MACON, Ga. -- Thursday marked 10 years since the last time anyone reported seeing or talking to Tara Grinstead.

She was a 30-year-old history teacher and former beauty queen, raised in Hawkinsville and living in Ocilla at the time of her disappearance.

Ocilla is located in Irwin County about 100 miles southeast of Macon.

More News

Next Story

Not Available

Just For You

Not Available

Trending

Not Available

11Alive's sister station, 13WMAZ, was there in the days after Grinstead went missing. They returned to find so much, yet so little changed over a decade.

"Every year when the weather changes to cool, it just reminds us of Tara," Wendy McFarland, a fellow teacher at Irwin County High School, said. "Because it was those cool mornings and nights that we were out looking for her."

Images of late October 2005 play like a worn out movie in McFarland's memory, and as many times as she watches it, it never ends. McFarland was one of the last people to talk to Tara Grinstead. They spoke on the phone around 10 p.m. the night of Saturday, October 22, 2005.

"She had just come in from her pageant and was on her way to the barbecue," McFarland said. "Then, we never heard from her again."

Grinstead lived alone, so it wasn't until Monday morning when she didn't show up at school that friends raised red flags.

"We knew something was wrong immediately," McFarland said. "She was not the kind of teacher that would not show up without alerting somebody."

Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock recalled the same date.

"That morning, I was in my office when I received a telephone call from Tara's neighbor," he said.

Hancock drove the couple of blocks from his office to Grinstead's home. He found her car parked in the carport, the dog in the backyard and nothing out of place, except Tara.

"Everything looked normal," Hancock said. "I expected a car to pull-up anytime, and her say, 'What are you guys doing at my house?' That didn't happen."

Within a couple of hours, Hancock called in reinforcements.

"I realized this thing might really be really bad," Gary Rothwell said, who, at the time, was the Special Agent in Charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation office in Perry.

Rothwell didn't like the sound of the circumstances. He quickly dispatched six investigators to Ocilla, including himself.

"We treated it as if she had been abducted from the beginning," he said.

The police, hundreds of searchers and national media poured into Ocilla within 24 hours. They set-up a command post, tip lines and scoured the landscape on foot looking for traces of Tara.

Rothwell said they interviewed friends of Grinstead, family and co-workers. More than 200 people, in all, were interviewed. He says they never calling any of them a suspect or even a person of interest. Still, they can't clear anyone from her disappearance.

It was after three years that Rothwell decided to make public a key piece of evidence. It was a latex glove found in Grinstead's front yard with a partial print inside.

"We felt that was guilty knowledge, something that the offender will only know," Rothwell said.

Releasing the evidence served Rothwell's purpose, generating new leads. But ultimately, it produced the same old outcome.

"I can say we've compared it to everybody," J.T. Ricketson said, who is the current Special Agent in Charge at the Perry GBI office. "We've done DNA samples from so far, and we don't have a match."

He said his agents constantly review the case file, which is now the largest file in the GBI's nearly 80-year history.

"You can only have hope in this kind of case," Ricketson said.

He says now that hope lies in technological advances. A private lab recently retested evidence from the glove, further separating trace amounts of DNA.

"They were able to give us something we didn't have ten years ago," he said.

He said he isn't ready to say exactly what they found, but calls it reason to keep searching. Although after ten years, Rothwell, who is now retired from the GBI and works the case as a private investigator, said it's much more a search for evidence in a crime than a missing person.

"I think about Tara virtually everyday, and I certainly think about her when October comes around," 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."

McFarland said it is a pain that never leaves her either.

"I believe the truth shall set you free, and I pray one day we will get that," she said.

But for now, time stands still. Grinstead's friends, family and the town are still held captive by the unknown.

"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."

It's a void only the peace of justice can fill. And they pray one day, October will roll in to Ocilla, not with the chill of unanswered questions, but the warmth of Tara Grinstead's memories.

If you have information on the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, you can call the GBI Tipline at 1-800-597-8477 or the GBI's Perry Office at 478-987-4545.

GBI Tips: Submit Online Tips Here