The Disappearance of Tara Grinstead

This week, we will be investigating the disappearance of 30-year-old Georgia beauty queen and history teacher, Tara Grinstead. We will also be trying some new things visuals-wise with the format of this week’s blog post to hopefully cut down on length, spice up the routine, and of course – fulfill this week’s #SMPASocial blog assignments.

I first learned about the Tara Grinstead case – and I’m sure that many others did as well – thanks to a relatively new, fantastically produced podcast investigating the mystery called Up and Vanished. For the sake of brevity, and not to steal the podcast’s thunder, the investigation here will exclude the many paths and revelations the podcast has made. If you are interested in this case, or true crime investigation in general, I definitely encourage you to check out the podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

So – let’s get to it.

The Case

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A file photo of Tara Grinstead, from FindTara.com.

Tara Grinstead was a 30-year-old beautiful brunette who had competed in many beauty pageants – even the Ms. Georgia competition. After college, she became a high school history teacher at Irwin County High in Ocilla, GA, and dated a local cop for many years. Students and her co-workers at the high school saw Tara as a “happy” person who was leading a “charmed” life.

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The last known photo of Tara on October 22, 2005, from Justice for Tara Grinstead.

But in October 2005, that all changed.

On Saturday, October 22, 2005, Tara attended the annual Miss Georgia Sweet Potato Pageant in Fitzgerald, GA, to coach some local girls that she knew . Afterwards, witnesses recount that Tara mentioned she was leaving the pageant early to attend a “cookout” with the family of a former county school superintendent. She left the cookout at 11 PM that night, and was never seen again.

The day after the cookout, Tara’s family and friends attempted to call her, but she did not answer. When Tara did not show up for school on Monday, her co-workers called the police and officially reported Tara as missing. The police visited Tara’s house and found her clothes from Saturday on the floor, her cellphone charging in her bedroom, and her car in the driveway. But Tara was nowhere to be found, and still has not been found to this day.

Where did Tara Grinstead go?

The Evidence

This case relies on a lot of pieces of specific, physical evidence that has been collected throughout the many years and investigations. This week, instead of going through the conclusions presented from the evidence, and since the case is relatively recent, we’ll be taking a look at the actual evidence itself. Description of the evidence can be found in the photos’ captions.

The majority of these photos are from the Justice for Tara Grinstead Facebook page, which was created and curated by an independent investigator in the case, Dr. Maurice Godwin, who was hired by the family to work on the case. Dr. Godwin continues to work on the case today.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Suspects

Tara had a long list of rumored lovers, which also racks up the suspect count. Since there are so many, we’ll only go over the most discussed suspects here, but this blog has a full list of all the people of interest.

Marcus Harper
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Marcus and Tara together, from Web Sleuths.

Although Tara reportedly had many romantic interests, often in quick succession, she dated Marcus Harper (at left, photo from Web Sleuths) for six years. Although Marcus described his relationship with Tara as a “commitment”, he added that he was “honest” with her about the fact that he had no intentions of marriage.

Although some news outlets reported that Tara was left brokenhearted, Marcus revealed that it was Tara that broke up with him well before she went missing. In an interview with Fox News, Marcus also revealed that Tara had come to him after the breakup “crying” and “very irrational”, and saying that if she found out Marcus was dating someone else, she would commit suicide. But, Marcus did start dating other people after the break-up, including a woman who was younger than Tara.

However, a couple things make it seem as though Marcus may be involved, even though his DNA does not match the glove found in Tara’s yard. The long, emotional e-mail Tara sent Marcus’ mom, seen above, mentions something “happening” to Tara and/or Marcus, and is dated several days before Tara’s disappearance. Additionally, Tara lodged a complaint against a Ocilla police officer, who was friendly with Marcus. The night of Tara’s disappearance, witnesses saw Marcus doing a ride-along with his police friend. Not to mention, Marcus had previously been living out of the Ocilla area, but had moved back only weeks before Tara went missing.

Anthony Vickers
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Anthony Vickers, from Web Sleuths.

A former student of Tara’s, Anthony Vickers, claims that he had a relationship with Tara. A few months before Tara went missing, Anthony showed up at her house, and according to witnesses, began banging on her door and trying to barge in. Although there was not much more investigation done into this suspect, his past violent attempts to get to Tara are something to note.

Heath Dykes
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Heath Dykes from Web Sleuths.

