Tara Grinstead case drags on 15 years after disappearance

File PhotoTara Grinstead, a high school teacher and beauty pageant contestant who lived in Ocilla, was last seen alive Oct. 22, 2005.

OCILLA — On Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005, Tara Grinstead went to a beauty pageant in Fitzgerald, ate dinner with friends and went to her home in Ocilla.

She was never seen alive again.

Thursday marked 15 years since the disappearance of the high school teacher and one-time Miss Tifton — a disappearance which achieved national attention.

It took 11 years for two men to be arrested in connection with the case.

Grinstead, then age 30, was last seen around 11 p.m. When she didn’t report to work the following Monday, friends and family grew concerned.

A search of her house turned up no clues. In fact, her house appeared undisturbed, according to then-Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock. Her car was parked in the driveway of her residence. Her house was locked and the only items that appeared to be missing were her purse and keys, according to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation statement.

Grinstead’s disappearance and the subsequent search garnered national media attention, with reports on CNN and Fox News. A reward totaling $25,000 was offered for information in the case.

In 2015, a small pond in Fitzgerald was drained and searched after the GBI received a tip, but no body was found.

In February 2017, a former student at Irwin County High School — Ryan Alexander Duke, then aged 31 — was arrested and charged with her murder, the GBI said at the time.

The following March, another Irwin County High School graduate, Bo Dukes — not related to Ryan Duke — was arrested in Ben Hill County and charged with concealing death, tampering with evidence and hindering the apprehension of a criminal. Arrest warrants accused Dukes of destroying and hiding Grinstead’s body at Fitzgerald Farms in Ben Hill County

Bo Dukes was convicted in March 2019, and is serving a 25-year sentence in Central State Prison, according to prison records.

Ryan Alexander Duke’s trial has been delayed by a number of appeals which have reached the Georgia Supreme Court, the latest of which involves a dispute over whether he is entitled to have the state pay the cost of expert witnesses, said Paul Bowden, district attorney for the Tifton Judicial Circuit.

No hearing has been scheduled yet at the high court, but since all parties have filed briefs, the court must issue a decision on the subject by March, said Jane Hansen, spokeswoman for the Georgia Supreme Court.

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.

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