[Editor's note: On May 24, 2022, Ryan Duke was sentenced to 10 years in prison for hiding the body of Tara Grinstead. On May 21, a jury acquitted him of murder in her 2005 death. Duke testified that he gave investigators a false confession after a friend killed Grinstead. He was convicted only of concealing her death.]
A beloved Georgia H,S. teacher went missing in 2005. Over 11 years later, an unexpected arrest -- but will we ever know the truth of what happened?
Tara Grinstead was a 30-year-old history teacher at the Irwin County High School in Ocilla, Georgia, when she was reported missing on October 24, 2005.
A Steadfast Friend
Tara's best friend, Maria Woods Harber, grew up with Tara in Hawkinsville, Georgia, about an hour north of Ocilla. "She was radiant," says Maria. "I mean, she had the biggest smile. She could tell you anything to make you feel better."
Tara Grinstead had dreams of being a school administrator, and even someday a school principal. At the time she went missing, she was attending night school to earn a specialist degree.
Scholarship Money for School
Tara Grinstead competed in beauty pageants to win scholarship money to further her education.
Miss Tifton 1999
In 1999, Tara Grinstead won the Miss Tifton pageant, which landed her a spot at the 1999 Miss Georgia competition. "Her main goal was to win Miss Georgia or at least to get to Miss Georgia, and she did," remembers Maria Woods Harber.
A Pageant Mentor
When Tara Grinstead no longer competed, she mentored other young women in the Ocilla area in the world of pageants. "She just took me underneath her wing," remembers Dana Wilder. "She taught me the ins and outs of interviews, hair and makeup, wardrobe."
A Fractured Relationship
For around 6 years, Tara Grinstead dated Marcus Harper, a former Ocilla cop who joined the Army Rangers. Marcus was often overseas, and though they had broken up by the fall of 2005, friends say Tara was distraught about the relationship ending.
A No-Show at School
Tara Grinstead was passionate about her job – teaching history at Irwin County High School. She was also the cheerleading coach. It was when she didn't show up at school on the morning of Monday, October 24,, 2005, that friends and neighbors knew something was very wrong.
No Signs of Tara at Home
When police entered Tara Grinstead's home, just down the street from downtown Ocilla, they didn't find much amiss. Her Halloween decorations were up, and there were beauty supplies left out from when Tara had helped girls prepare for the local Sweet Potato Pageant the Saturday before.
The Latex Glove
But outside, in front of Tara's house, authorities found something that didn't seem to belong – a latex glove. "It appeared that Tara may have left on her own," said former GBI Special Agent In Charge Gary Rothwell. "However, we had a glove, a latex glove that we couldn't explain. So that gave us a stronger indication that something bad had happened."
Unknown DNA Profile
The latex glove was collected by authorities and sent to a lab for testing. On the glove they not only identified Tara's DNA, but that of an unknown male.
No Persons of Interest
For years, rumors swirled around Ocilla, wondering what happened to Tara Grinstead, and who was responsible. Her dating life was closely examined, and authorities chased down leads across the country, but no one was named a suspect, or even a person of interest in her disappearance.
A Surprising Admission
In 2017, a woman named Brooke Sheridan came forward to the GBI saying that her boyfriend, Bo Dukes, told her that he had helped his friend, Ryan Duke, cover up Grinstead's murder. The men had similar names, but were not related. They had attended the Irwin County High School together.
The Pecan Orchard
Bo Dukes then sat down for an interview with the GBI, and told them that in October 2005, Ryan Duke came to him saying he had killed Grinstead and dumped her body in a pecan orchard that Bo Dukes' family owned. Dukes said that together, he and Ryan Duke burned Grinstead's body there in the orchard over the period of two days.
11 Years Later - An Arrest
After Bo Dukes, left, went to the GBI, Ryan Duke, right, was arrested and charged with Tara's murder. Bo was arrested weeks later on charges relating to covering up the crime. Notes from a 2017 GBI interview with Ryan leaked out, saying he "broke into Grinstead's house and was attempting to steal from her purse when he believed she came up behind him… he struck her with his fist. Duke did not mean to strike Grinstead, but he was just reacting and scared."
In 2019, Bo Dukes, pictured, went on trial first in Wilcox County, Georgia. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
On May 21, 2022, a jury acquitted Ryan Duke of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and burglary but found him guilty of concealing a death, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
On May 24, Ryan Duke was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the maximum punishment allowed. Duke has already served about half that time in jail awaiting trial.