog in the backyard and nothing out of place, except Tara.
"Everything looked normal," Hancock said. "I expected a car to pull-up anytime, and her say, 'What are you guys doing at my house?' That didn't happen."
Within a couple of hours, Hancock called in reinforcements.
"I realized this thing might really be really bad," Gary Rothwell said, who, at the time, was the Special Agent in Charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation office in Perry.
Rothwell didn't like the sound of the circumstances. He quickly dispatched six investigators to Ocilla, including himself.
"We treated it as if she had been abducted from the beginning," he said.
The police, hundreds of searchers and national media poured into Ocilla within 24 hours. They set-up a command post, tip lines and scoured the landscape on foot looking for traces of Tara.
Rothwell said they interviewed friends of Grinstead, family and co-workers. More than 200 people, in all, were interviewed. He says they never calling any of them a suspect or even a person of interest. Still, they can't clear anyone from her disappearance.
It was after three years that Rothwell decided to make public a key piece of evidence. It was a latex glove found in Grinstead's front yard with a partial print inside.
"We felt that was guilty knowledge, something that the offender will only know," Rothwell said.
Releasing the evidence served Rothwell's purpose, generating new leads. But ultimately, it produced the same old outcome.
"I can say we've compared it to everybody," J.T. Ricketson said, who is the current Special Agent in Charge at the Perry GBI office. "We've done DNA samples from so far, and we don't have a match."
He said his agents constantly review the case file, which is now the largest file in the GBI's nearly 80 year history.
"You can only have hope in this kind of case," Ricketson said.
He says now that hope lies in technological advances. A private lab recently retested evidence from the glove, further separating trace amounts of DNA.
"They were able to give us something we didn't have ten years ago," he said.
He said he isn't ready to say exactly what they found, but calls it reason to keep searching.
Although after ten years, Rothwell, who is now retired from the GBI and works the case as a private investigator, said it's much more a search for evidence in a crime than a missing person.
"I think about Tara virtually everyday, and I certainly think about her when October comes around," he said. "I can tell you the dates and the times of the occurrences that happened that weekend, and those are things that are burned in my memory. I don't think I'll ever forget them."
McFarland said it is a pain that never leaves her either.
"I believe the truth shall set you free, and I pray one day we will get that," she said.
But for now, time stands still. Grinstead's friends, family and the town are still held captive by the unknown.
"Ten years, ten days, ten months, it's all the same," McFarland said. "That hole doesn't get bigger or smaller. It just remains the hole."
It's a void only the peace of justice can fill. And they pray one day, October will roll in to Ocilla, not with the chill of unanswered questions, but the warmth of Tara Grinstead's memories.
If you have information on the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, you can call the GBI Tipline at 1-800-597-8477 or the GBI's Perry Office at 478-987-4545.
Or submit online tips here: http://gbi.georgia.gov/webform/submit-tips-online
Police make arrest in cold case of missing beauty queen
OCILLA, Ga. — Authorities announced Thursday they arrested a man on murder charges in the disappearance of a high school teacher in rural south Georgia more than 11 years ago.
Ryan Alexander Duke was being held in the Irwin County jail days after investigators received a tip linking him to Tara Grinstead, a teacher and former beauty queen missing since October 2005.
“We did find the person that was responsible for Tara’s death,” J.T. Ricketson, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said at a courthouse news conference in Ocilla, about 165 miles south of Atlanta.
Duke had attended Irwin County High School, where Grinstead taught history, about three years before she vanished, Ricketson said. He declined to comment on how they knew each other and would not say if authorities know what became of Grinstead’s body.
Connie Grinstead, the missing woman’s stepmother, told reporters she thanked God “for answered prayers.”
“We always believed that it would be solved,” she said, reading a statement at the courthouse news conference. “We just did not know when.”
It was not immediately known if Duke, 33, had a defense attorney.
Grinstead was 30 when she was last seen Oct. 22, 2005. The former Miss Tifton 1999 had spent the day helping contestants in a Miss Sweet Potato pageant in nearby Fitzgerald and then attended a cookout with friends in Ocilla. She was reported missing two days later when she failed to report to work.
Her house was found locked, with her cellphone inside. Her dog and cat were home and her car sat parked in the driveway. But Grinstead’s purse and keys were gone. A latex glove — the type worn by police officers and medical workers — was found in her front yard.
Police classified Grinstead as a missing person, saying there was no evidence she had been abducted. Still, authorities said they also couldn’t rule out foul play.
