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Title: Grinstead, Tara - (10/22/2005)
Description: Irwin County, Georgia


monkalup - March 13, 2006 11:59 AM (GMT)
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http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/georgia...x?storyid=23725

New Investigator in Missing Teacher Case


March 10, 2006 – 6pm

By: Tiffanie Wallace


Nearly five months ago school teacher Tara Grinstead disappeared. Now her family hopes an investigative psychologist will uncover new clues.

No one seems to know what happened to the hawkinsville native even after community searches, interviews and national press coverage.

Dr. Maurice Godwin is a former police office who now specializes in psychological, geographical and environmental profiling.

Friday he spent the day examining Grinstead's home for evidence other investigators overlooked.

Godwin found fingernails, suspicious spots on the floor and an opened window in Grinstead's room.

Godwin says anything out of place can be considered possible evidence until it's tested.

DR. MAURICE GODWIN: PSYCHOLOGICAL INVESTIGATOR
"This is a cold case and it's going toward being ice cold."

Dr. Maurice Godwin says he's given hundreds of cases a year to investigate, but usually only takes on three or four.

Grinstead's sister, Anita Gattis, says the family hopes Godwin will find something that leads them to Tara.

ANITA GATTIS: GRINSTEAD'S SISTER
"It is phenomenal Dr. Godwin has agreed to breath new life into this investigation."

Aside from collecting possible evidence from the home, Godwin wants to examine the roaming signals of Tara Grinstead's cell phone.

He hopes to find out where she went the last night she was seen.

Grinstead was last seen October 22, 2005.

ceestar92 - March 23, 2006 08:12 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/features/fea_p...ara_search.html



2 page article stating a new search for Tara.

monkalup - April 4, 2006 03:13 PM (GMT)
http://www.wsbtv.com/news/8415940/detail.html

Cadaver Dogs Search For Missing Teacher

POSTED: 11:30 pm EST April 1, 2006

FITZGERALD, GA -- Authorities continue to search south-central Georgia for Tara Grinstead after cadaver dogs searching Saturday failed to find the popular teacher.

K-9 handler Angela Batten was expected to bring eight cadaver dogs to an area 10 miles west of Fitzgerald to search for Grinstead, a former beauty queen who has been missing for five months.

Last weekend, the dogs "alerted" at two of the ponds that were checked, Batten said. Sheriff Bobby McLemore said he believed the dogs were hitting on decaying vegetation.

Grinstead, a high school history teacher in neighboring Irwin County, was last seen October 22nd.

Copyright 2006 by WSBTV.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




monkalup - April 4, 2006 03:14 PM (GMT)

monkalup - April 11, 2006 11:18 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...earch_tara.html

School Teacher



by Seamus McGraw

April 11, 2006

OCILLA, Ga. (Crime Library) — Supporters of missing schoolteacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead say they have some promising leads and plan to rally their volunteers for yet another search later this week.

As they have on several recent occasions, supporters are keeping the precise location of the search a secret, fearing, they say, that any advance publicity might compromise their efforts. But according to Larry Gattis, the missing woman's brother in law, the new search, scheduled for Thursday, Friday and possibly Saturday, will focus on an area that has already been combed by volunteers. The location — which will be disclosed to volunteers on Thursday when they convene at what has become the command center for the Find Tara effort — was picked because during one of the earlier searches six out of eight trained cadaver dogs responded to something in the immediate area.



Tara Grinstead


That, Gattis said, convinced Grinstead's supporters that the area warranted a closer look.

So far, of course, neither searchers nor police have found any tangible evidence to indicate what happened to Grinstead. The missing woman's family and supporters have long suspected that the now 31-year-old teacher, who vanished on Oct. 22, may have been abducted. In recent weeks they have said they become increasingly convinced that she was killed, in all likelihood, they maintain, by someone who knew her.

Investigators, including members of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the local police and sheriff's department, have been far less definitive in their statements about the case. Officially, it remains a missing person's case, and authorities say they don't have any evidence that indicates conclusively whether she was a victim of a violent crime or a young woman, under immense pressure from her studies and emotionally overwrought by her troubled love life, who simply ran away.

Contact Seamus McGraw at
seamusm@ptd.net

Seamus McGraw



Ell - April 12, 2006 12:08 AM (GMT)
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http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...earch_tara.html
Grinstead Supporters Plan New Search for Missing School Teacher


by Seamus McGraw

April 11, 2006

OCILLA, Ga. (Crime Library) — Supporters of missing schoolteacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead say they have some promising leads and plan to rally their volunteers for yet another search later this week.

As they have on several recent occasions, supporters are keeping the precise location of the search a secret, fearing, they say, that any advance publicity might compromise their efforts. But according to Larry Gattis, the missing woman's brother in law, the new search, scheduled for Thursday, Friday and possibly Saturday, will focus on an area that has already been combed by volunteers. The location — which will be disclosed to volunteers on Thursday when they convene at what has become the command center for the Find Tara effort — was picked because during one of the earlier searches six out of eight trained cadaver dogs responded to something in the immediate area.



Tara Grinstead


That, Gattis said, convinced Grinstead's supporters that the area warranted a closer look.

So far, of course, neither searchers nor police have found any tangible evidence to indicate what happened to Grinstead. The missing woman's family and supporters have long suspected that the now 31-year-old teacher, who vanished on Oct. 22, may have been abducted. In recent weeks they have said they become increasingly convinced that she was killed, in all likelihood, they maintain, by someone who knew her.

Investigators, including members of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the local police and sheriff's department, have been far less definitive in their statements about the case. Officially, it remains a missing person's case, and authorities say they don't have any evidence that indicates conclusively whether she was a victim of a violent crime or a young woman, under immense pressure from her studies and emotionally overwrought by her troubled love life, who simply ran away.

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Contact Seamus McGraw at
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monkalup - April 20, 2006 08:22 PM (GMT)
http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/14382517.htm

Posted on Thu, Apr. 20, 2006
New witness reported in Grinstead disappearance
By Liz Fabian
TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER
OCILLA - New tips are coming in after word surfaced of a new witness and suspect vehicle in the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, said the sister of the missing Irwin County High School teacher.

The Tara Command Center - a clearinghouse for tips, searchers and volunteers - received about a half dozen calls this week after a North Carolina criminal psychologist working on the case said he located a new witness, said Anita Gattis, Grinstead's sister.

Maurice Godwin, who, according to his Web site, holds a doctorate in investigative psychology from the University of Liverpool, said he learned of the existence of a witness during a recent trip to Ocilla.

Godwin said the witness saw a man near a black Chevrolet pickup truck parked on the grass at Grinstead's house the night she was last seen, Oct. 22.

"The person standing by the truck said something very rude to the witness," Godwin said Wednesday.

The man threatened the witness, Godwin said, which might be the reason that person hasn't come forward.

Godwin said he has talked to the best friend of the witness and plans to contact the witness today.

"This person is legitimate. I can tell you that," Godwin said.

Godwin said he was triple-checking his information before turning over the witness's name to investigators, he said.

He expects to notify GBI Special Agent Gary Rothwell before the week is out, he said.

"When I get my ducks in a row ... I'm going to shoot them some information," Godwin said.

Rothwell would not comment Wednesday on the specifics of the investigation or any witnesses.

"It's a very complex investigation," Rothwell said. "We still have a lot of resources devoted to this investigation, and we still believe it's a solvable case."

As the investigation nears the six-month mark, Gattis said Godwin's new development "gives me hope that at some point justice would be served."

Godwin agreed to take the case without pay about six weeks ago, when he first traveled to Ocilla and gathered evidence at Grinstead's home, he said.

There have been two other witnesses who reported seeing a dark-colored pickup at Grinstead's house, including one man who called the tip line Wednesday, Gattis said.

"It really sounds like somebody she knew," Gattis said. "It's just kind of a bizarre thing, but then again, this whole thing has been bizarre. We're just waiting to see what comes of it."

In the meantime, Gattis said she spends every weekend looking for her sister.

Over the Easter weekend, searchers drained a pond looking for evidence, she said.

Two psychics, Carla Baron and John Oliver, also have taken an interest in the case, Gattis said.

Baron and Oliver filmed an episode about the Grinstead site for "Haunting Evidence," a television series scheduled to begin airing on Court TV in June, according to Baron's Web site.

In the meantime, anyone with information is asked to call the tip line at (229) 468-0667 or visit the Tara Command Center at its new location at 121 North Cherry St. in Ocilla, Gattis said.

"We feel like we're really moving in a positive direction right now," Gattis said.


monkalup - May 16, 2006 06:55 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...nstead_dna.html

Could DNA Hold A Clue To Tara Grinsteads Fate?



by Seamus McGraw

May 16, 2006


OCILLA, Ga. (Crime Library) — It is, perhaps, a tantalizing clue an orphan speck of DNA recovered during the search for missing schoolteacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead.

But despite a massive effort by state and local law enforcement officials, authorities still don't know whom it came from, says criminologist Dr. Maurice Godwin, or whether it might hold the key to solving the mystery of Grinstead's disappearance.

Officially, authorities will not even confirm the existence of the DNA evidence, or any of the other leads Godwin has claimed to uncovered in the months since he launched his own probe into the schoolteacher's disappearance. "The issuesare not something we're going to comment on," said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The case, officials say, remains a missing persons investigation, and authorities have uncovered no evidence to suggest that the young teacher was the victim of foul play. In the past, authorities have been circumspect in their comments on Godwin's assertions about the case.

But Godwin, who says he has been working "fourteen or 15 hours a day on the case" at the behest of Tara's family, contends that GBI officials not only have the DNA evidence but have taken it seriously enough that they have collected DNA samples from a number of men in Tara's life. "They're swabbing people right and left," Godwin said. "You don't swab people without having something to compare it to."
With no matches, cops are still in the dark

So far, Godwin says, the GBI has not come up with a match, not from Tara's former boyfriend, not from a police captain in a nearby community with whom she enjoyed a close friendship, not from any of the other men in her life, though, he says there is at least one man, also a friend of Tara's with links to law enforcement who has not yet been swabbed.

Precisely where the evidence was recovered also remains a closely guarded secret. "I know," Godwin told Crime Library. "I can't tell you."


In the meantime, Godwin says, he has turned over to investigators information he obtained last month regarding two witnesses who claim to have spotted a black Chevy pickup near Tara's house on the night nearly eight months ago when she disappeared after attending the local Sweet Potato festival and beauty pageant. One of those witnesses, he says, claimed to have exchanged words with the driver of the pickup. Again, GBI officials declined to comment on Godwin's assertion, other than to say that the probe remains open and investigators are aggressively tracking every lead.




monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:00 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...ad_missing.html

Beauty Queen & Teacher Tara Grinstead Goes Missing




Popular, bubbly young woman vanishes from Ocilla, a tiny South Georgia town, after helping at beauty pageant.

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By Steve Huff

Oscilla, GA, — (Crime Library)

"This lady is a wonderful person and great friend..." ~ a colleague of Tara Grinstead's at Irwin County High School.

According to the daily schedule for Irwin County High School, located in South Georgia, about 180 miles down Interstate 75 from Atlanta, first bell would have rung at 8:05 a.m. the morning of October 24, 2005. Around 8:10, first announcements would have been made over the school intercom.

Sometime that morning, perhaps right away, people noticed that Miss Grinstead was missing.



Tara Grinstead


By lunchtime, at 11:40 that morning, as students and faculty began to dig into their choice of quesadillas or pizza, they were likely quite worried. Teachers just don't fail to show up one day, without securing a substitute, without calling someone. Teachers like Tara Grinstead would doubtless find such a thing unthinkable.

The Hawkinsville, GA native, age 30, was a ninth-grade social studies teacher and administrator. The former Miss Tifton, GA of 1999 and 1998 Miss Charisma in the Georgia Miss Sweet Potato Pageant was noted for her bubbly personality and her dedication to her job. Tara Grinstead was a teacher because she wanted to help people.

The last night anyone saw Tara, Saturday, October 22, 2005, that's just what Tara Grinstead was doing — helping people. She attended the Miss Sweet Potato Pageant held at the Grand, a 1930's-era restored Art Deco Movie Theater in downtown Fitzgerald, GA, 9 miles north of Tara Grinstead's home in tiny Ocilla, and assisted contestants with hair and makeup. An interview Tara gave about the Miss Tifton pageant to the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College paper, The Stallion, in 2002, might explain why she remained involved in local beauty contests:

"...Miss Tifton symbolizes great achievement for women. Miss Tifton is a role model and it is a job. This is a scholarship pageant, not a beauty pageant. Miss Tifton is a local franchise of the Miss America Pageant. Miss America is the largest provider of scholarships to women in the world..."

After Tara Grinstead was reported missing to local, Ocilla, GA authorities and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, it was discovered that she'd made it home that Saturday from Sweet Potato Pageant. The clothes she was last known to wear were at the house, as were her car and cellphone. All that seemed to be missing at the time was Tara Grinstead, her purse, and keys.

On Thursday, October 27, Tifton Gazette reporter Dusty Vassey published an article about the investigation into Tara Grinstead's disappearance noting that police helicopters and K-9 dog tracking units were already helping in the search, and that a $10,000 reward was being offered for information leading to Tara's returning safely home.

Already online, several weblogs devoted to tracking missing persons cases, such as the Missing & Abducted Blog, were highlighting the mystery of Miss Grinstead's disappearance. At the Myspace.com site kept by South Georgian Michele Bassett, people who knew Tara Grinstead came to get updates on the case from links Bassett posted to both blogs and mainstream media sources. One reader of Bassett's, Erin Womack, left the following comment:

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"I met Tara when she became Miss Tifton 1999 - I really hadn't seen much of her since until about a month ago (...) Tara looked the same as I remembered her. We spoke briefly, and she said she was doing very well teaching in Irwin County. My heart goes out to her family, friends, and all the people in her community looking for her. I pray that she is safe and returns home soon. I think we are all doing the right things like spreading the word. It is amazing how much support there is in south Georgia..."

The population of Ocilla, GA barely tops 3,300, and small southern towns are legendary for gossip — mostly due to literature written by native southerners, like Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. Naturally, as the days paced away from the Saturday night when Tara Grinstead was last seen, speculation ran rampant. The Tifton Gazette reported that a man had once been arrested for disorderly conduct for pounding on Grinstead's door, and even though local authorities said there was no reason to suspect the incident was related to Tara's disappearance, still, tongues wagged.

