UPDATE: February 26, 2017: Ex-student used hands to kill teacher in home, warrant says.
UPDATE: February 23, 2017: An arrest has been made in the Tara Grinstead case. Click here for more info.
30-year-old schoolteacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead vanished without a trace on October 22, 2005.
About the Case
On October 22, 2005, Tara attended a local beauty pageant a few miles from her home in Ocilla, Georgia. Later that night, she went to a cookout for a former county school superintendent’s family and went home around 11:00 p.m.
The following Monday when Tara did not show up to teach her high school history class, co-workers called the police and reported her missing.
Police arrived at Tara’s home but found no signs of forced entry or a struggle. The clothes she wore the night of the cookout were in a pile on her bedroom floor. Her cell phone was charging in a wall outlet. A broken lamp was propped up against the wall, and her alarm clock was under the bed. The time displayed was six hours off.
Tara’s purse and keys were missing, but her unlocked car was parked in the driveway. The driver’s seat was pushed back farther than what Tara, who was 5’3″, would have set it. There was an envelope full of cash on the dashboard, but it is unknown if this was Tara’s or her abductor’s.
Tara’s dog and cat were still inside the home. Her family said she would never abandon her pets.
Authorities found a latex glove in Tara’s front yard that contained male DNA and a fingerprint. Police sent it to a laboratory for DNA testing, but the results were inconclusive.
There were a couple of persons of interest in the case. One was her ex-boyfriend, an ex-Ocilla police officer, and Army Ranger named Marcus T. Harper. The couple dated for five years before ending the relationship a year before Tara disappeared. He then began dating an 18-year-old girl.
At the time of Tara’s disappearance, Harper was seen in Ocilla between 2:00 a.m. and 4:45 a.m. sitting in the squad car of police officer Sean Fletcher for a ride-along. Tara had lodged a complaint against Fletcher, but the reason is unclear. Harper’s last known contact with Tara occurred eight days before she vanished.
In an interview, Harper later claimed that Tara called him one night, hysterical and crying, threatening to end her life if she found out he was dating someone else.
Anthony Vickers, a former student of Tara’s, claimed they had an affair. Police records showed Tara filed a complaint against Vickers for showing up at her home and harassing her. However, after checking his alibi, the police ruled him out as a suspect.
The case was complicated even more when it was revealed that Tara had dated several men before she disappeared. Police interviewed all of them, but nothing came from it.
On February 10, 2015, police drained a pond in a wooded area off Satilla Street in Fitzgerald, but her body was not found.
A few months after Tara vanished, 28-year-old Orlando, Florida resident Jennifer Kesse also vanished. Some believe the two cases may be related. Both women were young, attractive, and last seen at home before they disappeared. However, no evidence connects the two cases.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
Oscilla is a tiny town, so I think it’s more than likely Tara knew her abductor. This was no random act of violence.
Here’s what I think happened to Tara. Sometime after she got home from the cookout, someone known to her knocked on her door, and she opened the door willingly, maybe even let them in. I do not believe she was killed inside her own home because there would have been blood evidence of that. I think she was forced out of her own home into the killer or killers’ car and then murdered sometime after.
The question is, why did this person show up at her house so late? What did this person have to talk to her about that couldn’t wait until morning? Or did the person go there to murder Tara? If so, why? What was the motive?
I read that Tara may have been having an affair with a married man. Heath Dykes was a captain in the Perry Police Department at the time. He apparently called her around 20 times the night she disappeared, and his business card was found wedged in Tara’s front door. I don’t believe he put the business card there because Tara would already know how to get a hold of him IF she was having an affair with him. Perhaps, the real killer put it there to get attention on Dykes as a person of interest. But why on earth was he calling her so much that night?
I do not think Vickers had anything to do with it. He was so young at the time. I really do not think someone that young could pull off the perfect murder without telling a single person what he did. I also question if the affair he claims he had with Tara was real. She doesn’t strike me as the type to risk her job over a former student.
The envelope full of cash is interesting. I highly doubt if the money were Tara’s, she would leave it in her car for anyone to come along and steal it. The motive here obviously wasn’t money. It was personal.
So, who had the most to gain from her murder? I think Harper makes the most logical suspect considering he was in town around the time she disappeared. I’m guessing the killer knew she was at the cookout, which would explain that person showing up so late at her house.