"Sometimes the best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut and your eyes open. The truth always comes out in the end."
It was the 24th of October 2005. A Monday. At 8.50 am that morning, police received a call. Thirty year old Tara Grinstead did not arrive at the Irwin County High School for work that morning. She worked there as a full time history teacher and she would always notify the school even if she was running slightly late. They heard nothing at all from her and her coworkers were concerned.
Police went to Tara's house in Ocilla, Southwest Georgia, United States. Tara lived alone. When police got there, they saw her car was parked outside. The door was locked and when they entered the house, everything looked in order. Tara's cell phone was on her nightstand. There were no signs of a struggle and no signs of any forced entry. The only thing that appeared missing, apart from Tara herself, were her purse and keys. Police had to try to establish whether she left the house to go somewhere herself or with someone or if she came to harm.
Police discovered that Tara had last been seen almost 34 hours before she was reported missing. On the Saturday, the 22nd of October, Tara was at the Miss Georgia Sweet Potato Pageant in Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is around fifteen minutes or so from Ocilla. She had a few girls over at her house and they had their hair done and makeup applied there before leaving for the event. Tara was heavily involved in pageants in Georgia. She was a former Miss Tifton and a Beauty Queen for most of her life. When she stopped competing in pageants herself, she began coaching younger girls who took part in them and did their hair and makeup for competitions. That was why she was so popular. She was kind and caring and so generous with her time. She was more than happy to share her pageant experience with the girls. The girls in the school looked up to her, admired her and wanted to be like her.
When the pageant ended on the Saturday evening, Tara went to a neighbor's house for a social visit. She was there for around half an hour and left before 8.30pm. She then went to another friend's house as they had invited her to a barbecue. Their house was just a few blocks from her home. She was there for a couple of hours and left between 10.30pm and 11pm that night. Police found the clothes that Tara had worn that night on the floor of her bedroom beside her bed. That led them to believe that after she left the barbecue that night, she made it home. But where she went or what happened to her after that, they simply did not know.
Police discovered a latex glove in her front yard. That was the only indication they had that they may be dealing with something sinister. From that latex glove, they were able to get a male profile DNA from the glove and a fingerprint. But there were no matches on their system. The other item that police found at Tara's property that was of interest to them was a business card that had been left wedged in the side of her front door.
That business card led police to a married police officer in a nearby town. Neighbors told police that they saw him visiting Tara a number of times in recent weeks. He told police that he called to Tara's house on the Sunday, the 23rd of October, but she wasn't home. He left his card and called her on her cell phone several times but there was no answer.
Tara Grinstead's House
Throughout the course of the investigation, police spoke to Tara's friends, family and ex boyfriends along with people in the town. Her ex boyfriend, Marcus Harper, was in a relationship with Tara for six years. The relationship ended just two weeks before Tara went missing and he told police that he last saw her a week before she went missing. He claimed that Tara was distraught and told him that if he began a relationship with someone else , she would kill herself.
That was in stark contrast to how Tara's friends described her. They said that she was in great form and was her normal happy self when they last saw her. Police didn't believe she committed suicide as no body was found and the entire town was searching for Tara so they believed that if she did harm herself, they would have found her.
Police were aware that there was an incident that happened that had troubled Tara. In March 2005, Tara reported the incident to police. She told them that a student of hers, Anthony Vickers, tried to force his way into her home. According to the report Tara made, he was "knocking on the windows and the door" and was shouting at her to come out. She was disturbed by what had happened but police could find nothing to suggest that he was in any way involved in her disappearance.
The case went cold and it wasn't until 2017 that police got a major break in the case.
Police received a tip in 2017 from a woman called Brooke Sheridan. She told them that her boyfriend and his friend had information in relation to the disappearance of Tara Grinstead.
Brooke's boyfriend was Bo Dukes. He made a confession to police. He knew what happened to Tara. And he confirmed what everyone suspected. Tara was dead. He told police that Ryan Alexander Duke, a former student at the Irwin County High School, told him the day after Tara was last seen that he needed help as he had killed Tara. At that time, Bo and Ryan were roommates. Bo agreed to help hide Tara's body. They went to a pecan orchard, a farm owned by Bo's uncle with Tara's body. The two of them started a fire and burned Tara's body.
Police spoke to Ryan. He also made a confession. He told them that he didn't intend to kill Tara. He entered her home with the intention to steal only. He was looking for money for drugs. Ryan gained access to the home by using a credit card to get the front door to open. Tara was in bed asleep at the time. But then she surprised him and confronted him so he strangled her. He returned afterwards to remove her body.
Police searched the area of land where Bo said that they burned Tara's body and they found bone. Forensic anthropologic consultant for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Dr Alice Gooding, said fragments of human bones were found at the orchard.
Police charged Ryan with two counts of felony murder and one count each of malice murder, aggravated assault, burglary and concealing the death of another.
Ryan Alexander Duke
Bo was charged with two counts of making a false statement, hindering the arrest of a criminal and concealing a death. He was also wanted for a separate crime and was charged with rape, aggravated sodomy and false imprisonment. Those charges had nothing to do with Tara's case.
At Bo's Trial for the charges he faced in relation to Tara Grinstead, the Prosecution showed the Jury the confession video.In the video, Bo admitted he helped dispose of Tara's body. He told police that they spent two days burning the body.
Brooke Sheridan testifying at Bo's Trial
Bo said that they put Tara's body into his Ford F-150 and Ryan drove it to the pecan orchard. He saw Tara's body. There were no clothes on her body and he observed marks on her neck. Bo told police that he told several people afterwards about what had happened. According to Bo, most of the people he told the story to thought that he was telling lies.
Bo apologizing at his sentencing hearing to Tara's family
Bo was sentenced to the maximum 25 years in prison.
Ryan's Trial was set for April 2019 but was delayed due to an Appeal application for funding from his Defense legal team. Even though Ryan made a confession, he now claims that that was a false confession. His Defense Attorney Ashleigh Merchant said:
"All they've got is an inconsistent statement from someone who was under the influence of drugs."
Police said that the DNA that was found on the latex glove in Tara's front yard was a match to Tara's DNA and Ryan's DNA.
It may be 2021 before Ryan's Trial begins. No Trial date has been set yet.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
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