Yet none of the early speculation seemed to include the possibility that Tara Grinstead had intentionally disappeared. That just didn't seem to fit. As the one-week mark since Tara's vanishing neared, the search continued in and around Ocilla, GA, and students and faculty at Irwin County High, along with Tara's family and friends, continued to worry, wonder, and pray.

Tara Grinstead is 5'3" and weighs around 125 lbs. She has brown hair and brown eyes. If you have information about her disappearance, please call GBI agent Dominic Turner or Detective Bill Barrs at (229) 468-7494. A .pdf document about this missing person can be found at www.ocillapolice.com, the website for the Ocilla, GA Police Department.



monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:04 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/..._community.html

Search for Tara Grinstead Involves Entire Community



Former Beauty Queen and Ocilla, GA High School Teacher Tara Grinstead Still Missing.

By Steve Huff

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Ocilla, GA, — (Crime Library)

October, 2005 in Ocilla, Georgia, ended with celebrations, for some. The weekend starting October 29, 2005, saw the beginning of the 45th annual Georgia Sweet Potato Festival. It started with a parade Saturday morning at the Ocilla Community House on Irwin Avenue, and at 1:30 that afternoon, entertainment began in the old elementary school auditorium.

The Miss Georgia Sweet Potato Queen, Kari Pujadas, had been elected the weekend before at the Miss Sweet Potato Queen Pageant held in Fitzgerald, GA, about 9 miles north of Ocilla.

The Saturday of the pageant, some of the hopefuls gathered at a home on West Park Street in Ocilla, the residence of the woman who was elected Miss Charisma in the same competition in 1998, 30-year-old Tara Grinstead. Tara helped them with their hair and makeup, and sometimes she provided encouragement afterwards, sending a kind note to someone disappointed in their first time out. Tara Grinstead seemed to take a more modern view of pageants. For her, they provided scholarship money for women who might not otherwise necessarily have a chance at such money.



Tara Grinstead


When the newest Sweet Potato Queen rode down Irwin Avenue on Saturday the 29th, Tara Grinstead had been gone for a week, and no one knew where she was. If someone did know, they weren't talking.

Sunday the 23rd, Tara didn't show up at her church in her hometown of Hawkinsville, GA, but everyone has a Sunday off now and then, even the preachers. It was when Tara Grinstead wasn't greeting students with her welcoming smile on Monday morning, October 24, that co-workers and friends of the former cheerleader and Miss Tifton, GA of 1999 realized something was wrong. By 8:50 that morning, Ocilla Police had been notified about the missing teacher. By Wednesday, October 26, Tara Grinstead's photogenic smile was beginning to be seen in newscasts and pulled up by internet searches for "Ocilla" and "Tara"+"Irwin County."

Soon enough a reward was being offered. It started at $10,000 for information leading to Tara's safe return. As Sunday, October 30 rang in with churchbells and murmured prayers for Tara and her family in Ocilla and the surrounding municipalities of Douglas, Tifton, the smaller towns of Alapaha, Ambrose, and Enigma, the reward doubled to $20,000. In the afternoon on the 30th the din undoubtedly stirred up by the previous day's festivities was replaced with barking K-9 dogs trolling through fields, helicopters overhead, and all-terrain-vehicles motoring beneath the trees. Everyone was looking for Tara.

A website was created to assist in organizing information about the search for the young woman, www.findtara.com. Webmaster Jannis Paulk worked until 4 in the morning setting it up, concentrating on making the pages easy to navigate for young people, in particular

Many who found themselves upset by the continuing mystery of Tara Grinstead's whereabouts were students from Irwin County High past and present, and young women Tara had encouraged as part of her involvement in local pageants through the years. A steady stream of visitors found their way to the online guestbook at www.findtara.com. Leaving messages of concern and support. A websurfer signing in as Betsy Soles from Florida was eloquent:

(...)I have not seen Tara in a few years, but a smile like hers, one can never forget. I now live in Navarre, Florida and randomly received an email last week with the subject line saying: Please Pray for Tara Grinstead. I found this to be odd, but only assuming that maybe something minor had happened. The thought of her being missing never once came to mind. Nevertheless, she and the family are in my thoughts and prayers.

More poignant were the messages left by students. Writing from Ilsan, South Korea, a former Irwin County High Exchange Student named Christine Kang gave an idea of the kind of impact a caring teacher can have on the life of a student:

I'm so sorry to hear about what happened to Miss Grinstead. I still can't believe what I heard. I went to Irwin County High for 1 year as an exchange student and she was one of the sweetest people there. She is so caring and giving to her students. I am sure she will come home soon safely. I will pray for her everynight.

The police and Georgia Bureau of Investigation were not sure what to make of Tara's vanishing, at first. Local press, like the NBC affiliate in Albany, GA, WALB, initially assumed Tara might be a "runaway," a la Jennifer Wilbanks, bride-to-be from Duluth, GA, near Atlanta, whose pre-wedding jitters had made her national news in late February of 2005. Even as late as October 30, WALB-TV told volunteers working from the command center to find Tara news in the Irwin County Senior Center on West 4th Street in Ocilla. WALB-TV's coverage for that day was to be too sports-heavy to allow for an extended piece about Tara.


National Cable News outlets began to realize there was a story unfolding in South Georgia. Sunday night Tara's sister, Anita Gattis, traveled to Atlanta to make appearances on Fox News, and on Monday, October 31, Nancy Grace featured Tara's disappearance on her one-hour program on CNN Headline News.

Authorities, by Halloween, 2005, still had not named any persons-of-interest related to the vanishing of Tara Grinstead. Rumors flew, as they will do. A young man from just east of Ocilla, age 20, who had once been arrested for disorderly conduct for pounding on Grinstead's door, was mentioned, and people may have wondered about a former beau of Tara's who had recently returned from military duty. But police and GBI Agents were still talking to a number of people as the community collectively began to realize Tara Grinstead might be more than just a woman wanting to check out of her life for a while.

As the second week of questions began in Irwin County, GA, the community that had celebrated Sweet Potato Pageants with the turning of the leaves for 45 years came together for a new cause. Elsewhere, in Florida, in Missouri, Atlanta, in Ilsan, South Korea, others remembered the Tara Grinstead they knew, felt the worry, the mystery, the absence, and began to pray.


monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:16 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...ationships.html

Relationships Could Provide Clues to Missing Woman's State of Mind



by Seamus McGraw

OCILLA, GA — (Crime Library) For months before her sudden and mysterious disappearance last week, Irwin County High School teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead was troubled by two contentious relationships, one with her estranged long time boyfriend, and the other with a former student who had become almost obsessed with her, according to sources familiar with the young woman's history.

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In fact, in the days leading up to her disappearance, sources say, Grinstead was so overwrought that she missed school one day and left early on another.

Whether either of those relationships can shed light on Grinstead's whereabouts, or on her fate remains an open question. But investigators have said they are considering both as they try to determine what happened to Grinstead, a 30-year-old teacher from small town Hawkinsville Georgia, who was last seen after a local beauty pageant on Oct. 22.



Tara Grinstead


Investigators are also trying to determine the origin of a latex glove — the kind used by paramedics, doctors and police officers — on the front lawn of her home after she was reported missing.

So far, authorities are dealing with the young woman's disappearance as a missing person's case. It is possible sources say that Grinstead, who is said to have been "on an emotional roller coaster," over the breakup of her long term relationship, a relationship that she had hoped would lead to marriage, may have engineered her own disappearance, or taken some other drastic steps. But neither have investigators from the Ocilla Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation ruled out the possibility that Grinstead, a well-known and popular teacher, may have been the victim of foul play.

Former Student Interviewed

Among the relationships that have attracted the attention of authorities is the missing woman's dealings with a 20-year-old former student. The student had apparently become smitten with Grinstead, and on at least one occasion, was so aggressive that Grinstead called police when he showed up at her home and began banging on her door. The young man was charged with disorderly conduct. Authorities interviewed the man on Monday.

Friends and others familiar with the probe say that her sometimes-stormy relationship with long time boyfriend Marcus T. Harper may help authorities piece together Grinstead's state of mind before she disappeared.



Tara Grinstead

According to several sources who spoke on condition that they not be named, the couple began their relationship six years ago, and it was, in most respects, a classic small town romance. Harper, who could not be reached for comment for this story, had, according to friends of Grinstead, a fascination with law enforcement, and a driving desire to join the local police department, while Grinstead, a church going teetotaler, focused her attention on education and on the local beauty contest which she had once won.

In fact, according to several sources, Grinstead was deeply in love with Harper, he had a key to her home, a source said, and she had anticipated that someday they would marry. But that all changed after 9-11 when Harper left the police department and joined the U.S. Army, becoming a member of the Rangers, an elite branch of the special forces. He served, according to friends in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But during his stint in the military, and later as a contractor working in Iraq, the relationship changed.

According to one source, Harper became disenchanted with the relationship and, the source said, the couple began to bicker frequently. There was never any hint of violence between the pair, according to several sources, and in April, they finally broke up. By all accounts, Grinstead was deeply distressed by the breakup.

In fact, although she dated at least one other man, one friend told Crime Library that she remained deeply in love with Harper. In mid October one friend said, Grinstead had made efforts to reconnect with Harper, and when he resisted, she became so overwrought that she took a long drive and had to pull over and call for assistance to get home. The next day, uncharacteristically, she called in sick to school. A few days later, when a policeman from a neighboring community whom she had dated turned up at school, she left early. That too was unusual for the highly devoted and motivated ninth grade teacher.

More Questions Than Answers

It is unclear when Grinstead and Harper last saw each other, although according to several witnesses, he was in the town of Fitzgerald on the night of Oct. 22, which was the night of the annual Sweet Potato Festival and beauty pageant that Grinstead had attended. According to authorities, Grinstead had left the pageant and gone to have dinner at the home of the former local school superintendent and his family. She was last seen around 11 p.m.

She was reported missing Monday morning when she failed to turn up a school. Police responded to her home and found little out of place. The clothes she wore that night were found in the home, as was her cellular phone, which according to sources familiar with her habits, she never left behind. Authorities still don't know whether it is significant, but a clock had fallen to the floor and broken, and one of the meticulous young woman's lampshades was askew.



Tara Grinstead


Her car was parked outside — again, uncharacteristically it was unlocked, but her pocket book and keys were missing. Authorities also are perplexed by the discovery of a single latex glove on the front lawn.


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monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:18 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/..._publicity.html

Tara Grinstead Publicity Mixed Blessing



By Marilyn Bardsley

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) It's difficult to cover a story adequately without going to the epicenter of activity, so Monday afternoon I drove the 3-plus hours from Crime Library's headquarters in Savannah to Ocilla, Georgia, to meet the people of the community and interview individuals who were particularly close to Tara Grinstead, the gorgeous young history teacher who mysteriously disappeared sometime after having dinner with friends late Saturday night, Oct. 22.

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I arrived at the "Command Post" for the efforts to find Tara (which is actually the Irwin County Senior Citizen Center which has been temporarily pressed into service until Tara comes home) just in time to watch Court TV's Nancy Grace broadcast segment on Tara. The huge hall was completely packed with the scores of volunteers and rescue workers who methodically organized and executed the search. All eyes were on a big-screen TV that catapulted this small Georgia city into the national spotlight.



Tara and her dog, Dolly Madison


Tara disappeared either Oct 22 or 23, but her neighbors and police did not understand she was missing until Monday, Oct. 24 when she did not show up at the Irwin County high school where she taught 11th grade history. In the space of one week the story of her disappearance went from local to regional to national coverage on the same news shows that saw their ratings increase with stories like the Natalee Holloway case in Aruba.

The entire "Command Post" operation has been very well organized both in the search and publicity efforts. A huge van from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency stands outside with state-of-the-art mapping equipment so that the teams of helicopters, planes, ATVs, search volunteers, canines and horses are deployed in the most efficient manner. Inside are the many citizen volunteers who feed the searchers, arrange for media interviews, supply fliers, photos and a host of other important support services. And there are two local professional photographers, Jannis and Andy Paulk, who have created and updated www.findtara.com.

There is an excitement that comes with watching Anita Gattis, Tara's very attractive and articulate sister and local friends of Tara being interviewed on Court TV, MSNBC and Fox News night after night. The national publicity reinforces the determination of the volunteers and brings in additional resources from outside the immediate community. The reward fund has rocketed from $20,000 a few days ago to $80,000.

But there is also a downside.

If Tara doesn't come home soon either on her own volition or through the efforts of rescue workers or others with information about where she is, the media spotlight may bring unwelcome intrusion into the lives of people close to Tara.

Yesterday, when interviewing Tara's father, Billy Grimstead, and her stepmother, Connie, I could sense that they were alarmed at the prospect of every detail of Tara's life being dissected and displayed for review and analysis by millions of strangers.

Tara's former boyfriend of six or so years, Marcus T. Harper, has declined interviews on the advice of his lawyer, according to his father, Larry. Even Larry does not want to comment to the media about his son. I can't say that I blame them. There are bound to be questions asked that are very intrusive. It's almost a "no-win" situation. On the other hand, if the media wants information about a person they will find it somewhere flattering or unflattering.

In the case of Tara's disappearance and similar cases, the media attention "is a deal with the Devil" quoting one of Crime Library's authors, Seamus McGraw. "Families and friends [of the missing people] trade the most intimate nuggets of details about their loved ones' lives for the prospect of getting them back."



monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:22 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...d_no_clues.html

Tara Grinstead on Emotional Roller Coaster



by Seamus McGraw

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) — It's been nearly two weeks since Georgia high school teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead mysteriously vanished, and despite a massive search effort, frustrated investigators and volunteers have still not found any significant clues to her whereabouts or her fate.


Tara Grinstead


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It's not for lack of trying.

Although authorities remain tightlipped about the probe, sources say that in the days since her disappearance, investigators have interviewed scores of people, including her estranged former boyfriend, Army veteran and former Ocilla police officer Marcus Harper. So has 20-year-old Anthony Vickers, a young man who reportedly nurtured a crush on Grinstead and was arrested earlier this year on a charge of disorderly conduct after banging repeatedly on the door of Grinstead's home. Heath Dykes, a police captain from a neighboring community described by one source close to Grinstead as a "friend of hers since they were kids" has been interviewed by investigators.

