UPDATE: Justice for Tara Grinstead

The last case I investigated on this blog was the disappearance of Ocilla, GA beauty queen Tara Grinstead – a case that had not been solved in almost fifteen years.

Shockingly, a few days after I published the post, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation made an announcement that changed everything.

After twelve years, there has finally been an arrest in the disappearance and murder of Tara Grinstead.

The premise of this blog was originally to explore a new unsolved crime each week. However, that premise was predicated on my assumption that none of the cases I covered would actually be solved during the time of writing, especially only days after I covered them. And now – here we are.

So, this week, we’ll take a detour from our normal route to finally (maybe) get the answer that no one saw coming to the perpetual question of “Whodunnit?”. Because, normally in life, happy endings don’t exist – but when they do, they often bring a whopping plate of much-needed justice along with them.

Who is it?

Tara’s alleged killer, Ryan Alexander Duke, 33 of Ocilla, GA.

The suspect is Ryan Alexander Duke, a 33-year old man from Ocilla, GA. Ryan had never come up as a suspect in prior investigations. As GBI agent J.T. Ricketson puts it, “this gentleman never came up on our radar.” Ryan is currently charged with burglary, aggravated assault, murder and concealing a death.

Ryan attended the high school where Tara taught history, and graduated three years before her disappearance. Wendy McFarland, a coworker and friend of Tara’s, remembers Ryan as a “bright” and “polite” high school athlete who played on the school’s tennis and football teams. It is still unclear whether or not Tara had ever actually taught Ryan.

Ryan Duke’s Senior Photo, from 13WMAZ.com.

How did he do it?

According to the arrest warrant, Ryan burglarized Tara’s home, and then used his hands to kill her inside her own residence. He then “knowingly, intentionally and willingly” removed Tara’s body from the scene to conceal her death. Tara’s remains have yet to be found, and investigators have yet to publicly identify Ryan’s motive for the crime.

There are still many questions surrounding this case. Teasers of the Up and Vanished podcast suggest that the confession slipped when Ryan was drunk at a party, and that he burned her body in a pecan orchard. Some investigators, and the podcast itself, suggest that more people were involved in the murder besides Ryan. Only time will tell, at this point, exactly how the crime played out.

How did they catch him?

On February 23, 2017, the GBI announced a surprise press conference regarding Tara’s disappearance – someone even commented on my last post notifying me that the press conference was happening. During the conference, the head of the GBI announced that, through a walk-in tip and a series of interviews, they had collected enough probable cause to arrest Ryan Duke, and had taken him into custody already.

Exactly who made the original tip is still unknown.

Personally, I’d like to think that the podcast dedicated to the case, Up and Vanished, played a role in helping to bring Tara’s killer to the light. Even though the case itself has existed since 2005, the podcast had only began six months before the arrest was made. Whether the podcast itself actually turned up a case-breaking clue or simply stirred the pot enough to get people talking about Tara again, I think the relatively increased attention that the podcast brought to the case was the ultimate clincher.

If this is the case, it would be a big deal in the podcasting world. While many true-crime podcasts exist (spurred by the notorious phenomenon of Serial), this would perhaps be the first time that a podcast brought about the solution to a major cold case – that is, if it’s confirmed that it actually made an impact.

What’s Next?

In the coming months, investigators will continue interviewing community members and gathering evidence, but this time, with a renewed focus given the recent revelations. If more concrete details emerge in a timely manner, I will provide updates on this blog as determined necessary.

The impending solution of this case has brought comfort and closure to Tara’s family and friends, and to the Ocilla community as a whole.

It also serves as a pertinent reminder that, even if all the ends seem dead and the trails seem cold, the truth is out there, and is worth seeking in the end.

For the latest updates in Tara’s case, follow the Up and Vanished podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, or Twitter.

2 thoughts on “UPDATE: Justice for Tara Grinstead

  1. This is so crazy that a case that’s been cold for this long has an arrest finally! I really enjoyed how you kept your easy to follow breakdown of what happened, it really made it easy to understand something that could have been complicated and confusing. And I just love that a podcast could have been the thing to break the case open, and that you note just how big this could be for podcasts.


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