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Was a beauty queen-turned-teacher murdered by a former student from her school?

The Tara Grinstead Mystery
The Tara Grinstead Mystery 41:47

The disappearance of 30-year-old Tara Grinstead mystified the small community of Ocilla Georgia, known for its friendly small-town America values and vast pecan orchards.

And for more than a decade, pecan orchards held the secret of what happened to the one-time beauty pageant contestant, who was enjoying a successful career as a teacher.

"48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant investigates the young woman's disappearance and the quest for answers in the case he's covered since 2008 in "The Tara Grinstead Mystery,"  reairing Saturday, August 20 at 10/9c on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.

On the afternoon of Saturday, October 22, 2005, Tara had helped younger contestants prepare for a local beauty pageant.  Afterwards she went to a barbecue. Sometime around 11 p.m. she returned to the small house where she lived alone.

When she failed to show up to teach her history class on Monday morning at Irwin County High School, her friends knew something was wrong. "She would never do that, she would never leave her kids," said her best friend Maria Woods Harber.

Maria went to Tara's home and noticed her car in the driveway. She followed police inside. Tara's purse and keys were missing, her alarm clock was under the bed and a bedside lamp was broken — but there was no other overt sign of a struggle.

Investigators received hundreds of tips, but nothing panned out. But in 2017, a woman named Brooke Sheridan came forward with a remarkable story.  She said her boyfriend, Bo Dukes, appeared to have been keeping a secret from her.  She said she had prodded him to confess what had been eating away at him.  Finally, she says, he told her his secret: that years earlier his roommate Ryan Duke [similar name, no relation], woke him up one morning and told him he had "accidentally" killed Tara after trying to rob her in her home. The two men had attended Irwin County High School. In fact, Bo had been a student in one of Tara's classes.

Bo Dukes and Ryan Duke
Bo Dukes, left, and  Ryan Duke. AP/Georgia Bureau of Information

Bo said that Ryan told him he had used Bo's truck to transport her body to a pecan orchard owned by Bo's family. Later, Bo said that Ryan showed Bo him the exact location where he had dumped Tara's body. Bo told Brooke he helped Ryan burn Tara's body in a fire pit, which took two days.

After Bo told his story to authorities, Ryan Duke was arrested and charged with murder. In a voluntary interview with the GBI just before his arrest, Ryan Duke said he had been stealing from Tara's purse, high on drugs, when Grinstead came up behind him and he hit her. Bo Dukes was also arrested and charged —  not with murder —   but on charges related to helping to cover up a crime. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years.

In May 2022, Ryan Duke went on trial for Tara's murder. Ryan testified that he gave investigators a false confession back in 2017 – claiming he had taken painkillers before that interview with the GBI, and that he had been afraid of his former friend, Bo Dukes. On the stand, Ryan said that it was really Bo Dukes who killed Grinstead, and Ryan admitted that he had helped Bo move Tara's body, before Bo lit the fire. After more than seven days of testimony, Ryan Duke was acquitted of all charges relating to Tara Grinstead's murder, and was convicted only of concealing her death. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on that charge.

Both men have outstanding charges against them in a neighboring county, relating to burning Tara's body there.

"What happened in this orchard was senseless…" says Woods Harber. And as for what really happened to Tara on the night that she disappeared? "I've had to come to a conclusion that I'm just gonna have to live the rest of my life not knowing."

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