In a brief telephone interview with Crime Library, Dykes said he had last
seen Grinstead "weeks prior to her going missing." Dykes, who has been
cooperating with investigators, declined to comment further. "I've been a
close friend with her family and her for quite some time, we're from the
same home town. But I really can't make a lot of comment due to the ongoing
investigation. It really wouldn't be fair for me to make any comment that
would jeopardize the investigation....I just want her to be found."

Sources familiar with the probe say at least one of the men — Vickers — agreed to submit to a polygraph test. Authorities declined to discuss whether the interviews had yielded any useful information. None of the men could be reached for comment.

"We're interviewing everybody as you always would in a missing persons case," said John Bankhead, spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which has taken a major role in the search for Grinstead. "That relates specifically to people she might be seeing and others, so we've got all that covered."

Investigators are also said to be poring over Grinstead's phone records and have taken custody of her home computer and the hard drive of her computer at Irwin County High School, searching for any information.

While Bankhead declined to specifically discuss the steps investigators are taking, he did acknowledge, "we have leads." So far, those leads have not given them enough hard evidence to determine whether Grinstead vanished or whether she was the victim of foul play.

The bottom line, authorities say, is that they don't yet know whether a crime was committed. And the interviews are focused as much on determining Grinstead's state of mind at the time of her disappearance after a local beauty pageant on Oct. 22 as they are on eliciting hard information as to her whereabouts

A clearer picture has emerged in recent days of Tara Grinstead's state of mind. According to several sources, the young woman had been on "an emotional roller coaster" following the break up of her six-year relationship with Harper, a former police officer who joined the Army Rangers after 9-11 and later became an independent contractor working in Iraq.

Several sources familiar with Grinstead's personal life said though the couple bickered frequently toward the end of their courtship, Grinstead, who had long hoped that she and Harper would marry, remained deeply in love with him. "I do believe she still had feelings for Marcus," said one source who discussed the relationship with Grinstead several times before her disappearance, "but she saw that it was going nowhere." Others close to Tara Grinstead say she may have harbored hopes that they would reunite.

In fact, in mid-October, one friend said, Grinstead had made efforts to reconnect with Harper, and when he resisted, she became so overwrought that she took a long drive and had to pull over and call for assistance to get home. The next day, uncharacteristically, she called in sick to school. A few days later, Dykes, a policeman from nearby Perry and long-time friend of both Grinstead and her family, a confidant whom she had recently been dating turned up in Ocilla. She left school early. That too was unusual for the highly devoted and motivated eleventh-grade teacher

What's more, Grinstead was under additional pressure as she struggled to complete a round of studies so she could begin the process of obtaining her doctorate in education.

Grinstead was last seen on the night of Oct. 22, which was the night of the annual Sweet Potato Festival and beauty pageant that Grinstead had attended. According to authorities, Grinstead left the pageant and went to have dinner at the home of the former local school superintendent and his family. She was last seen around 11 p.m.

She was reported missing Monday morning when she failed to turn up at school. Police responded to her home and found little out of place. The clothes she wore that night were found in the home, as was her cellular phone, which according to sources familiar with her habits, she never left behind. Authorities still don't know whether it is significant, but a clock had fallen to the floor and broken, and one of the meticulous young woman's lampshades was askew.

But friends and others close to her say that despite the pressure there is little chance that she simply ran away of her own accord. Describing the 30-year-old as a "grounded, Christian woman," they say it is unthinkable that she would have simply walked away from her life, from her students who idolized her, and her family without a word. Furthermore, they note that nothing in her behavior in the days leading up to her disappearance indicated that she might be planning an escape. Just days before she vanished, a neighbor told the Crime Library, she purchased a significant amount of groceries. Known to be deeply devoted to her dog, Grinstead made no arrangements for its care, one person familiar with the probe said.

Equally disturbing is the fact that when Grinstead vanished, she left behind her car

which she uncharacteristically left unlocked as well as a significant amount of cash and all the clothes she owned except for what was on her back.

Without a car and with little cash, friends note, it is unlikely that Grinstead could have made it far. There is no easy access to public transportation, and it would have been difficult for Grinstead, who was well-known in the tiny rural Georgia community, to have slipped out of town unnoticed.

Still, investigators and volunteers continue to search the area for any sign of Grinstead. A reward for information about her whereabouts has reached $80,000 and is reportedly growing, and the community is rallying around her family. Later today, for example, cheerleaders in her hometown of Hawkinsville have scheduled a march to call attention to her case, and a moment of silent prayer is scheduled outside Taylor Regional Hospital, where one of her relatives practices medicine.

But privately, even those closest to Grinstead admit they are starting to lose hope that she will return home safely.

"I can't fathom that she would leave under those circumstances," said one person who had frequent heart-to-heart talks with Grinstead. "I can't see any possibility of that. I think they're just going to find her buried somewhere

monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:27 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/..._boyfriend.html

Private Agent brings new leads to Tara Grinstead Probe



By Steve Huff

Ocilla, GA (Crime Library) -Autumn comes slowly to Georgia. By the end of October, nights are cooling, but many trees still hold greedily onto their green. Sometime around Halloween, though, the first frost might fall. Soon thereafter, as November moves in and the daylight hours dwindle, leaves start to change. The further south you move, the less likely you are to see stark gold and crimson slashes in the trees because South Georgia is home to a great many pines, green year round.

The people searching in and around Ocilla, GA, for 30-year-old Tara Grinstead, a former beauty queen and well-liked high school teacher at Irwin County High School, had no time to notice the change of seasons. Saturday, November 5 ended with no sign of her, and set a grim milestone — the former Miss Tifton, GA, 1999, had been missing for two weeks.


News of the pretty history teacher's disappearance spread slowly at first. The Sunday after she vanished, October 23, her mother grew worried, and even called Tara's neighbors and asked them to check on her. Still — everyone has an off-day, even Tara Grinstead. In the months since she'd broken up with long-time boyfriend Marcus T. Harper, a former Ocilla, GA, police officer and Iraq veteran, Tara had experienced more ups and downs than those close to her had ever seen. After all, she'd been with Harper for 6 years.


After Harper's turn in the military, though, many around him seemed to feel something about him changed. Whatever the change was, it appeared to be the end of his relationship with Grinstead.


Tara Grinstead was devastated by the breakup. More than once she had an uncharacteristic emotional breakdown. Perry, GA, police captain Heath Dykes, a childhood friend, came to visit her at Irwin County, High.

By the close of Saturday, November 5, Tara's past problems with some of the men in her life were public knowledge in a way the very private Grinstead would never have wanted.

Much had been made in news reports on various cable networks of Anthony Vickers, the 20-year-old former student of Grinstead's who had allegedly developed a crush on her. At one point, Vickers had been arrested for pounding on the door to Grinstead's residence. Searches were done on property owned by the Vickers family in Wray, GA, on November 4, to no avail.

In a move perhaps considered curious by some, the Grinstead family also hired a private "agent" to assist in the search, who could be reached by a private, anonymous tip line. According to Tara's sister, Anita Gattis, the hired investigator had by November 4 discovered some interesting new clues about what may have happened to Tara Grinstead the night of October 22. Speaking with Albany, GA, NBC affiliate, WALB, Gattis said, "Her vehicle was unlocked. That's very uncharacteristic of Tara. She always locks it, always, always, always. There's some question about the position of the seats. She was short, 5'3". That's a big red flag..."


Some wondered about an unnamed juvenile who had once been in Grinstead's homeroom at Irwin County High. After the history teacher received a series of very threatening phone calls, a trace on her phone determined he was the source. It is unclear what measures were taken, but he was moved from her class.

Friday, November 4 probably saw one of the more dramatic developments to date in the ongoing search for Tara Grinstead — in an interview with CBS anchor for "The Early Show," Hannah Storm, Anita Gattis revealed that though Grinstead had sought to re-unite with former love Marcus Harper, they had fought prior to Tara's disappearance:

"They had had a very bad argument, I just found out, several days before she went missing, concerning an 18-year-old that he was dating. My sister did not think that (the 18-year-old's) parents would approve of a 30-year-old dating an 18-year-old. I'm told that she threatened to tell the parents, and they had a very heated argument over this."

Gattis also mentioned that Harper had hired a lawyer. When Marilyn Bardsley of Court TV's Crime Library tried to speak with Harper earlier in the week, his father said that he would not comment on the advice of a lawyer, and Harper's father declined to speak as well.

The mystery continued to unfold. The night of November 5, Atlanta NBC affiliate WXIA reported that the search in Irwin County would continue for at least 7 more days.

Though there were these curious developments in the second week of the search for Tara Grinstead, there were still no known sightings of the former Miss Tifton, nor any concrete evidence as to her fate. Only a hint came from a source close to the investigation as the third week began — a hint that the answer to the question of what happened to Tara Grinstead could be close:

Some things were found today that would lead you to believe that Tara could be found soon. I wish I could elaborate but I can't...

The same source expressed a concern that had troubled very few in the area before... that none of the men questioned by authorities about their relationship to Tara might be involved. That she might have fallen prey to a stranger, or someone with whom she had only a tangential acquaintance.

Perhaps in a small city like Ocilla, that fear embodied an idea of the worst sort of fate for a missing person — that they fell into the hands of a random stranger.


monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:34 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/..._continues.html

One Aspect of the Search for Tara Grinstead Has Been Completed, But the Probe Continues



by Seamus McGraw

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) —



After nearly two weeks of efforts combing nearly 400,000 acres of fields, swamps and scrubland authorities in rural Irwin County have not found any sign of Tara Grinstead, although articles of clothing and jewelry have been found throughout the county and have been sent to Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).

The probe continues, and investigators still have hope of finding her or some clue to her fate.

"It's actually two separate items," said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the state agency assisting in the search for Grinstead. "The Sheriff's Department was in charge of the search of the county...and yesterday they completed the last grid...and so the physical search...is completed. The missing person's investigation by the Ocilla Police Department with us assisting is continuing."

Family members say they will continue to search with volunteers, among them teachers, for Grinstead. A private investigator hired by Grinstead's family will also join in the search for the 30-year-old who vanished on the night of Oct. 22, the night of the annual Sweet Potato Festival and beauty pageant that Grinstead had attended. According to authorities, Grinstead left the pageant and went to have dinner at the home of the former local school superintendent and his family. She was last seen around 11 p.m.

Tara Grinstead was reported missing Monday morning when she failed to turn up at school. Police responded to her home and found little out of place. Her car was parked in the driveway, though the driver's seat seemed to have been pushed farther back than the diminutive Grinstead would have preferred. The clothes she wore that night were found in the home, buried under a pile of other clothing. Her cellular phone was also recovered at her home, though sources familiar with her habits, say it was highly unusual that she left it behind.

T-Shirt, Glove, Still Being Tested

So far, authorities have been unable to determine whether any of that is significant and investigators have turned up few other leads in the case. A women's t-shirt, emblazoned with the logo Irwin County Women's Softball and similar to several such garments owned by Grinstead have been sent to a crime lab for testing, though so far, authorities have not been able to link the shirt to Grinstead. "I don't know that there's any connection and it's doubtful that there may be," Bankhead told Crime Library. Bankhead declined to comment on a latex glove recovered in Grinstead's front yard on day one of the investigation. That glove has also been sent for testing, sources say, though so far, that too, has failed to yield any conclusive evidence about its origin.

Meanwhile, investigators continue to quiz those closest to Grinstead hoping to learn new details that could help locate the woman or at least help them determine what happened to the well-liked 11th grade history teacher. Among those quizzed is her ex boyfriend, Marcus Harper, a former Ocilla police officer and Army veteran of the Afghan and Iraq campaigns who now serves as an independent contractor in Iraq. Authorities have also interviewed Capt. Heath Dykes, a Perry police officer and long time friend and confidant both of Grinstead and her family, as well as Anthony Vickers, a 20 year old former student who was once arrested after pounding on Grinstead's door.

All of the men have been cooperating with authorities and none have been named as suspects. Although her family and many of her friends believe she was abducted, with no significant clues to Grinstead's whereabouts or condition, authorities don't even know whether a crime has been committed. But that hasn't dulled the buzzing speculation on the Internet and on cable television news channels, speculation that has begun to turn this once close knit community into a hotbed of suspicion where gossip and innuendo — often inaccurate — are frequently traded as fact.

Innuendo and Gossip Complicate Probe

It was that rampant speculation, sources say, that prompted attorney Thomas Pajadas to allow his client, Marcus Harper, to be interviewed earlier this week by Fox News commentator Greta Van Sustern, a decision that might be considered risky in the superheated atmosphere of the Grinstead probe but which Pajadas seems to have believed was necessary to counter what he took to be unfounded speculation and misinformation circulating about his client.

In the interview, Harper — who was shot in profile reportedly in part as a safety precaution because of his job as an independent contractor who has worked in Iraq — challenged Internet reports that he and Grinstead had argued publicly just days before her disappearance, an argument which allegedly centered on women Harper was said to have been seeing. He said that he had last seen Grinstead about 9 a.m. on Oct. 14 when the woman, who by all accounts was deeply distressed over their breakup — turned up at his house. Harper said that Grinstead had threatened to commit suicide, though after a short interruption in the taping, Harper added that Grinstead had returned later that day and asked him for a hug, apparently indicating that it would be the last time.

Sources close to Grinstead have acknowledged that the young woman was "on an emotional roller coaster," following the break up, but say they saw no evidence that she was suicidal, noting that on Oct. 14, Grinstead had left Harper's house, spent some time in a tanning bed and then went for a pleasant visit with relatives.

Authorities investigating the case say the Internet — where speculation sometimes ossifies into a facsimile of fact — may be complicating their investigation somewhat. But they also acknowledge that they continue to mine those Web logs and Internet sites for potential leads and to identify and locate people they can speak with including friends, associates and paramours of those people they've already interviewed.

monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:36 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...volunteers.html

New Phase in Search for Tara Grinstead



By Marilyn Bardsley

Ocilla, GA (Crime Library) - Tara Grinstead's family and the Ocilla community was shocked when recent headlines suggested that the search for Tara had been called off. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The reality is that the intensive 2-week initial effort to search the 358 square miles of Irwin County involving 50 law enforcement and safety agencies using helicopters, planes, ATVs, horses, etc. was completed.


However, a number of focused search activities are on-going. Volunteers are signing up for searches on weekends and law enforcement is searching based upon the specific leads it receives.

