IRWIN COUNTY, Ga. – A grand jury has indicted Ryan Duke on six counts for teacher and beauty queen, Tara Grinstead’s murder.
The 33-year-old, who was arrested in February—11 years following Grinstead's disappearance—was indicted on one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of burglary and one count of concealing death.
Court documents allege that he broke into Grinstead's Ocilla, Ga., home in and used his hands to kill her, then disposed of her body in October 2005.
Grinstead was a teacher at Irwin County High School, where Duke was student more than a decade ago.
An Irwin County magistrate judge told Duke, during his first court appearance in February, that he was accused of using "his hands in an offensive manner with the intent to cause bodily harm."
Anita Gattis, Grinstead's sister, gave the following statement to 13WMAZ.
"For the last month and a half, our family has tried to process all that happened during the last week in February. It still makes no sense to me, my husband or any of Tara's loved one. The 11 plus years of not knowing has been almost unbearable. Even after these two arrests, we still have so many questions. We have anxiously awaited for April 12. Our prayer is that the grand jury meeting today in Irwin County will hand down an indictment against Ryan Alexander Duke."
Following Duke's arrest, his high school classmate, Bo Dukes, 32, was arrested and charged with concealing death, hindering apprehension and tampering with evidence. He faces those charges in Ben Hill County, Ga.
The Savannah, Ga., native waived his first court appearance in front of the Hon. Lisa McCard in March at Ben Hill County Magistrate Court. He was released the same day on a $16,700 bond and left the Ben Hill Sheriff’s Department.
Here's what we know about Dukes.
- Dukes was classmates with Duke at Irwin County High School, where Grinstead was a teacher.
- He was arrested and convicted of theft in 2013, when he stole $150,000 in goods from the Army with his wife, Emily.
- Bo was sentenced to 27 months in prison and was released in 2015, after serving just over two years in federal prison. He was required to attend AA meetings once a week for the first 12 months after his release.
- Dukes' uncle, Randy Hudson, owns Fitzgerald Farms off Bowen Mill Highway 129 in Ben Hill County, the pecan orchard where officials have been searching for Grinstead's remains.
- He was charged with concealing her death at his uncle's pecan farm.
- Dukes is also the grandson of former Ga. State Rep. Newt Hudson.
After 12 years, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced a major break in Tara Grinstead’s disappearance when the GBI announced that Ryan Alexander Duke was arrested and charged in Grinstead's murder.
Authorities said that the arrest was made after someone came forward with new information.
The suspect "never came up on our radar" during the investigation into Grinstead's disappearance, investigators said at a February news conference.
Authorities provided little other information into the details of Grinstead's disappearance or death at the news conference.
According to arrest warrants obtained by 11Alive, Duke committed the murder during a burglary of Grinstead's home on Oct. 23, 2005.
It was Oct. 22, 2005.
Grinstead, an Irwin County High School teacher, left the Sweet Potato Festival and headed to a cookout with friends. But that’s the last time anyone saw her.
Police found the 30-year-old’s cell phone, car and dog, Dolly Madison, at her Ocilla, Ga., home--about 200 miles south of Atlanta. But her keys and purse were missing. And there was no sign of break-in or signs of struggle.
While police questioned several people close to her, including an ex-boyfriend, no arrests were ever made.
"We knew something was immediately wrong," Wendy McFarland, a co-worker, told 11Alive two years ago. "She was not the kind of teacher that would not show up without alert somebody."
"I realized this thing might really be really bad," Gary Rothwell, who at the time was the Special Agent in Charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation office in Perry, said.
"We treated it as if she had been abducted from the beginning," he said.
Rothwell said the GBI interviewed more than 200 people, never calling any of them a suspect or even a person of interest. Still, they were not able to clear anyone from her disappearance either.
Hundreds poured into the small town, tucked away in the deep south, within 24 hours, setting up a command post, tip lines and scoured the landscape on foot looking for traces of the missing beauty queen.
After a massive community-led search ended with zero leads or answers, investigators focused on Grinstead's life.
Her ex-boyfriend was a former Army Ranger; a married police officer had left a business card in her door; there was an incident involving a former student attempting to break into her home, police said.
But one thing that investigators really zeroed in on was a piece of evidence: a single latex glove found adjacent to her house in the yard. After a test, there was trace DNA evidence found in the glove.
Again, they came up empty-handed. No match found.
In 2011, the Irwin County Sheriff said that he received a tip telling him to search near a bridge on Reedy Creek.
A dive team and deputies searched for more than four hours, but found nothing, Special Agent in Charge J.T. Ricketson, of the GBI's Perry office, said.
In February 2015, investigators also drained a pond in Fitzgerald, Ga., in Ben Hill County, after another tip came in, Ricketson said. The pond was a few miles from Grinstead’s home.
Ricketson would not describe the tips or the evidence that was found at that time, as it needed further review and analysis.
"It's an old case, but it's not a cold case," Ricketson said.
"You can only have hope in this kind of case," he said about the file that is now the largest file in the GBI's 80-year history.
Rothwell, who is now retired from the GBI, said it's much more a search for evidence in a crime than a missing person.
"I think about Tara virtually every day," he said. "I can tell you the dates and the times of the occurrences that happened that weekend, and those are things that are burned in my memory. I don't think I'll ever forget them."
The community will also never forget her.
"Every year when the weather changes to cool, it just reminds us of Tara," McFarland said. "Because it was those cool mornings and nights that we were out looking for her."
"Ten years, 10 days, 10 months, it's all the same," McFarland said. "That hole doesn't get bigger or smaller. It just remains the hole."
Now, maybe that hole could finally be closed.
"I believe the truth shall set you free, and I pray one day we will get that," McFarland said.
According to warrants, Duke is accused of entering Grinstead's home, burglarizing it and hurting her with his hands. The warrants allege that he tried to conceal her death by removing her body from the home.
Grinstead’s family has asked the community for their continued support.
"So many people have been hurt by this,” Grinstead’s mother said in a joint press conference with the GBI in February. “We hope with time that so many people in this community can have closure."
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