Tara Grinstead: High-School Teacher’s Disappearance Solved 12 Years Later


In 2005, a high school teacher named Tara Grinstead vanished from her home in Ocilla, Georgia. Her case went unsolved for over a decade until a tip gave investigators a solid lead that helped them discover the truth. This is the chilling true story of the disappearance of Tara Grinstead.


Tara was born in Hawkinsville, Georgia, in 1974. As a young woman, she entered beauty pageants and was crowned Miss Tifton in 1999. She attended Middle Georgia College and used her winnings from pageant entries to help pay for her tuition.

She worked as a high school teacher after earning her master’s degree in education from Valdosta State University. At the time of her disappearance in 2005, she was employed at Irwin County High School in Ocilla, Georgia.


On October 22, 2005, Tara helped coach a local beauty pageant for young contestants. She was last seen that evening when she attended a barbecue with some friends. The young teacher lived alone at the time, so her disappearance went unnoticed until October 24, a Monday, when she failed to appear for work.

This was extremely unusual. Tara wasn’t known to miss work, especially without alerting the school. Her coworkers immediately contacted the authorities, who conducted a thorough investigation of Grinstead’s home. Local police found her vehicle in the driveway and her cellphone in the residence before alerting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation about the case. The GBI detected no signs of a struggle at her residence and the case went cold due to a lack of evidence.

Later Developments

The case saw scattered bursts of interest in subsequent years. In 2009, a video was uploaded to the internet in which an anonymous person claimed to have attacked 16 women. One of his supposed victims was Tara Grinstead. H0wever, a police investigation determined that the video was a fake made by a 27-year-old named Andrew Haley, and the investigation went cold again. 

Grinstead was declared dead in absentia in 2010

In 2016, a true-crime podcast called Up and Vanished highlighted Tara’s disappearance, leading to an influx of new tips in the case. The GBI announced on February 23, 2017, that a tip led to the arrest of Ryan Alexander Duke, a man from Georgia who attended Irwin County High School in 2002.

What Happened?

Prosecutors alleged that Duke attempted to rob Tara’s house but was caught by his former teacher.  In the ensuing struggle, prosecutors argue, Duke strangled Grinstead before hiding her body in a nearby pecan orchard.

Duke’s murder trial was originally scheduled to begin on April 1, 2019, but has since been delayed into 2022. Another man, Bo Dukes, was found guilty of lying to the GBI during the initial investigation and helping Ryan Duke hide the body. In 2019, Bo Dukes was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the crime.