A considerable amount of attention has been focused on a latex glove the kind used in medical, forensic and many other applications found on Tara Grinstead's front lawn shortly after she had gone missing and before the forensic experts from Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) had examined the premises. The latex glove appeared fresh and its presence was difficult to explain. Dr. Larry Gattis, Tara's brother-in-law, believes that GBI will make an announcement on the glove in coming days.



Tara Grinstead's family has hired a private "agent." Connie Grinstead, Tara's stepmother, explained to Court TV's Crime Library that the private agent was hired "to help us in the search for Tara. We need all the help we can get." To dispel any suggestion that the family was not happy with the efforts of law enforcement, she added, "GBI is doing a wonderful job."

Anonymous tips can be placed to the private agent by calling 1-912-386-2564. A reward of $80,000 is being offered.

One recent rumor that is being run to ground is that an unidentified man had called Tara some 22 times in one day and had professed his love repeatedly. It is unclear at this point whether any such individual exists, but if he does, law enforcement is sure to want to speak to him.



Tara Grinstead, 30, is a stunningly attractive, gifted and dedicated 11th grade history teacher at the IrwinCountyHigh School. She lives in Ocilla, GA, with her German Shepard Dolly Madison and her cat Herman Tallmadge. On Saturday, Oct. 22, she attended a beauty pageant and then had dinner with some friends. She returned home shortly after 11 p.m. and has not been heard from since.

Tips can also be made to the Ocilla Police Department, 1-220-468-TIPS (8477)



monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:44 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...d_suspects.html

Search for Tara Grinstead Goes Beyond County, Known Friends



by Seamus McGraw

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) —


Update: Nov. 19:

Beginning shortly, Texas Equusearch, the internationally known non-profit search and recovery team that recently wrapped up its search for Natalee Holloway in Aruba, will begin combing Ocilla and its surroundings. Team members who began arriving in Ocilla Friday, volunteered to join the search for Tara, a company spokesman said Friday.

—————

They're far from giving up hope, they say.

But as the friends and family of Tara Grinstead conclude the third week of their so far fruitless search for the missing high school teacher and beauty queen, they are slowly coming to the realization that the ultimate answer to the mystery of her disappearance may lay far outside the boundaries of the rural Georgia county she called home.


A source familiar with the law enforcement efforts and the family's private endeavors to find her told Crime Library that while everyone involved in the search remains committed to seeing it through to the end, they are becoming less optimistic that the missing woman will be found alive.

But they do plan to broaden their search, not just for Tara or physical evidence that might shed light on her fate, but also to identify people with whom she might have come in contact during her regular travels to and from her graduate studies and elsewhere in the region.

Tara, who would have turned 31 this week her birthday was marked by a subdued gathering of friends, students and co-workers at her home vanished Oct. 22, the night of the annual Sweet Potato Festival and beauty pageant that Grinstead had attended. According to authorities, Grinstead left the pageant and went to have dinner at the home of the former local school superintendent and his family. She was last seen around 11 p.m.

She was reported missing Monday morning when she failed to turn up at school. Police responded to her home and found little out of place. Her car was parked in the driveway, though the driver's seat seemed to have been pushed farther back than the diminutive Grinstead would have preferred. The clothes she wore that night were found in the home, buried under a pile of other clothing. Her cellular phone was also recovered at her home, though sources familiar with her habits, say it was highly unusual that she left it behind.

In the days immediately following her disappearance, the local authorities together with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched a massive manhunt, sending platoons of cops and volunteers out to scour the roughly 400,000 acres of Irwin County. Two weeks later, after every quadrant of the county had been searched, the official search was called off, though Tara's family and volunteers have continued to run their own search.

In the days since, there have been moments when the searchers believed they were close to finding an answer. Several days ago, for example, when a remote house outside of Ocilla burned to the ground, searchers thought that their worst fears might be realized. "The rumor was out that Tara had been found in the burned house," a source said. "They took cadaver dogs out there and they thought they were on the trail, they kept going to one spot in the house, and GBI went through the house, shovel by shovel, but didn't findanything."

As it turned out, the source said, "cadaver dogs are trained to identify body fluids, even long after they evaporated and (authorities concluded) that there had been a baby in the house at one time."

While authorities say they still have no evidence to suggest that Tara was the victim of foul play the probe officially remains a missing person's case there has been rampant speculation on the Net that Tara might have been abducted. Among others in her life, three men became the focus of much of the speculation on the Internet; Marcus Harper, the former Army Ranger who she dated for six years before an emotionally charged breakup last spring, Anthony Vickers, a 20-year-old former student who had once been arrested after pounding on her door, and Capt. Heath Dykes, a married police officer from nearby Perry with whom had enjoyed a close relationship. All have been cooperating with authorities.


Privately, sources familiar with the investigation say they are increasingly convinced that none of the men have any significant information about Tara's disappearance, and that it is even more unlikely that any of them had anything to do with it.

Challenging a report in the National Enquirer that "a married police officer," had called Tara some 20 times before her disappearance, the source said it would make sense that Dykes, who was privy to the emotional distress Tara had been suffering as a result of her breakup, would have repeatedly to reach the woman he regarded as a close friend and confident. In fact, though Tara was not officially reported missing until Monday the 24, several people had noticed her absence on Sunday and some, Dykes among them, had telephoned her home looking for her.

That same source said they also believe that it would have been impossible for Harper, who has provided a detailed and verified account of his time during the hours when Tara is believed to have vanished, to have had a hand in her disappearance.


And in strange twist, Vickers has also apparently found his way out from under the cloud of suspicion. According to the source, the young man received a frantic telephone call from a woman the other day. The woman was so emotional that Vickers couldn't understand her, and thought it might have been Tara. He immediately notified police who traced the call and found that it had been a wrong number dialed by an inarticulate and emotionally overwrought stranger. The coincidence was so bizarre the source said, and Vickers was so certain that the woman on the other of the phone was Tara, that the source and others are convinced that it could not possibly have been a ploy.



monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:47 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...probe_less.html

One Aspect of the Search for Tara Grinstead Has Been Completed, But the Probe Continues



by Seamus McGraw

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) —


For the past few days, members of Tara Grinstead's family have been harboring a secret fantasy that maybe, just maybe if they hope and pray hard enough, the 30-year-old high school teacher and former beauty queen might just throw open the door on Thanksgiving Day, sidle up to the dinner table and the month-long nightmare will be over.

It would , of course, take a miracle for that to happen and miracles are in short supply these days in rural Irwin County, a community still rocked by the young woman's disappearance on Oct. 22.


Absent a miracle, the search for the missing woman continues, authorities and family members say. Equusearch, the Texas-based search and rescue operation has just begun its detailed work, going over much of the same ground that an army of searchers combed inch by inch before the official search was concluded two weeks ago. Volunteers continue their hunt for Tara as well, and a reward for information about her whereabouts or her fate has now reached $90,000.

Officials from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have said they too remain on the case, which is still officially classified as a missing person's investigation, though they maintain that there have been no major developments in the case.

There are some people close to Tara, however, who have begun to question whether the GBI and the other agencies involved in the investigation are pursuing the case as aggressively as they once did.

In the days immediately following Tara's disappearance, they note, investigators quickly identified and interviewed most if not all of the major players in her life in and around Ocilla. They talked to her close companions and confidants, including Capt. Heath Dykes, a Perry police officer who Tara often turned to in times of stress. They interviewed Anthony Vickers, a love-struck 20-year-old former student who was arrested months before her disappearance after banging repeatedly on the teacher's door. And they talked at length with her ex-boyfriend, Marcus Harper, a former local cop and Army Ranger. The end of that six-year relationship left Tara emotionally shattered, and Harper had even suggested that Tara had contemplated suicide, though her family and close friends discount that.



Marcus Harper and Tara


Authorities even trolled the Internet, which continue to be rife with speculation, rumor and innuendo about Tara's personal life to locate other potential witnesses, among them young women who had dated Harper Tara had been heard fuming about at least one of Harper's 18-year-old companions. But after all the interviews, authorities maintained, that they were no closer to discovering Tara's fate.

Privately, some of those closest to Tara wonder whether the investigation is winding down.

Stones Left Unturned



Tara Grinstead


As evidence they point to the fact that even now, more than four weeks after the investigation began, investigators have still not interviewed professors, classmates, and others at the university in Tifton where Tara was completing her studies in advance of beginning studies for her doctorate in education. As one source familiar with the probe put it, "GBI hadn't been down there andwhy would they not?"

Though authorities maintain their investigation is ongoing, some close to Tara fret that "they may have already decided this is no crime, this is a runaway, and if they've decided that, they may not be beating the bushes that much."

John Bankhead, a GBI spokesman, declined Tuesday to discuss specific elements of the investigation. But in similar missing person's cases, investigators sometimes decide that interviews in far-flung locations would be unlikely to yield significant new evidence, Bankhead said. It's also possible, he suggested, that investigators might still decide to focus on Tifton and other locales she might have frequented.

"We'll let the facts take us where we're going," he said. "At this point, we don't even know of she's alive or dead."

Tara's supporters contend that Tifton could prove a rich vein for information.

At the very least interviews with fellow students, professors and others who had contact with Tara outside of the tightly constricted community in Ocilla might be able to shed more light on her state of mind, one source familiar with the probe said. They may also be able to suggest other leads, the source said. Perhaps, the source suggests, there was another man in her life. Maybe she had developed other relationships in Tifton and Valdosta where she also studied that might offer a clue. So far, those avenues of investigation have not been explored, the source said.

And that means that despite all the energy that has been exerted, both by the cops and the public, the question of what happened to Tara remains an open question.

Early on, of course, there was some speculation that the young woman who vanished from her home after returning home from the annual Sweet Potato festival and dinner with friends, may have committed suicide.

Even now, those closest to Tara discount that possibility. They note that she left no note, and that authorities arriving at her house Monday morning found little out of place. Her car was parked in the driveway, though the driver's seat seemed to have been pushed farther back than the diminutive Grinstead would have preferred. The clothes she wore that night were found in the home, buried under a pile of other clothing. Her cellular phone was also recovered at her home, though source familiar with her habits, say it was highly unusual that she left it behind.

"I mean have you ever heard of anybody going to such lengths to get away cleanly?" the source asked. "If I'm going to kill myself why would I care about making it look like I disappeared?"

What's more the statistics argue against that possibility. Women who attempt suicide most often do it at home and use pills or other comparatively clean methods, and in the vast of majority of cases, unlike men, they fail on the first attempt. There is no indication that Tara had pills, or that she had ever tried suicide before.

But in the absence of any evidence of suicide, and with no hard evidence to suggest that she was abducted or worse, other options must be considered. For weeks now, some close to Tara have been pressing her friends and others who knew her about the possibility that she might have changed her appearance and simply taken off to start a new life, perhaps alone, or perhaps in the company of someone else.

Given Tara's history, that seems unlikely, those closest to her say. "Everybody I question I ask them the same thing; is there any possibility that she might go off to pursue a different existence somewhere?" the source said. "I keep getting the same answer; 'no way'."

"She's never colored her hair, the make up's been the same for years, she's always absolutely perfect," the source said. "I mean she is meticulouseven on a bad day she looks like she just stepped out of Vogue magazine."



Tara Grinstead


But as the other theories about her fate fall by the wayside, the source said, Tara's loved ones are carving out room in their hearts for the remote possibility that she did engineer her own disappearance. "That can't be excluded," the source said. Certainly, for that to have been the case, there would have to have been a sea change in Tara, the source said, "a real breakdown, worse than anything she had ever had before."

Tragically, in the weeks since her disappearance, the normally reserved people of Ocilla, including those close to Tara, have begun for the first time to talk openly about just how distraught the young woman was. "Obviously, she was heading into something and there was lots of warning signs," the source said. "I'm beginning to get pissed off at the people who saw themand didn't tell anybody."

But given those upheavals in Tara's life, the pressure of her studies and her job, the emotional torment of coping with the end of her long time relationship with Harper, given her displeasure of his choice of at least one young woman to replace her, and the possibility that there might have been other personal struggles that have not yet come to light, Tara's die-hard searchers are no longer willing to dismiss the possibility that she simply ran away.

"I have to include that as possibility," the source said. "Ignore that and I might be ignoring a possibility of finding her and getting her backwhen you touch all the horses in the forest, you know, you start looking for zebras."



monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:52 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...new_search.html

New Search Planned for Tara Grinstead



by Seamus McGraw

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) — Authorities, backed up by the high-tech equipment of the Texas-based search operation EquuSearch are preparing to make one last comprehensive foray through the back woods of Irwin County looking for any trace of missing school teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead.

Over the past two weeks, members of the team have done an aerial survey of the most remote areas of the county, and after breaking for the Thanksgiving holiday, plan to launch a massive search effort, comparable and perhaps larger than the intense volunteer driven effort that concluded last month, said Irwin County Deputy Sheriff Allen Morgan.

"We want to find some areas of interest, areas that we want to search again," Morgan said. "We're going to have a major search...we just want to make sure the areas are being covered thoroughly. "We want to be able to tell the family that once we're through this county again that it's clear, that she's not here."

The search is scheduled for Dec. 10 and 11, Morgan said.

The EquuSearch team, which has garnered national headlines for, among other things, its recent work in Aruba searching for missing Alabama teen Natalee Holloway, has targeted specific areas of the county to canvass during the two-day hunt for Grinstead. Specifically, they have been looking at rugged backlands and deeply wooded areas, Morgan said, and that is where the volunteers will be deployed.

We're going to check these thick wooded areas, places maybe you couldn't check good riding a four-wheeler or on horseback. We're going to walk them," Morgan said.

The fact that authorities are holding off their search for nearly two weeks may be an indication that they hold out little hope of finding the 30-year-old high school teacher, at least not alive.

But family members still hope that searchers will find some clue about what happened to her after she vanished the night of Oct. 22 after the annual sweet potato beauty pageant, and just a week before the annual sweet potato festival.

So far, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, together with the Ocilla police and the Irwin County Sheriff's Department, have turned up few leads, and the disappearance remains officially a missing person case.

In the weeks since she vanished, authorities have interviewed dozens of people. Among them are her former longtime boyfriend, Marcus Harper; Heath Dykes, a Perry police officer who had long been close to Grinstead; and Anthony Vickers, a 20-year-old former student whose crush on the teacher had apparently made him belligerent enough to bang on her door one night. He was charged with a disorderly persons offense in that incident, but authorities have said that all three have cooperated with investigators and none has been named as a suspect in her disappearance.