Heath Dykes is a married police officer from another area of Georgia who was also, reportedly, in a relationship with Tara. Over the weekend Tara disappeared, Dykes supposedly left Tara 22 voice mails and left his business card at her house, where he was seen around 12:15 AM on that Monday. Dykes had also behaved somewhat strangely in the past, including calling Tara’s mom late at night while he was in Tara’s yard. Dykes was married and had several children, making an affair with Tara plenty of ammunition for a motive to abduct – or even kill.

The Theory

I believe that Marcus Harper was involved with what happened and had his police friend help with a cover-up. I think Heath Dykes heard about the cover-up through the police grapevine, couldn’t believe what he heard about Tara, and went to Ocilla that weekend to see if she was ok. But most of all, I don’t believe that anything started out as intentional.

It may have looked like Tara was leading a “charmed” life, but her e-mail to Marcus’ mother, only a few days before her disappearance, shows a person who is distraught, emotional, and potentially irrational. I think the situation Tara was referring to in that e-mail was Marcus dating other women, and not returning back to her.

That night, Marcus was hanging out with his cop buddy, and decided to go confront Tara about the situation, now that he had backup in case something went wrong. When he arrived at Tara’s house late that night, something *did* go wrong – he and Tara got in a fight, and he either lost his temper and hurt her, or she made good on her promise to commit suicide and actually hurt herself, thus the lack of a sign of a struggle.

Afraid of what this could look like for the both of them, Marcus and his cop friend took Tara’s body in the middle of the night and buried it on Snapdragon Rd. A few nights later, they burned down the car and house there to burn the remains with it. During the initial investigation, the cop friend planted the latex glove with some random DNA to throw the police off the trail.

But, here’s the catch – I think there has been police cover-up, at least within Ocilla PD. It’s possible that the police knew that what the cop who helped Marcus did was wrong, and want to shield him from punishment. Or, if Tara did really hurt/kill herself, they want to shield the family from the truth. Either way – someone in that police department knows something.

The End?

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From MissingTara.com.

This billboard still sits in Ocilla, GA, waiting for someone to finally come forward with the truth about Tara. However, if it was in fact the result of a cover-up, the truth may be even harder to come by.

The disappearance of Tara has intrigued many, but has also been a source of pain for her family. Tara’s mother recently passed away, never knowing the truth about her daughter. It’s a hard realization that, in many of these cases, the mysterious comes with an equally heavy dose of pain for the family and friends of the victims.

So, this week’s post is not only here to remind you to always seek truth, but to also think about the human implications of the news stories and soundbites we hear every day. Everybody is somebody’s child, parent, friend, or sibling, and we can’t forget that concealing the truth can cause true pain for those affected.

What do you think happened to Tara Grinstead? Is there a cover-up at play, or was Tara simply the result of a random attack?

UPDATE (2/27): On February 23, 2017, an arrest was made in this case. Click here to learn more.

6 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Tara Grinstead

  1. As someone who is obsessed with the Innocence Project, I usually point to the police covering it up. It’s very suspicious that she had close relations to police and it also happens that the police couldn’t solve her case. Did they ever find her body or anything? A case I’ve been recently interested in is the unsolved case of JonBenet Ramsey. There’s a recent Lifetime documentary series of investigators starting from scratch and trying to solve it once and for all. I’d be interested to hear what you think happened in that case. Great blog topic. The suspense in waiting for next weeks post is killing me. Looking forward to your future posts!

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    1. Hey! Thanks for the nice comment. Nope – her remains have never been found, even though there have been a couple close calls, and of course the suspicious cadaver dogs. And yes – JonBenet is probably one of the most famous unsolved cases, so I may look into it! There are so many theories, and so many new documentaries, it seems like there’s so much evidence to go through. Thanks for the read!

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  2. So sad! Wow, until I started reading your blog I didn’t realize that there were so many cases that are still unknown. I think that your theory about what happened with Tara makes the most logical sense. It’s terrible that her mother had to go through all of that and never know what happened to her daughter. Once again, I really enjoyed your post. The text in the photos was a little tricky to read because I couldn’t zoom in, but other than that it was great! Thanks so much for sharing! Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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  3. Is it bad that I love reading these kinds of stories? Maybe fascinated by is a better term than love, but I find these cases so so interesting. And thanks for the new podcast recommendation! These disappearances are always covered in a multitude of ways and its so interesting to read the different takes. I listen to My Favorite Murder, Case File and Last Podcast on the Left, so this is another to add to the list!

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  4. Lauren, I was looking forward to this! I follow the Up and Vanished podcast, so I liked how this finally put some pictures to the story. I think you did a nice job highlighting key words, it’s somewhat of a small detail but it kept me on your page. For a story that I know has many twists, turns, and unknowns you did a great job sticking to the important facts. Also your posts are very well organized, awesome!

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