Thirty-year-old Tara Grinstead was a former beauty queen and beloved high school history teacher in Ocilla, Georgia. Tara had a successful run in the pageant world and used her winnings to obtain a master’s degree. After beginning a career in teaching, she continued to coach young women in the pageant world and created lasting relationships through her mentoring. Tara was last seen the night of October 23, 2005, when she stopped by a pageant and a barbecue with friends. She left around 10:30 p.m. to head home.
A dedicated professional, it was extremely alarming when the young teacher did not show up to work on October 24, 2005. Her co-workers called the police, who quickly hightailed it to her house only to discover it empty with her car and cell phone left behind. Her car was unlocked with clay on the tires and the seat adjusted. A single latex glove was found on the front lawn and a business card wedged between the front door. Feeling something was off, the local police quickly called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who declared there to be no evidence of a struggle or forced entry.
An extensive investigation into Tara’s life found that Tara had recently broken up with her boyfriend and had engaged in several romantic relationships, including one with the man whose business card was found in her door, a local married police officer named Vickers. The cop left over two dozen voicemails on Tara’s phone prompting the police to interview the man. While he admitted to stopping by that evening, he was adamant that Tara did not answer the door and provided police with an air-tight alibi.
Perplexed, the police began turning their investigation to Tara’s students. A young and attractive teacher, Tara drew attention from some of her students, including one who had been seen on more than one occasion knocking on her door. However, nothing ever came of the lead and soon her case slowly went cold.
In 2009, a year after Tara was featured on the TV show 48 Hours Mystery, a video surfaced of a self-proclaimed serial killer, the “Catch Me Killer,” who admitted to murdering 16 women including Tara. The 29-year-old Andrew Haley was arrested and later, the video was found to be a hoax, leaving Tara’s family questioning where their daughter was and who took her once again.
Five years after her disappearance, Tara’s family had her legally declared dead with the hopes of moving on. Devastated, they believed they would never know what truly happened to Tara until a podcast in 2016 uncovered something new.
Payne Lindsey, producer of the podcast Up and Vanished, covered Tara’s case, reiterating the facts and evidence from 2005 in an 18 episode series. In February 2017, police revealed that the podcast brought in an anonymous tip which resulted in the arrest of Tara’s former student, Ryan Alexander Duke. Ryan was charged with the concealment and murder of Tara in a robbery gone wrong. Ryan’s friend Bo Dukes was also arrested for concealing her murder and tampering with evidence.
Police are still trying to piece together what exactly happened that October night, but thankfully Tara’s family can now have the closure they have been waiting 12 years for.