More Men in Tara's Life

In fact, authorities have not ruled out the possibility that she might have engineered her own disappearance.

In the meantime, those closest to Tara have been conducting investigations of their own, and have identified three other men who dated Grinstead in the months after her emotionally charged breakup with Harper. They are hoping to meet with them to discuss the young woman's state of mind in the weeks before she vanished.

It was not immediately clear whether authorities have interviewed the three men.



monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:56 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...d_sighting.html

Tara Sightings & New Timing Questions



by Seamus McGraw

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) — Family and friends of missing high school teacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead have been on an emotional roller coaster this week. It's not just because of the heightened grief they feel as the holidays approach, but because twice in the past week, they've had their hopes lifted by possible sightings of the missing woman, only to find that the reports are at best inconclusive and at worst, just plain wrong.

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"It is tough," said one family member who has spent countless hours searching for the young woman who vanished Oct. 22, after spending the day helping young contestants prepare for an annual beauty pageant and the evening with friends.

The first possible Tara sighting came last weekend when a truck driver told authorities that he had seen a woman at a Coneco truck stop 30 miles outside of Birmingham, Alabama who seemed to match the description of the 30-year-old high school teacher.

According to law enforcement sources, the driver told police that the anonymous young woman had struck up a conversation with him and asked to use his cellular phone — Tara had uncharacteristically left her cell phone behind at her home when she vanished.


John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday that his agency had contacted authorities in Alabama, and they had investigated but found little reason for hope. By the time Alabama authorities arrived, Bankhead said, the woman had vanished. "We've got a number of these sightings, obviously, and I don't know why this one got more publicity than the next one," Bankhead said. "It's probably because this one had more concrete information."

In this case, the driver was able to provide a detailed description both of the woman and of his encounter with her. GBI has since sent fliers and additional information about Tara's case to Alabama, but authorities there believe that the woman described by the truck driver may be another woman, a local, who had recently been released from jail.

"I need to leave myself open," Bankhead said, "but I think they know who this truck driver spoke to," and she was not a missing beauty queen.

Meanwhile, authorities are also probing at least one more potential sighting. Details on that incident are sketchy, but according to sources familiar with the investigation, authorities have received a report that a woman who seemed to resemble Tarawas spotted sobbing in the passenger seat of a dark colored SUV. Her hands were reportedly covered with some kind of garment, leading some to suggest that it was possible that she was shackled. Authorities are investigating the report, but so far, it has yielded no solid information and there is little hope that it will. Even so, a private investigator hired by the family and the GBI have been probing the report.

Authorities have still not determined what happened to Tara and her case officially remains a missing person's investigation. So far, authorities have found no evidence to suggest that she was kidnapped, and they have not ruled out the possibility that the young woman engineered her own disappearance or worse. She was, by all accounts, emotionally devastated by the breakup of a long time relationship, who was actively seeking a romantic involvement to replace it, and who was under immense pressure as she worked to begin her doctoral studies in education.

But there is reportedly at least one new wrinkle in the case, which if it pans out, could challenge the accepted timeline of the case.

Investigators have been talking to at least two witnesses, one a teenaged boy and the other a neighbor of Tara's who has since moved, who have independently offered suggestions that the young woman may have vanished later than previously thought, a source told Crime Library.

Authorities have so far believed that that Tara vanished no later than Sunday morning. But one of the new witnesses, a source said, claimed that they had seen Tara's car leave her carport Sunday morning and return Sunday afternoon. And the teenaged boy has reportedly told investigators that he saw Tara driving through town on Sunday afternoon.

That conflicts with the statements of other witnesses who have insisted that Tara's car had not moved all day Sunday, although when investigators examined it, they found that the drivers seat had been moved further back than would have been comfortable for the diminutive school teacher.

And as investigators and family members review the timeline of Grinstead's disappearance, they acknowledge that one piece of potential evidence, which had been thought to be fraught with possible significance, has no significance to the case at all.

Early reports had placed great significance on an alarm clock found beneath Tara's bed after she was reported missing. The clock was six hours off, and there had been widespread speculation that perhaps the clock had somehow been stopped, perhaps during a struggle in the room.

But it turns out, according to a source familiar with the case, that the clock was actually a keepsake, Tara's childhood alarm clock. It had not kept proper time in years and had long been six hours off, but Tara had apparently kept it for sentimental reasons.

monkalup - May 16, 2006 07:58 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...ara_search.html

Beth Twitty To Join Massive Hunt for Missing Georgia Teacher



By Seamus McGraw



Beth Holloway-Twitty


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OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) — Beth Twitty, the grieving mother of missing Alabama teen Natalee Holloway, will join the search this weekend for Tara Grinstead, the 30-year-old school teacher and former beauty queen who vanished more than a month and a half ago after a local pageant.

Tim Miller, founder and executive director of Equuasearch, the Texas-based search and rescue operation said Twitty approached him and asked if she could participate in the massive search which is expected to draw some 500 volunteers to comb the brush and backwoods in a fifteen mile radius around Ocilla beginning Saturday. Miller's operation spent several weeks in Aruba earlier this year in what has so far been a futile search for Holloway, who vanished while on a trip to Aruba in May.

Twitty, who has become an icon to some and a bane to others for her dogged search for her own daughter, told Miller that she felt an obligation to participate in the search for Tara because of the support she has received.

"She said she wanted to be helpful for a couple of reasons," Miller told Crime Library. "She said, 'so many people have helped me in Natalee's case, I want to be able to start helping other people'."

Holloway also told Miller that she felt a special affinity to Grinstead, a high school history teacher who is, by all accounts, held in high esteem by her students.

"She said, 'you know what? I am a school teacher and I have been a school teacher my whole life and this is a school teacher over there that's missing, so please let me help'."

Twitty, who has drawn both praise and criticism, including allegations in a blistering article in the January issue of Vanity Fair that she and her family may have actually impeded the search for Natalee, was adamant about pitching in on the search for Tara, Miller said.

"I said, you know what, Beth? If you're ready to help emotionally — because this has been very rough on you, I need you there. We need your help...so what you're going through right now with some of the bad publicity that you're getting, for you to now start helping other families because you know what they're going through...you can certainly be a valuable resource because there will me many more families that will need you."

In all likelihood, Twitty will help man the command center while the volunteers — 300 have signed up so far and another 200 are expected to join the search — fan out to scour a series of targeted locations arrayed in concentric rings beginning about two miles from Tara's home and extending out about 15 miles.

The search is expected to take two days.












monkalup - May 16, 2006 08:02 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...earch_tara.html



Texas EquuSearch Brings Special Technology to Grinstead Case



By Marilyn Bardsley

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) — It was a beautiful mid-December Georgia weekend, crisp and cool in the morning, quickly warming up to near perfect by lunch.


Volunteers

Instead of Christmas shopping, harvesting pecans, or putting up the Christmas tree, hundreds of volunteers from as far away as South Dakota and Florida gave up their family weekend to search again for any sign of missing Georgia history teacher Tara Grinstead. Mike Wild, with video camera in hand, and I came to chronicle the event in words and photos for Court TV's Crime Library.

Like the earlier search conducted in Nov., the gathering place was the spacious Irwin County Senior Citizens Center. By 7:30 a.m. Inside, the aroma of freshly-made coffee, bacon and pork sausage, scrambled eggs and mountains of warm, sticky pastries welcomed the volunteers who had crowded into the center to register and join the designated search teams.

Many of the volunteers sported shirts and jackets identifying themselves as sheriff's deputies, fire department, and search and rescue professionals surrounding counties and jurisdictions as far away as Atlanta. Others I recognized as teachers, friends and students who been deeply involved in the search from the day Tara was discovered missing.

Another familiar figure, though not from my earlier visits to Ocilla, was Beth Holloway Twitty, mother of missing Alabama honor student Natalee Holloway, who is instantly recognizable to anyone who watches television on a regular basis. Beth, a teacher like Tara Grinstead, drove over ten hours round trip to support the volunteer recruitment for the search for Tara. Unaffected by her "celebrity" status, she spent a couple days empathizing with and encouraging the local folks in the quest for their beloved Tara. A number of volunteers told me of how inspired they were by Beth's strength and faith despite the suffering she has endured from the loss of her daughter and the frustration of the dealing with the incompetent Aruban authorities.

Not nearly as well-known as Beth, but well on his way to becoming a celebrity in his own right, is Tim Miller, the director of Texas EquuSearch, (Link: http://www.texasequusearch.org/ ) the nonprofit search and recovery organization that recently recovered the remains of Houston chiropractor Dr. Melinda Superville and was involved in the search for Natalee Holloway in Aruba. He is an intensely personable, energetic man who is passionate about his mission to help families find missing loved ones. Like Beth, he is no stranger to the heartbreak of having a child go missing. Laura Miller was abducted and murdered in 1984.


As Texas EquuSearch becomes well-known, the number of families that come to Tim's organization will increase. "How do you decide which cases to take?" I asked him.

"How can you say 'no' to a family?" He asked, suggesting that he didn't say it very often.


Tim Miller and his team had been planning for over a week with local law enforcement, Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock and Irwin County Sheriff Donnie Youghn, on what areas to search. Once everyone had eaten and the volunteers were organized into teams, Miller spoke to the group. He told them that the chances of finding Tara were not very high, but they needed to conduct this thorough search to be sure that she was wasn't there in the community. Before the teams dispersed, Chief Hancock led the group in prayer.

Texas EquuSearch brought to this effort a fascinating range of technology, some of which were industry tools designed for other purposes that worked handily in search and rescue operations. Others were invented with search and rescue in mind

One major area of focus was the dozens of abandoned wells in Irwin County, many of which were uncovered. Mike and I first joined the team that went to each identified well to see if anyone or anything lay at the bottom. Along with us came Warren E. Osbourn III from Heath Consultants, Inc., (link: www.heathus.com) a company that provides detection and indicator equipment. Warren brought with him a methane gas detector, designed for gas utilities. A decomposing body gives off methane gas and had any of the wells contained the body of a person or animal, the detector would have clearly declared its presence.


Another state-of-the-art tool that was used in the investigation of the abandoned wells was a video camera with a 100-foot cord that was lowered into the wells and illuminated through a scope what was at the bottom of the well. In other words, the scope showed what was lying on the floor of a deep well filled with water.


The most exciting piece of technology that we saw used in the search was provided by RP Flight Systems (link: www.rpflightsystems.com). Looking like something between a super-sized model airplane and a mini-sized Predator drone, RP has developed a sturdy remote-controlled aircraft with a high-definition camera that produces photographs of areas that are difficult to search effectively. The aircraft searches each designated area and produces photos that indicate the GPS coordinates of each location. These photos are then put onto a 42-inch screen and scoured for any sign that a person could be present.

This technology was used in Texas when a woman's minivan was found at the side of a road surrounded by rocky pasture land in 100-degree temperatures. Normal search and rescue methods could not locate her. The RP Flight Systems aerial photography covered hundreds of acres in 2 hours and, using sophisticated software, located her body by analyzing the photos. Believing that she was dressed in blue jeans, the photos were processed in such a way that everything that was not blue was shown as black and anything blue was shown as red. The woman, who had been killed by a snake bite, was immediately visible and her remains easily located.


Another impressive piece of technology that looks like something right out of H.G. Wells — was the airboat, which was used to search the banks of marshes, ponds and rivers that were difficult or impossible to examine except by water.

Miller, of course, is proud of the technology he has brought to the search. But he'd also the first to admit that despite all of it — the gas detection devices, the odd machines that can pluck clues out of the ether, the aerial drones — for all of that technology, that search for Tara Grinstead was still about people, the friends, the co-workers, even Beth Twitty, the stranger who perhaps better than anyone understood the tragedy.

Last weekend's search, like all the others in Ocilla, ended without an answer. Despite all the mechanical wonders and all the expertise behind them, there is still no answer to the most critical question; what happenedto the pretty young school teacher.

But because, like all the searches before it, it was really about people, when it ended, there was still a tiny ember of hope.


monkalup - May 16, 2006 08:04 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...ead_reward.html

New $100,000 reward added to Tara Grinstead Case

by Seamus McGraw


Tara Grinstead


OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) —

A mystery donor, apparently moved by the public grief for missing high school teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead has offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who might have been involved in her disappearance.

The new reward brings to $200,000 the amount offered in the case.

The identity of the donor remains a closely guarded secret, said Steve Rogers, a friend of Grinstead's family who announced the new reward. Rogers would say only that donor— a person who has experienced a similar loss and has endured the media scrutiny that often accompanies it — has asked, at least for the time being, to remain anonymous.

Grinstead's supporters are still hammering out the details of how the reward money would be managed and precisely how it would be distributed, Rogers said. But, according to the family, $100,000 is being offered for information leading to Tara's safe return. But for the first time, a second reward is offered, tacitly acknowledging the possibility that Tara did not simply wander off on Oct. 22, but that she was forcibly abducted.

"We are announcing that we have received a donation of $100,000 to be used directly for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person that took Tara," Rogers said.

The explicit assertion contained in the offer - that Tara may have been a victim of foul play, and the implication that she may no longer be alive - goes further than investigators are willing to go.

Authorities still have no evidence indicating whether the young woman, who was by all accounts emotionally overwrought following the break up of a six-year relationship earlier this year, vanished on her own volition or whether she was abducted. There are no suspects in her disappearance, and authorities have never officially indicated whether they believe a crime was committed.

In the months since, however, investigators have interviewed scores of people, including her former boyfriend, Marcus Harper, as well others who may have had close relationships with Tara before her disappearance, but so far, they have come up with few leads. They have also been flooded with tips including several from people who claimed to have seen Tara in a variety of far flung locations but those too have failed to shed any significant light on her fate.

Meanwhile, Tara's friends and family's have been doggedly searching for her. Last week, Beth Twitty, the grieving Alabama woman whose teenage daughter Natalee Holloway vanished more than six months ago in Aruba, traveled to Ocilla to support the search for Tara conducted by Texas Equusearch, a high-tech search and rescue operation which has received international attention for its unique methods.