An outpouring of support followed in the farm community of Ocilla. Volunteers searched the area and set up a Tara Command Center with a telephone tip line and a website, http://www.findtara.com. Rewards of $100,000 were offered for Grinstead’s safe return or for information leading to an arrest and conviction if she was harmed.
Family members appeared on nationally televised crime shows to plead for information. Still, the case stumped investigators for more than a decade as years passed with no sign of Grinstead’s whereabouts and no arrests.
Ricketson gave no details Thursday as to how investigators linked Duke to Grinstead. He said a person, whom he declined to name, approached authorities with a tip days earlier.
“This gentleman (Duke) never came up on our radar through the investigation,” Ricketson said. Asked if more arrests were possible, he said, “That’s a very good question. Again, we have several more interviews to do.”
A probate judge in Grinstead’s home county declared her dead at her father’s request in 2010, more than five years after she vanished.
Police chased numerous leads that went nowhere. A Georgia man posted a YouTube video in 2009 claiming to have killed 16 people, including a “beauty queen” whose description matched Grinstead’s. But the video turned out to be a hoax.
The Irwin County sheriff in 2011 searched the area of a bridge crossing a creek after receiving a tip, but found nothing. In 2015, investigators acting on another tip drained a pond in Ben Hill County but later said they found nothing useful to the case.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation with help from the local police and sheriff’s departments. The GBI interviewed an ex-boyfriend who had dated Grinstead for six years, as well as other male friends she had, but no one was charged.
“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.”
Dozens dig for Tara Grinstead's remains in south Georgia
BEN HILL COUNTY, Ga. - Dozens of Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents searched a pecan farm in a south Georgia town for Tara Grinstead’s remains Tuesday.
A crew of more than 40 people were involved in the massive dig that lasted all day in Ben Hill County.
"There are agents from eight different GBI offices. I have five crime scene specialists here. We actually enlisted the services of two anthropologists in case we find any skeletal remains," GBI Special Agent in Charge J.T. Ricketson said.
From NewsChopper 2 over the scene, multiple tents and dig areas were visible in the wooded area.
"Agents stood shoulder to shoulder and walked off some area. They then went to their hands and knees and crawled that same area. We identified some specific areas that we gridded off so we can do a grid search," Ricketson said.
Channel 2's Tony Thomas was the only Atlanta reporter on the ground in Ben Hill County as crews searched the area.
"They are down there with trowels and spoons and very small implements trying to dig into the very, very small pieces of dirt just to see if we can collect any evidence," Ricketson said.
Thomas learned that agents were first told about the property last week, but just zeroed in on specific locations on Tuesday. Ricketson said since an arrest last week, interviews with "people who were involved" led his team to the land. The landowner is not involved, he said.
"This is a possible site where she may have been disposed of," Ricketson said. "We are finding some things and we are collecting some evidence. We are hopeful that we can find her remains and that's why we're there."
Grinstead, a teacher and former beauty queen, was reported missing from her Ocilla home in October 2005.
Last week, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and local Georgia authorities announced an arrest in the case. Ryan Alexander Duke was charged with murder, burglary, aggravated assault and concealing a death.
The GBI said that someone walked into a sheriff's office earlier last week with information that led to several new interviews and an arrest.
"Through these interviews, enough probable cause was discovered so we could swear out an arrest warrant charging Ryan Alexander Duke with the murder of Tara Grinstead," Ricketson said.
During Duke's first court appearance, we heard for the first time authorities believe Duke used his hands to kill Grinstead.
2nd arrest made in cold case of missing Georgia teacher Tara Grinstead
BEN HILL COUNTY, Ga. — A second arrest has been made in connection with disappearance of Tara Grinstead, the Georgia school teacher who vanished 11 years ago.
Bo Dukes, 32, was arrested and charged with concealing death, hindering apprehension or punishment of a criminal and tampering with evidence, according to the Ben Hill County Sheriff’s Office.
According to search warrants obtained by WMAZ, Dukes helped “conceal and destroy” Grinstead’s body in 2005.
Law enforcement officials from several agencies announced last week that Ryan Alexander Duke, 33, had been arrested and charged in the 2005 killing.
Grinstead disappeared from her Ocilla home in October 2005. She was last seen at a co-worker’s barbecue before she left to go home. Five years after she disappeared, a judge declared Grinstead dead at her father’s request.
She was a former beauty queen who was well-liked in the small town.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said last week that someone walked into the sheriff’s office with information that led to several new interviews and the arrest of Duke.
Dukes and Duke attended Irwin County High School together when Grinstead taught there, WMAZ reports.
Dukes was released on $16,700 bond, less than two hours after his arrest.