On the last day she was seen, Saturday, Oct. 22, Tara spent the day with Dana and the pageant girls at home, then went to the Miss Georgia Sweet Potato pageant that evening.
At 8 p.m., she stopped by the house of a neighbor and stayed there for a half hour before going to a cookout a few blocks from her home.
According to Rothwell, she remained at the cookout until about 11 p.m., when she left to go home. Rothwell says they found the clothes she wore at the cookout on the floor of her bedroom, leading investigators to believe that she had come home from the cookout.
But from that moment on, he says they “have no idea” what happened to her.
Hours after Tara was reported missing, Irwin County students and teachers sprang into action. “We made flyers and at 11 o’clock at night people wanted to go put these out everywhere. We all wanted Tara back. And we were willing to do whatever we could,” Dana remembers.
Volunteers and local authorities joined in a massive search for the missing teacher. But in a place the size of Irwin County, finding Tara was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
So far, GBI investigator Gary Rothwell has had very few clues in the case. “There was no sign of a struggle, no sign of forced entry, there’s no windows broken,” he explains.
Tara’s car was still in the carport, but her purse and keys were missing. It looked to investigators like Tara may have left with someone she knew. “No one in close proximity to her residence heard any screaming that night. So, if you accept the premise that she left in a vehicle. Yes, it would be likely she left in one that was driven by someone she knew,” Rothwell says.
Investigators put Tara’s life under the microscope and soon discovered it was not as simple as they expected. “One of the things that made this case so complicated is that she did have several romantic relationships that occurred in relative proximity to one another,” Rothwell says.
Investigators first focused on her ex-boyfriend, former cop and Army Ranger Marcus Harper. “We learned that Tara and Marcus had had a relationship lasting approximately six years,” Rothwell says.
It had been a stormy romance. “Their relationship had been troubled for the last two years. And during that time they both had dated other people. But Tara was absolutely in love with Marcus,” Connie says.
But just two weeks before she disappeared, Marcus told Tara their relationship was over for good. Connie says Tara was “absolutely devastated.”
Marcus told journalist and TV host Greta Van Susteren the last time he saw Tara was a week before she vanished when she begged him not to leave her. “She approached me crying, she was very irrational, and she told me that if she found out I was dating someone, she would commit suicide,” he said.
But Osjha says this doesn’t sound like the Tara she knew. “She’s never said anything remotely similar to me ever any time.”
Rothwell doesn’t believe Tara committed suicide either. “The circumstances just don’t fit a suicide. And given the search for her, we believe she would have been found by now. It’s very difficult to hide your own body,” he points out.
On the last night Tara was seen, Marcus says he was at a bar with friends, then rode around town until dawn with a former partner on the local police force. “Mr. Harper provided an alibi and it was essentially substantiated,” Rothwell says.
And there was no history of violence in their relationship.