——————————

The claimant for the new $100,000 reward will provide specific information about the circumstances surrounding Tara's disappearance. That information does not have to include Tara's present whereabouts but must indicate the person or person's responsible. Anyone having information about the individual(s) responsible for Tara's disappearance should contact 229-468-7459 and speak to one of the following law enforcement officials:
Sheriff Donnie Youghn
Captain Nelson Paulk
Deputy Allen Morgan
If one of the above named officials is not in when you call, please tell the dispatcher that you are calling about Tara and the dispatcher will contact him for you.




monkalup - May 16, 2006 08:07 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...taras_tree.html

Tara's Tree

by Seamus McGraw

Tara Grinstead

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) — They gathered together on a crisp winter's night, more than 100 of them by most accounts, ignoring the now worn yellow police tape that marked the boundaries of Tara Grinstead's modest yard, overlooking the forlorn jack-o-lantern that has now remained untouched for more than two months.


Among them were friends, and family, and others who have for more than two months now worked feverishly for the safe return of the missing beauty queen and high school teacher. They prayed. Some sang. And one by one, they placed ornaments, ornate and glimmering memorials to hope, hung with love on Tara's Christmas tree.

"It was really touching," said Steve Rodgers, a family friend who works with a Florida-based missing children's organization and has also helped in the search for missing Alabama teen Natalee Holloway. The Thursday night vigil the only Christmas celebration that Tara's family has planned this year was not intended to be a memorial, Rodgers said. Instead, it was meant to be a testament to the hope that Tara would return home safely. And it was also a tribute, he said, to the ways in which Tara had touched her community. "I would say there was somewhere between 100 and 150 people," Rodgers said, all there to remember the 30-year-old who vanished without a trace on Oct. 22 following the annual sweet potato festival and beauty pageant. And it was done with a mix of melancholy and hope. "The first girl that Tara helped in a beauty pageant came and sang a beautiful song," Rodgers said, "and we all took our ornaments and hung them on Tara's tree."

The tree is expected to remain in place for some time, perhaps as long as the case remains unresolved.

Another Possible Sighting

So far, there is little reason for optimism, authorities say. Despite hundreds, perhaps thousands of man hours spent searching for any trace of the woman, despite hours of interviews with friends, family members and even former intimates of Tara's, authorities from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, as well as the local authorities, are still no closer to finding out what happened to the young woman. Officially, her disappearance remains a missing person's case, said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the GBI.

Authorities have been running down a variety of leads. Most recently, a man in Richmond, Virginia, contacted the family to report that he had a brief encounter with a woman at a northern Virginia gas station and that he believed the woman, who was driving a green late 1990's Ford Explorer, bore a striking resemblance to Tara. Authorities say they are planning to follow up on the tip, but like scores of other similar reports, they hold out little hope that it will lead to any definitive information about Tara's whereabouts.

In the meantime, friends and family members continue to hope that the reward, now up to nearly $200,000 will help bring forth information that can finally help the family unravel the mystery of Tara's disappearance.

Lawmakers to Discuss Laws in Response to Tara and Natalee Cases

And while they still hope that the young woman, who was emotionally overwrought at the time of her disappearance, will simply return home on her own, they also realize that there is a possibility, a strong one perhaps, that Tara was the victim of foul play.

To that end, Rodgers said, family members and friends have been working on what they believe will be a far more lasting testimonial to Tara than a simple Christmas tree on her lawn.


With the support of Tara's family, Rodgers has been talking to lawmakers, not just state lawmakers in Georgia, but also federal lawmakers from Florida and from Natalee Holloway's home state of Alabama with an eye toward developing legislation that would set stiffer penalties for adult kidnappers.

Several lawmakers have already agreed to meet with Rodgers and others in the days before the state senate reconvenes in January, he said. "The state senators around here are going to get together with us and we're going to try to write new legislation for tougher laws regarding adult kidnapping," he said. Though authorities still have not declared Tara's disappearance a kidnapping, there is enough suspicion about the case, and enough anger about the case of Natalee Holloway, that Rodgers believes that lawmakers will support his bid for tougher laws. "In the case of Tara and Natalee, if we can provewhat we think was done to them, I would be pushing for life in prison without parole. If you steal a life from us and you take that life then you should forfeit your life," he said.

Federal lawmakers from Alabama, Florida and Georgia, have also expressed interest in discussing new legislation with the families, Rodgers said.



monkalup - May 16, 2006 08:09 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/..._continues.html

Tara Grinstead Search Moves to Ben Hill County


By Marilyn Bardsley
Tara Grinstead

HAZLEHURST, Ga (Crime Library ) — Robert Hardiman, Director of Trackers Global, a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery of missing, abducted and runaway persons, contacted Court TV's Crime Library about a major search effort being mounted in Ben Hill County, GA. The search will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 7 and will continue on Sunday, Jan. 8. Volunteers are asked to assemble at the Ben Hill County Senior Citizens Center at 253 Appomattox Road in Fitzgerald. The Senior Citizens Center is located just behind the Ben Hill County Sheriff's Department.

Volunteers seeking additional information about this weekend's search efforts are asked to contact Trackers Global at 912-379-0221 or the Ben Hill Sheriff's Department at 229-426-5159. The Ben Hill Sheriff's Department is located at 255 Appomattox Road in Fitzgerald.

Hardiman of Trackers Global described some of the high tech equipment that was to be utilized in this weekend's search. They have a boat that can go down the middle of a pond and determine whether or not there is a body anywhere in the pond. While we did not discuss any limitations in terms of the pond size or depth, it is truly an extraordinary advance in search and rescue technology.


Both Trackers Global and Texas EquuSearch operate primarily from donations and continuously need infusions of cash from companies, organizations and individuals to fund the use of skilled management and staff and state-of-the-art equipment. Please contact Trackers Global and Texas EquuSearch if you wish to make donations



monkalup - May 16, 2006 08:10 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/..._grinstead.html

EquuSearch Plans Hi-Tech Search This Weekend For Tara Grinstead



300 Volunteers Set to Slog Through Muddy Swamps and Peer Into Wells For Clues. Jan 20, 2006.

By Seamus McGraw

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(Crime Library ) OCILLA, GA — Months of desperate and fruitless searches by an army of volunteers have so far yielded no clues into the disappearance of high school teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead, but the missing woman's friends and family are not giving up hope.

Tomorrow, under the direction of Texas EquuSearch, teams of volunteers will fan out again through the swampy lowlands in Tara's native region of Georgia. This time, the two-day search in Irwin and surrounding counties will focus on some of the many wells that dot the countryside, said Barbara Gibson, a four-year veteran of Texas EquuSearch, in a brief telephone interview today from the organization's Dickinson, Texas headquarters. Organizers are anticipating some 300 volunteers to join the search and as in the past the effort will have a decidedly neighborly feel. Some volunteers who are less adept at slogging through the marshlands, made soggier still in the past days by steady rains, have agreed, for example, to prepare meals for the searchers.


Searchers will also deploy boats to once again scour some of the shallow swamps in the area in some cases using sophisticated electronic devices that allow them to peer into murky waters in wells and ponds searching for visual signs of the woman.

"There are some promising locations," Gibson said.

The search effort, which will be dispatched from what has become the command center for the Find Tara effort in Ocilla, is the latest in a series of such searches that began almost immediately after the now 31-year-old school teacher vanished Oct. 22 from her home after attending the annual sweet potato festival and having dinner with friends.

Since she mysteriously vanished, authorities have kept up what they term a vigorous investigation into the case, private investigators have fished for leads, and psychics have shared their visions with authorities and family members, all without bringing the mystery any closer to a conclusion.

Officially, authorities are still treating her disappearance as a missing person's case. But they have also not ruled out foul play in a case that has garnered national attention. In the months since she vanished, authorities have tracked down scores of people who knew her, friends, co-workers, and boyfriends in the hopes that they might shed some light on her disappearance. Some of those interviewed have submitted to polygraph tests, none of which turned up significant clues.

Those interviews, along with statements from others close to her, have yielded a picture of a young woman who — though well loved by her students and respected by her co-workers and neighbors — was also deeply emotionally overwrought, most notably because of the breakup of her six-year relationship with a former Ocilla police officer and Iraq veteran. She also was under immense pressure from her graduate studies in education, those close to her say.


In recent weeks, investigators from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other agencies involved in the investigation have revisited some of those already interviewed. They are said to have developed some promising leads, but so far, have turned up nothing to indicate conclusively whether the young woman was abducted or whether she engineered her own disappearance.



monkalup - May 16, 2006 08:12 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...rotherinaw.html

Wild Rumors Tar Kin of Missing Georgia School Teacher



by Seamus McGraw

OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) —It may come as a shock to many in the rumor-ravaged community of Ocilla, not to mention some in the vast and anonymous cyber world of amateur sleuths, but Dr. Larry Gattis was in his office this morning, checking medical charts and visiting with patients who wanted to discuss a variety of ailments.

He wasn't shackled, or under guard. He certainly wasn't locked away in some dismal interrogation room getting the third-degree from a band of frustrated cops probing the now three months old disappearance of Gattis' missing sister-in-law, former beauty queen and high school teacher Tara Grinstead.

"I'm here. I'm not in jail," Gattis told Crime Library in a telephone interview this morning, after a weekend of wild rumors ripped through the small Georgia town and the blogosphere suggesting, among other things that the small town physician had been arrested. "They had me dragged out of my house in shackles, and some of them had the GBI...surrounding my house."

Like much in the lingering mystery of Tara Grinstead's disappearance, the rumors of Gattis' arrest that reached a boiling point this weekend were pure fantasy. Authorities have consistently maintained that they still have not conclusively determined what happened the to the now-31-year-old high school teacher who vanished Oct. 22 after the annual sweet potato festival and dinner with friends. They have no suspects, authorities have said publicly, though they are said to be pursuing some promising leads. And privately, they have noted that even if they did, it is doubtful that Gattis would be among them.

That is not to say that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, among other investigators, have not closely vetted Gattis, who is married to Anita Gattis, Grinstead's elder sister who has, in many respects, become the public face for Find Tara movement that has sprung up since her disappearance.

In fact, both Gattis and authorities acknowledge that investigators have aggressively quizzed the doctor, in much the same way as they have quizzed others who were close to the missing schoolteacher. Those interrogations at some points even became heated, Gattis said. "The last one was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back," Gattis told Crime Library

The way Gattis sees it, the GBI, which has endured some measure of public criticism for the pace of the investigation and what some pundits have decried as a lack of progress, was punishing him for some of his public statements about the case. What's more, he believes, investigators were trying to curtail his personal investigation into the young woman's disappearance. Gattis has on his own identified a number of potential witnesses and traveled throughout the region to interview them.



monkalup - May 16, 2006 09:08 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/..._fail_tara.html

Hints and Hunches, Psychics Fail to Find Tara Grinstead



by Seamus McGraw


OCILLA, GA (Crime Library) — Late last week, a psychic who had flown in to this rural corner of southern Georgia to aid in the search for missing school teacher Tara Grinstead, casually asked one Grinstead's relatives about a recent visit to the doctor and how that relative's rash was progressing.

The relative, apparently less than a true believer in the more esoteric powers of the mind, was floored. She had kept her brief visit to the doctor a secret, and had mentioned her hidden skin condition to almost no one. The experience, which under other circumstances might have been embarrassing, was in that situation, cause for some elation. It was, to those who have been desperately searching for any sign of the missing schoolteacher, evidence that the psychic was for real.

Unfortunately, the psychic was less successful when it came to finding Tara, and though she had provided a detailed description of a place to be searched, when a small group of friends and family members went there, they came up empty.

It was not the first time they had conducted such a fruitless search. It wasn't even the first time they had relied on a psychic to lead them. In fact, according to one family member, for most of the past month, more than half a dozen psychics have been providing the family with information about their hunches, their impressions and their intuitions.

It is, of course, not the only avenue the family is pursuing to locate the former beauty queen who vanished more than three months ago, "but it is one avenue," said a family member. "Sometimes they've got good information, some time it's not as good."

In fact, Grinstead's supporters, based on information culled from a variety of sources, plan to search again this weekend. Unlike earlier highly publicized searches, where in some cases hundreds of volunteers combed the scrub and swamplands in force, these recent searches have been small and secretive. There's good reason for that. Though family members continue to hold out hope that Tara will be found alive, they have over the months, come to terms with the idea that the young woman may be dead. And if she were a victim of foul play, they reckon, advertising the locations of their searches would simply give her killer a chance to move her remains.

Authorities, so far, have not determined what precisely happened to Tara, whether she was abducted and perhaps killed, whether she simply wandered off, or whether the young woman, distraught over her love life and the pressures of her work as a teacher and her studies for a graduate degree, may have taken some desperate step. Officially, her disappearance remains a missing persons case, they say.

All the same, local authorities and investigators from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have interviewed scores of people and have studied as many potential leads. Among those early leads was a tip that a middle aged man with a long record of arrests and convictions for assaults against woman, a man who had been considered a potential suspect in at least one homicide and an attack a generation ago in Ocilla, had returned to the area. Investigators quickly determined that the man, whose name is being withheld, was elsewhere at the time of Tara's disappearance.

Since then, investigators have begun revisiting some of those people they interviewed earlier in the probe, including Grinstead's former long time boyfriend, ex-cop and Iraq war veteran Marcus Harper, as well as other men in her life.

None of those interviewed has been named as a suspect.

monkalup - May 26, 2006 11:20 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...her_harper.html

Marcus Harpers Activities Were Well Documented Before Tara Grinstead Vanished



by Seamus McGraw

May 25, 2006

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OCILLA, Ga. (Crime Library) — In the days after school teacher and beauty Tara Grinstead mysteriously vanished, investigators methodically tracked down and interviewed many of the men who had played a key role in her life, among them, Marcus Harper, a former police officer, Iraqi war veteran, and Tara's former long-time boyfriend.



Tara Grinstead


And while, among some in Ocilla, suspicion loomed large around Harper, authorities determined that Harper could easily account for his whereabouts and his activities during most of the critical hours between the time Tara was last seen and the time she was reported missing. And while authorities are not prepared to rule out any possible scenario in the still unsolved mystery they have acknowledged among other things that they don't know the precise moment when Tara actually disappeared — they have noted that Harper has been able to back up his account with official documents and witnesses.



Marcus Harper


According to his own account, and statements by others, Marcus Harper had been at a local tavern on the night that Tara vanished a friend of Tara's had even spotted him there, according to Dr. Maurice Godwin, a criminologist who has been working on the case at the behest of Tara's family, and she called Tara between 10:15 and 10:30 that night, presumably to tell her so.



