Tara Grinstead murder case
|Tara Faye Grinstead|
November 14, 1974|
October 22, 2005 (aged 30)|
|Status||Declared dead in absentia in December 2010|
Tara Faye Grinstead (born November 14, 1974) was an American beauty queen and high school history teacher who lived in Ocilla, Georgia, and has been missing since October 22, 2005. On February 23, 2017, a press conference was held by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) formally announcing that a tip had been received, leading to the arrest of Ryan Alexander Duke for the murder and concealment of Tara Faye Grinstead. In addition, on March 3, 2017, a supplementary arrest was made public in connection with Tara's disappearance: Bo Dukes (a former classmate of Ryan Alexander Duke, with no familial relation) was charged with attempting to conceal a death, hindering apprehension and tampering with evidence.
A native of Hawkinsville, Georgia, Grinstead loved beauty pageants. In 1999, she won the title of Miss Tifton and competed in the Miss Georgia pageant. Her winnings from this pageant and many others she had entered helped her pay for college. She graduated from Middle Georgia College in Georgia and, in 2003, earned a master's degree in education at Valdosta State University. In 1998, she began teaching history at Irwin County High School in Ocilla.
The night before her disappearance, Grinstead visited a beauty pageant (she was active as a coach to young beauty contestants) and attended a barbecue. On October 24, 2005, a Monday morning, she did not show up for work. Co-workers called police, who went to the home where she lived alone. They found her cell phone inside the house. Her car was outside, unlocked. Her purse and keys were gone.
Local police immediately called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, feeling that "something was wrong" and the case was beyond the resources of the small town police department. The GBI found no signs of forced entry and no sign of a struggle.
Irwin County High School principal Bobby Conner was quoted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as saying "We're a small community and this has really touched home because it is something you read about happening elsewhere. This is someone with a tremendous, magnetic personality, and the kids just love her."
In 2008, the case received renewed attention with a report on the CBS News show 48 Hours Mystery, which noted the similarity of this case to the disappearance of another young woman, Jennifer Kesse, in Orlando, Florida, three months later.
In connection with that news story, police revealed that they had found DNA on a latex glove that was found in Grinstead's yard, "just a stone's throw from her front stoop", according to a 2008 interview with Gary Rothwell of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation:
Rothwell did not identify as a suspect the person whose DNA was found in the glove, but he said that person could help lead to a break in the case. "We believe it is a critical element to solving the case," Rothwell said.
Rothwell said the DNA has been analyzed and agents know it's a man's DNA. But they haven't identified the man. Over the course of the investigation, he said, agents have compared the DNA to dozens of men who knew Grinstead or who were associated with her. "None of them matched," Rothwell said. The DNA also has been entered into Georgia and national databases, but still no matches."
In February 2009, videos surfaced on the Internet featuring a self-proclaimed serial killer. Dubbing himself the "Catch Me Killer", the man in the videos details what he claims are his 16 female victims, and one of these women was determined by authorities to be Grinstead. Though the man's face and voice are digitally obscured, police eventually determined the videos' source to be 27-year-old Andrew Haley. A police investigation revealed the videos to be part of a bizarre, elaborate hoax, and Haley was ultimately eliminated as a substantial lead in Grinstead's disappearance.
On February 23, 2017, the GBI announced they had received a tip which led to the arrest of Ryan Alexander Duke for murder. About three years before Grinstead's disappearance, Duke had attended Irwin County High School, the same high school where Grinstead was employed as a teacher. According to warrants read in court, Duke burglarized Grinstead's home, and when discovered he strangled her and removed her body from the house. Another arrest, on March 3, 2017, was made public in connection with Tara's disappearance. Bo Dukes, a former classmate of Ryan with no familial relation, was charged with attempting to conceal a death, hindering apprehension and tampering with evidence. Grinstead's sister, Anita Gattis, said she has known Bo Dukes' family for years but never connected him with any part of her sister's disappearance.
In August 2017, a grand jury filed four new charges against Dukes: two counts of making false statements, one count of hindering apprehension of a criminal and one count of concealing the death of another. These additional charges are based on a Wilcox County indictment stating that Dukes had lied to a GBI official who questioned him in 2016 concerning the disappearance of Grinstead. As of September 7, 2017, no trial date has been scheduled for either Dukes or Duke.
After Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes were arrested, Irwin County Judge Melanie Cross issued a gag order prohibiting anyone involved with the case from talking about it in order to protect Ryan Duke's right to a fair trial. Georgia television stations WMAZ and WXIA challenged the order in court which resulted in Judge Cross relaxing the order, but still, "restricted public comment by anyone working with the prosecution or defense, court staff, and current and former police officers on the case." WMAZ and WXIA again took this order to court and the case went to the Supreme Court of Georgia in October 2017. In March 2018 the gag order was tossed out in an unanimous opinion.
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