It’s been 12 years since authorities walked into the home of Ocilla, Georgia teacher Tara Grinstead after co-workers asked police to conduct a welfare check. Her purse and keys were gone, but her phone was still charging inside her bedroom and her car had still been parked in the driveway. Only a single broken lamp indicated that there may have been any sort of struggle. Grinstead had vanished and no one within the sleepy town of Ocilla had any clue what could have happened to the popular teacher and beauty pageant coach.
After reaching out to friends and family of Grinstead, it was learned that she had been helping out with the pageant at the Sweet Potato festival in nearby Fitzgerald the day before her disappearance. Later, she attended a barbecue hosted by the former county school superintendent. There had been no indication that anything had been troubling Grinstead, known for her easy smile and bright personality. There were plenty of questions, but nothing investigators found led to answers.
Investigators say that throughout the years they have been inundated with tips after the case received attention from national news and network television programs like 48 Hours Mystery. In 2009, police thought they had a solid lead when a mysterious self-proclaimed serial killer claimed that he had been behind the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, as well as others. The confession turned out to be an elaborate internet hoax.
It wouldn’t be until February of 2017 that detectives revealed that they had a suspect in custody. After thousands of tips throughout the years, one was finally able to stick.
Ryan Alexander Duke, a former football player and student of Grinstead, is believed to have broken into Grinstead’s home on the night of her disappearance. During the robbery Duke allegedly killed Grinstead and then removed her body.
Full details have yet to emerge in the case as Duke awaits trial. While we still may not have all of the answers to what happened to Tara Grinstead, the arrest of Duke has offered closure to the tight-knit community of Ocilla.