Maurice Godwin


Sometime after 1 a.m., Harper left the bar and drove to Ocilla looking for a friend of his, Sgt. Sean Fletcher, an Ocilla police officer. Fletcher, of course, had known both Harper and Tara. In fact, he had been one of the officers who responded to a call at Tara's house earlier in the year when another young man in Tara's life, Anthony Vickers, was arrested for disorderly conduct after allegedly banging on Tara's door and then cursing out the officers who tried to calm him. Some have even speculated that Tara may have had some hard feelings toward Fletcher, suspecting it has been said, that Fletcher had told Harper that there was another man, a police officer from a nearby community, in Tara's house at the time. Fletcher has denied that, noting that in a small town like Ocilla, details like that have a way of making themselves known.

At about 1:49 a.m., Fletcher was checking doors in downtown Ocilla when he received a call from the dispatcher telling him that Harper was looking for him, according to the account Fletcher has given to authorities. Fletcher contacted Harper, the two joined up, and they walked Fletcher's beat together. In the course of the next hour, Fletcher had at least one conversation with another police officer.
Fletcher and Harper searched for Bennie Merritt

Shortly after 2:45 a.m., Fletcher was summoned to a house on West 4th Street where a local man, Bennie Merritt, known for his erratic behavior, had allegedly walked inside and had refused to leave. Harper joined Fletcher on that call, as did two other police officers from the Irwin County Sheriff's Department. By the time they arrived, Merritt, who had already been the subject of a prior minor police call earlier that night, was gone. But according to Fletcher and the records investigators have reviewed, while there, Harper chatted with the residents.

A few minutes later, Fletcher and Harper left the residence and searched for Merritt, a neighbor of Tara's, who had allegedly frightened the couple on West 4th Street. Authorities reported that the man appeared intoxicated and was later apprehended by a sheriff's deputy, but not before he had allegedly frightened the night clerk at a local gas and convenience store about a mile outside of Ocilla.

According to records reviewed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, both Fletcher and Harper responded to the call at the all-night service station and market, and by the time they were done, it was 4:28 a.m.

A few minutes later, Harper headed home.



Marcus Harper


In the days following Tara's disappearance, investigators reviewed the details of Harper and Fletcher's activities, activities for which the pair were able to identify some nine witnesses, two of them police officers, one of them a dispatcher, and the rest citizens, including Merritt who had been the focus of so much of their attention that morning.

They also took a close look at Merritt, as well, authorities have said.

But so far, the investigators have turned up no evidence to suggest that any of them were involved in Tara's disappearance, which remains, now seven months, as she vanished, a missing person's case. Harper, along with several other men questioned during the probe, has denied involvement in the teacher's disappearance, and law enforcement officials have repeatedly said that they have no suspects in the case.

But that has done little to dampen suspicion in some quarters. Nor has the detailed and apparently well-documented account of Harper and Fletcher's travels that night.

Godwin, who has said that neither he nor the GBI have ruled Harper in or out as a potential person of interest in the case, put this way in an email exchange Wednesday with Crime Library: "Marcus's alibi is too perfect."




monkalup - May 26, 2006 11:24 PM (GMT)
http://www.crimelibrary.com/news/original/...nstead_dna.html

Could DNA Hold A Clue To Tara Grinsteads Fate?



by Seamus McGraw

May 16, 2006

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OCILLA, Ga. (Crime Library) — It is, perhaps, a tantalizing clue an orphan speck of DNA recovered during the search for missing schoolteacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead.

But despite a massive effort by state and local law enforcement officials, authorities still don't know whom it came from, says criminologist Dr. Maurice Godwin, or whether it might hold the key to solving the mystery of Grinstead's disappearance.



Tara Grinstead


Officially, authorities will not even confirm the existence of the DNA evidence, or any of the other leads Godwin has claimed to uncovered in the months since he launched his own probe into the schoolteacher's disappearance. "The issuesare not something we're going to comment on," said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The case, officials say, remains a missing persons investigation, and authorities have uncovered no evidence to suggest that the young teacher was the victim of foul play. In the past, authorities have been circumspect in their comments on Godwin's assertions about the case.

But Godwin, who says he has been working "fourteen or 15 hours a day on the case" at the behest of Tara's family, contends that GBI officials not only have the DNA evidence but have taken it seriously enough that they have collected DNA samples from a number of men in Tara's life. "They're swabbing people right and left," Godwin said. "You don't swab people without having something to compare it to."

With no matches, cops are still in the dark

So far, Godwin says, the GBI has not come up with a match, not from Tara's former boyfriend, not from a police captain in a nearby community with whom she enjoyed a close friendship, not from any of the other men in who played a prominent role in her life.

Precisely where the evidence was recovered also remains a closely guarded secret. "I know," Godwin told Crime Library. "I can't tell you."



Maurice Godwin


In the meantime, Godwin says, he has turned over to investigators information he obtained last month regarding two witnesses who claim to have spotted a black Chevy pickup near Tara's house on the night nearly eight months ago when she disappeared after attending the local Sweet Potato festival and beauty pageant. One of those witnesses, he says, claimed to have exchanged words with the driver of the pickup. Again, GBI officials declined to comment on Godwin's assertion, other than to say that the probe remains open and investigators are aggressively tracking every lead.



Ell - October 21, 2006 12:24 PM (GMT)
Georgia town moves on, but still wants to mystery solved
ELLIOTT MINOR
Associated Press
OCILLA, Ga. - Splashed across a billboard on one of the town's main streets is a color photo of a smiling young woman wearing an understated black dress and a plain, silver necklace. She looks poised, confident and destined for a life of achievement.

All of her hope and potential seemingly evaporated a year ago, when 31-year-old Tara Grinstead, a popular high school teacher and beauty queen, vanished without a trace.

Her disappearance on Oct. 22, 2005, sent shock waves through the community and touched off a massive investigation that included extensive searches by hundreds of volunteers in the forests and ponds of Irwin County and surrounding counties in south Georgia.

All that remains are fading memories and her haunting image on that missing person billboard along with some posters around town.

Friends and relatives say Grinstead was too responsible, too committed to her students and school to run off for personal reasons.

They fear the worst.

"I think quite obviously that after a year we pretty much have to assume that she's not coming back," said Bobby Conner, principal of Irwin County High School, where Grinstead taught history. "We just wish we knew something and we don't."

The clues don't add up to much, and even police can't say for sure she was a victim of foul play. A cell phone she always carried was found in her home. Her unlocked car was in the driveway. Her purse and keys were gone.

As news of her disappearance spread nationally, volunteers with tracking dogs and electronic gadgets poured into Ocilla, a town of 3,300, about 165 miles southeast of Atlanta. The case also attracted swarms of psychics to no avail.

Theories abounded on the Internet, the mystery was hashed out on national cable TV talk shows and supporters posted a $200,000 reward for information leading to her safe return.

After a year, her fate remains unknown and authorities still are treating her disappearance as a missing persons case.

"We're continuing to investigate ... and it's very active," said Gary Rothwell, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Perry office.

He said the Grinstead case file has grown to thousands of pages and his office has been assisted by FBI agents and state and local authorities as far away as California and New York.

"We're continuing to generate leads and pursue them," Rothwell said. "Hopefully at some point, we'll get the lead that will make everything fall into place."

Investigators have interviewed several of Grinstead's former boyfriends, but Rothwell said the investigation hasn't been limited to them.

The Ocilla Police Department put up the billboard and has handed out posters with Grinstead's photo. Some downtown businesses still display the poster in their windows.

"The community still feels a void," said Police Chief Billy Hancock. "We desperately want to fill that void with some kind of answer in order to have closure for the family and the community."

Brenda Roberson, owner of Brenda's Drapery & Antiques, said one of the first questions from out-of-towners is "any news on the school teacher?" Other residents say they hear the same question when they travel.

"It'll always be in the back of everyone's minds because if it was a violent person who did something to her, they could do it to you," Roberson said. "This lady was not one to just disappear. She had a great job and she was loved by the kids."

Residents still are mystified that in an age of DNA analysis and other scientific crime detection tools, one of their own could vanish, seemingly without a clue.

They'll honor Grinstead during a ceremony on Sunday, a week before the town hosts its 46th annual Sweet Potato Festival. On the day she was last seen, Grinstead had helped contestants in last year's Miss Sweet Potato Pageant with their hair and makeup before attending a cookout with friends.

She was reported missing two days later when she failed to report to work.

Conner, the school principal, said the ceremony on the anniversary of Grinstead's disappearance will rekindle memories. A year ago, he had the painful task of removing personal items from her classroom and preparing her students for a new teacher.

"She had the respect of all the students," he said. "She made her classes interesting. She was very conscientious, a very professional, caring educator.

Friends say Grinstead competed in pageants to win scholarships, which paid for most of her education at Valdosta State University. After earning a master's degree, she continued her studies and was preparing to enter a doctoral program.

In the months after her disappearance, residents put up ribbons, banners and signs all over town showing she was missed. Now those have all disappeared.

Her front yard was turned into a shrine with ornaments and signs. Now, other people live in the small brick-and-frame house Grinstead had rented, and the ornaments have disappeared.

Her sister, Anita Gattis of Hawkinsville, helped launch the Web site http://www.findtara.com and open a command center on a main street with a person manning a tip line. The Web site is still active, but as the months have passed, the center has been moved to a back-street office with an answering machine.

Gattis made several national television appearances and granted numerous interviews last year, but for this story, she said she was too busy to comment and didn't return telephone messages left by The Associated Press.

Hazel McCraine, president of the Ocilla-Irwin Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks about the Grinstead mystery every day.

"People care and it's not forgotten," she said. "It never will be forgotten."

---

http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/15812800.htm

Ell - April 22, 2007 10:50 AM (GMT)
OCILLA — In 2005, 834,536 missing persons cases were logged into the National Crime Information Center database by the FBI. But it was the one reported in a rural South Georgia town that launched what investigators have called an unprecedented investigation, involving hundreds of local, state and federal agents all tasked with one goal: to find Tara.
The Irwin County High School history teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead was last seen on Oct. 22, 2005, when she left a pageant presumeably headed home.

The events between the time she left the pageant that Saturday evening and the time she was reported missing after failing to show up for work Monday morning are still shrouded in mystery.

Ocilla is a shadow of the way it was immediately after she was reported missing. The thousands of volunteers who flocked to the town to help search the countryside for Grinstead have returned to their homes. The flyers that once peppered most every light pole and many trees are now mostly gone. An answering machine is now the lone sentry at the once buzzing Tara Command Center.

Grinstead’s house, the epicenter of the investigation and the place where many believe was the last place she was before her disappearance, has been cleared out and leased to a new tenant.

But Tara is still on the minds of the people of Irwin County.

At the place where she used to energize and inspire area youth as a teacher, a student- run group “Teens for Tara” has sponsored their own searches and continue to support search efforts.

Grinstead’s colleagues at Irwin County High School have formed their own group aptly named “Teachers for Tara.”

School staff members have set up the Tara Grinstead Recognition Award, given to people who participate in the Miss Red and Black pageant all of their years in high school. Grinstead organized and directed the pageant for six years.

And the case still garners the occasional media coverage. Television stations and newspapers sporadically sport features on the missing teacher, barely resembling the deluge of reporters and photographers that rolled in casting the eyes of the nation onto the case.

Court TV’s “Haunting Evidence” recently featured Grinstead on their international broadcast earlier this month, which prompted responses on the findtara.com guest book from far away lands such as Northern Ireland and England.


CHIEF ‘FRUSTRATED’ WITH CASE

Law enforcement officials admit that with their investigation trudging into its 18th month of operation, they’re frustrated with a lack of credible leads, good information and physical evidence.

One who knows this more than most is Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock. A community supporter as well as its top law man, Hancock says that after 18 months, the Grinstead case haunts him.

“I think about her and the case everyday,” Hancock said. “It’s there when I wake up and there when I go to bed. I need a conclusion to this, the family needs a conclusion to this and the community needs a conclusion to this.”

Hancock said that he communicates with family members periodically and prays everyday that the one piece of information that is still out there, will come in.

“It’s amazing,” Hancock said. “She literally has vanished off the face of the Earth. I know there has to be someone out there that has some kind of information about where she is.”

Hancock said that people hold their breaths when human remains or a body turns up in a neighboring county.

Just this week the body of a female was found floating in a pond in neighboring Tift County. Investigators quickly identified the woman as the 76-year-old landowner, but Hancock said that it was too close for comfort.

“I debated on whether or not to go over there or call over and ask if the body matched her (Tara) description, but I knew that if it was her, they’d let us know.”

Hancock says that he can’t imagine the plight of Grinstead’s family.

“Its one thing to suffer the death of a loved one,” Hancock said. “But just not knowing has got to be unimaginable. It’s frustrating not to be able to bring them some kind of comfort.”

And while Hancock’s frustration grows with every day that the Grinstead case remains open, he has hope for a resolution.

“I truly think this case is solvable,” Hancock said.

GBI: GRINSTEAD CASE ‘UNPRECEDENTED’


Gary Rothwell knows the value of patience. Just recently he was able to make an arrest in a 20-year-old case that involved a woman who, like Grinstead, had seemingly vanished until she popped up two years after being reported missing.

The head of the GBI operations in Perry, Rothwell has overseen the Grinstead investigation from day one. According to him, it has been one unprecedented in GBI history.

“This office basically shut down outside operations for about a year to focus on the Grinstead investigation,” Rothwell said. “At its peak, we had 60 or more agents working the case.”

Rothwell said that while tips come in slower these days, the GBI is just as involved in pursuing leads now as they were when Grinstead first went missing.

“Some people think that we’ve just stopped investigating because they don’t see the flurry of activity that there was when we had 60 agents on the case,” Rothwell said. “But there is rarely a day that goes by that someone isn’t working some aspect of the case. It’s far from being a cold case.”

As recently as April 12, GBI agents served a search warrant on a Tift County home and excavated a portion of the property off Third Avenue after receiving information that Grinstead’s body may have been buried there. The search turned out fruitless, but agents continue to search out leads in the case.

In the GBI database, Grinstead’s file is coded as a “25 Case” or “other” investigation, meaning that even though investigators are treating the case as a murder investigation, until they find any evidence of foul play or a body, it will technically be listed as a missing persons case.

