Former Student On Trial For Beauty Queen Teacher’s Murder

Tara Grinstead, 30, was last seen leaving a dinner party in October 2005. The case remained unsolved for over a decade but now her former student is accused of her murder.

May 06, 2022
Tara Grinstead [main] was a teacher and former beauty queen when she went missing in 2005. Now her former student Ryan Duke [inset] is on trial for her murder.

Tara Grinstead, 30, was last seen leaving a dinner party in October 2005. The case remained unsolved for over a decade but now her former student, Ryan Duke, is accused of her murder.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. [main]; Associated Press [inset]

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. [main]; Associated Press [inset]

The jury selection process began May 2, in 36-year-old Ryan Duke’s upcoming trial for the murder of Tara Grinstead. The prosecution and the defense are now trying to choose 12 jurors out of the hundreds of people who have been summoned to the Irwin County Courthouse in Ocilla, Georgia. According to FOX 5 Atlanta, seating a jury in this case could take two weeks..

Ryan Alexander Duke is charged with felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault, burglary, and concealing a death. He was initially charged in 2017 in connection with the 2005 killing of Grinstead when he was 21. Prosecutors say that, in February 2017, Duke confessed to murdering Grinstead.

Tara Grinstead was a beloved high school history teacher and former beauty pageant winner. Born in 1974, she and her older sister Anita had a normal childhood. At 25, she had won the title of Miss Tifton and had competed in the Miss Georgia pageant three times, PEOPLE reported.

Grinstead started teaching at Irwin County High School in 1998, and she was known to go above and beyond for her students. She gave them her cell phone number and she also made sure every student was able to go to the prom even if they couldn’t afford it, loaning them money to buy dresses, if needed.

Grinstead, then 30, was last seen alive leaving a dinner party on October 22, 2005. Police were called two days later when she didn’t show up for work. Authorities went to her home in the rural town of Ocilla, Georgia, which is approximately two hours south of Atlanta.

They discovered that Grinstead’s car was outside, and her cell phone was left charging inside her home. Her keys and purse were nowhere to be found.

“It just never felt right, it felt like something was just wrong,” Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock said at the time.

Local police immediately called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) on day one when they realized the seriousness of Grinstead’s mysterious disappearance. Many GBI investigators will serve as witnesses in Duke’s trial.

For more than a decade, the case remained unsolved, and then, in 2016, the Up and Vanished podcast brought new attention to the case. In 2017, two of Grinstead’s former students were arrested in connection with the case: Ryan Duke and his former best friend Bo Dukes. (Despite the similar last names, they have no relation to each other.)

In March 2019, Bo Dukes was sentenced to 25 years in prison when he was convicted of helping conceal Grinstead's death. He confessed to helping Duke burn the body of a woman he allegedly killed by accident.

According to CourtTV, an agent from the GBI testified at a pretrial hearing that, in February 2017, Ryan Duke confessed to killing Grinstead when she caught him burglarizing her home to steal money for drugs.

Duke now claims his confession was false and is pleading not guilty in Tara Grinstead’s murder.

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