Agents haven’t discounted the possibility that Grinstead may have just packed up and moved away, and that she may still be alive somewhere and for whatever reason hasn’t contacted anyone. But, as a matter of practice, agents often treat missing person cases as murder investigations until they can disprove foul play.

Rothwell said that agents frequently monitor message boards set up by those associated with Ocilla and Grinstead for any possible clues that could come up. And while some users may bash the work of his investigators, Rothwell said that these types of cases can’t be rushed to a conclusion and that often, a case can break with one small piece of information.

“There are a lot of people out there that don’t know the difference between suspicion and proof of involvement,” Rothwell said. “These investigations are a lot like a math formula. We have a bunch of the variables compiled, but until we get that one piece that can connect them all together, we just can’t solve it.”

The GBI’s file on Grinstead is massive. Currently it’s the largest single investigation on record with the bureau, taking 20 minutes just to download the thousands of pages of information from servers.

And while there haven’t been any major breaks in the case — at least none made public — Rothwell remains optimistic that they will ultimately find the missing Irwin County teacher. “This case is far from closed and until it is, we won’t stop trying to find what happened to her,” Rothwell said.

http://www.albanyherald.com/stories/20070422n4.htm

monkalup - May 11, 2007 11:58 AM (GMT)
http://www.walb.com/Global/story.asp?S=5626930&nav=5kZQ

Without a trace--
Tara Grinstead has been missing for over a year

Nov 5, 2006 10:20 PM EST


November 2, 2006


Ocilla -- 377 days ago, a popular South Georgia school teacher vanished without a trace. Thirty-one-year-old Tara Grinstead's disappearance made national news, and shook the small town of Ocilla.

She's never been found and her disappearance remains one of the biggest mysteries in Irwin County history.

Pictures of the smiling beauty queen were splashed across newspapers and television sets almost nightly this time last year.

Resident Walter Hudson says, "That was the biggest thing that's really happened in Ocilla, unfortunately."

Stephanie Royal says, "Everywhere you went, somebody was mentioning it or you'd see a sign or poster or something."

Something related to the woman who would quickly come to be known by her first name, Tara. The popular high school history teacher vanished the night of October 22, 2005. Her car and cell phone were found at her small rental house in Ocilla. Her keys and purse were gone.

Her disappearance spawned one of the biggest searches in Georgia history. Hundreds of law enforcement agents and volunteers fanned out on horseback, foot, all terrain vehicles. Search dogs and helicopters combed the area. No sign of Tara.

"We checked every lead out that's come to us," says Ike Thomas, Irwin Co. Chief Deputy.

Police still search when new tips come in, and spent five hours in the woods just last week. They found nothing. "What about this case surprises me the most is that there's not been anything that we could grasp," Thomas said. "Everything's just been so far off that we couldn't find anything. There's no lead that is concrete, yet.'"

The huge search and command operation, once at the Senior Citizen's center, is now tucked away inside a small office downtown. The door covered with posters of missing people. A billboard with Tara's picture is now gone, and so are the volunteers who helped searched for her.

"It's nothing compared to what it was last year. You don't hear about it , you don't see anything. There's no signs up anymore. Every now and then, you'll walk in and see a Missing Tara sign," says Said Stephanie Royal.

Tara's house on Park Street has been emptied of her things. Another school teacher lives there now. Her German Shepard, Dolly, who constantly barked in the days following Tara's disappearance, now lives in the backyard next door. Her cat, Herman Talmadge, lives with the neighbors, too.

This time last year, yellow crime scene tape was wrapped around the big pine trees. A large bow adorned the mailbox. But now, there's no reminder that she ever lived here. Her friends, though, aren't giving up hope. "We're all just baffled," said Sandy McClurd, one of those close friends.

She worked with Tara at Irwin County High School and helped organize last weekend's somber anniversary vigil. "We received the luminary bags from as far away as New Zealand. So people are still interested."

Interested in the fate of a young woman who seemingly had everything going for her. "I get a question from people everyday, 'Have you found Tara yet?' And really, the only way we can answer is 'No, but we're trying.' We're trying our hardest and we're using every effort that we can to find her," Deputy Thomas says.

But they have nothing to go on. Even the "who did it?" rumors and speculation that threatened to divide this town have subsided somewhat. "We're still on it. We're still looking, we're still trying. And I don't think you can ever close a case like this unless something's found," Ike Thomas says. "Every time we get a lead, we're hoping that we can find something, someway, somehow, for some closure of some kind."

"She would not give up on us, and we're not going to give up on her," Sandy McClurd says. And her close friends say they won't give up until they know what happened to Tara Grinstead.

The reward for information in the Tara Grinstead case now stands at $200,000.

Feedback: news@walb.com?subject=TaraTSR-DH

monkalup - May 11, 2007 11:59 AM (GMT)
http://www.amw.com/missing_persons/case.cfm?id=35468


AMW On The Scene--Possible Clues?

Tara Grinstead was last seen on October 22, 2005.

Weeks before Tara's birthday, America's Most Wanted got the only on-camera interview with the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who said that the agency has interviewed a number of people and is reviewing the evidence they have. He added that they are still treating Grinstead's case as a missing person's, but are growing more concerned as the days go by.

AMW was in Ocilla, Ga. the first week of November to speak with Tara Grinstead's family and friends about the missing woman. Tara's sister, Anita Gattis, told an AMW producer that even though there were no signs that a struggle took place at Tara's home, a few things aroused her suspicions.

At her home, Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock said investigators found the clothes she was wearing the night she went missing, as well as her car and cell phone. Her purse and keys were missing. Family and friends say Tara never went anywhere without her cell phone.

There have also been reports that a latex glove was found on Tara's front lawn, which police say has been submitted to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for testing.

Anita told AMW that a clock Tara kept near her bed was found under the bed -- and the time was six hours off. She said that a broken lamp was tilted against a wall, which would've been unlike Tara, who Anita says is very meticulous.

Elements about Tara's car also bother Anita. The car was found in Tara's driveway with the doors unlocked--something that Tara never did. And according to Anita, the car seats were pushed too far back for Tara. Tara is only 5'3" and kept the seats much closer to the steering wheel. As strange as these things may seem, they haven't provided police with any information as to Tara's whereabouts or what may have happened to her.


Officials say they are considering the possibility that Grinstead, who lived alone, was abducted.
A Semi-Charmed Life

An AMW producer ® speaks with Tara Grinstead's sister, Anita Gattis (L), inside the missing woman's home. Witnesses say Tara attended the annual Sweet Potato Festival and beauty pageant on October 22 in Fitzgerald, Ga., and then went to a friend's house for dinner. Hancock says Tara said she was going straight home, but she hasn't been seen or heard from since.

Friends and family say they tried unsuccessfully to contact Grinstead the Sunday after she was last seen. When she didn't show up for work at Irwin County High School that Monday, co-workers contacted police and reported her missing. Students and co-workers say the 11th-grade teacher was popular at the school and that it was unlike her to not show up for work.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has taken the lead in the investigation and authorities say Grinstead's disappearance is being treated as a missing persons case. Officials say they are considering the possibility that Grinstead, who lived alone, was abducted.

There are also reports that Tara may have left town because she had been upset over her break-up with a man she dated for six years. Family and friends say Tara thought she would marry her former beau, but was heartbroken when their relationship ended late last year. Close friends say she recently found out that he had started dating a much younger woman.

Police have questioned the ex-boyfriend as well as a student who was recently arrested for harassing Tara when he was found trying to enter her home. Investigators have also questioned everyone who knows Tara and have conducted several searches, but still have no leads in the case.

Although many who knew her thought she had the perfect life, Tara's troubled relationship and the disturbing incident with her former student offered a telling glimpse into the young woman's personal life. While the GBI has no reason to believe that Tara met with foul play, they have not ruled it out.


Despite Few Clues, The Search Continues

Police, along with friends and family, have been circulating this flier in hopes of finding Tara.

Volunteers and officers from nearly a dozen nearby law enforcement agencies are assisting in the search for Tara, according to the Irwin County Sheriff's Office. A command center has been set up at the Irwin County Senior Center, where volunteers from all over the state along with Tara's co-workers, family, friends and students have been answering phones, distributing fliers and organizing searches.

More than $80,000 in collected donations is being offered to anyone with information leading to Grinstead's whereabouts.




monkalup - May 11, 2007 12:01 PM (GMT)
http://www.amw.com/missing_persons/evidenc...es.cfm?id=35468

Clues From Tara's House?

Tara Grinstead's family believes that clues within her home point to signs of foul play in her disappearance

The missing woman's sister, Anita Gattis, walked AMW through Tara's home and pointed out potential evidence.
Tara's house is roped off with crime scene tape while police continue their investigation of her disappearance.
Tara's family thinks it's strange that her car --still parked in the carport--was left unlocked. They also say that the driver's seat was pushed back too far for the 5'3" woman.
Gattis says even though Tara's car is still parked at the house, both her car keys and purse are missing.
Even more out of character for Tara, Gattis says, was leaving home without her cell phone. The phone was left inside the house on its charger.
The clothing that Tara wore on the night of her disappearance was in her bedroom in this pile. Gattis says her sister was meticulous and would never leave clothes on the floor.
These are the shoes Tara was wearing on October 22, and her sister says Tara always kept her shoes in boxes.
This alarm clock was under Tara's bed and was off by six hours. This struck Gattis as highly unusual too because she says Tara is very punctual.
Tara's sister says this broken lamp--on a nightstand near her bed--may be evidence of foul play.

monkalup - May 11, 2007 12:04 PM (GMT)
http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/13012424.htm
Investigation into missing teacher continues

By Tim Sturrock

TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER


Investigators are re-interviewing people today in the search for a missing high school teacher in Irwin County, Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock said.

Tara Grinstead, a 30-year-old Hawkinsville native, hasn't been seen since Saturday and didn't show up for her job at Irwin County High School on Monday.

Hancock said investigators found at her home the clothes she wore Saturday night, as well as her car and cell phone. Her pocketbook and keys were missing, he said.

There are no current plans to search today for Grinstead, but investigators are looking for new information in the case, Hancock said.

He said investigators have received numerous tips so far about Grinstead.

"We do get people calling in with leads and we do check them out, and that happens pretty regularly," he said. "But nothing has panned out at this point."

Grinstead said investigators are considering all possibilities, but the investigation is still considered a missing-person's case.

"We're not ruling out any possibility. We're not ruling out the possibility that she was abducted. We're not ruling out the possibility that she drove off with someone and something happened between the two of them," he said.

He said searchers combed Ocilla and rural parts of the county Wednesday.



monkalup - May 11, 2007 12:05 PM (GMT)
Search finds no clues about missing teacher

Published on: 11/03/05
By BILL MONTGOMERY
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

There have been almost daily searches by foot, air and horseback ? around the south-central Georgia town of Ocilla for a popular high school history teacher and former beauty queen who vanished Oct. 24.

There have been concerned hallway hugs between faculty and students alike at Irwin County High School, and a public prayer vigil Oct. 25 at the Irwin County Courthouse. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has made inquiries and a $30,000 reward has been raised by the community, but there has been no sign of Tara Grinstead, 30, a teacher at Irwin County High for the past eight years and Miss Tifton in 1999.

"We're a small community and this has really touched home because it is something you read about happening elsewhere. This is someone with a tremendous, magnetic personality, and the kids just love her," said Irwin High School principal Bobby Conner.

"I had her for a teacher last year in 11th grade," said student Mandy Dean, who wears a photo of Grinstead made into a pin on her sweater. "She was nice, really sweet."

A native of Hawkinsville, Grinstead graduated from Hawkinsville High School in 1993, had a master's degree in history from Valdosta State University, and was still taking courses toward a doctoral degree in education administration there, said Grinstead's older sister, Anita Gattis of Hawkinsville. "I believe she wanted to become a school principal or teach college history," Gattis said. "Tara was the kind who could do anything."

She and her sister communicated by e-mail almost daily, Gattis said, and she did not believe Grinstead was having any problems "other than the stress of teaching all day and going to school four nights a week."

On the Saturday she was last seen, Oct. 22, Grinstead helped contestants in the Miss Sweet Potato Pageant in Fitzgerald and later attended a barbecue with friends.

She was last seen leaving that gathering and was reported missing when she didn't appear at school the following Monday.

Her car was in the driveway of her Ocilla home. Both car and house had been locked, and her purse and keys were gone, said GBI spokesman John Bankhead.

"It was out of the ordinary for her not to have contacted somebody that she was not coming in, so it doesn't look good from that standpoint," Bankhead said.

"Generally speaking there was nothing to indicate . . . any kind of foul play, nothing to indicate there was some kind of violent struggle," he said.

http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/1105/03metsearch.html

monkalup - May 11, 2007 12:12 PM (GMT)
http://www.walb.com/Global/story.asp?S=4064765&nav=5kZQ

November 2, 2005


Ocilla-- Friends and family say Tara Grinstead is a lovable person and respected member of the Ocilla community. She's a devoted and well-liked 11th grade History teacher at Irwin County High School.

We've seen her picture and watched video of her singing in beauty pageants, but today Tara Grinstead's best friend, Maria Hulett told us that Tara is much more than a pretty face.

Thirty-year-old Tara Grinstead's passion for history didn't end at her classroom door. She loves to visit museums and historical buildings, and she even has a dog named Dolly Madison and a cat named Herman Talmadge.

She was Miss Tifton 1999 and loves to sing. She did an interview with the Fun Channel in Tifton before leaving for Miss Georgia. "I've worked on my interview, exercised, shopped for lots of clothes and just tried to get prepared for my week at Miss Georgia," she said in the interview.

She's still involved with pageantry, coaching young competitors. The night she disappeared, she had helped contestants with their hair and make-up for a pageant in Fitzgerald.

"She loved doing hair and make-up for girls in pageant, and she loved going to pageants to see them because she was a pageant queen," said Dana Wilder.

"She always taught me to never give up, be confident and determined," says Lindy Luke.

She's a member of First Baptist church of Hawkinsville, where she grew up. She was a cheerleader at Hawkinsville High School and then went on to Middle Georgia College to become a teacher. Grinstead got her Masters in Education from Valdosta State University in 2003 and is working on her doctorate. She moved to Ocilla to teach at Irwin County High in 1998.

At the time of the Fun Channel interview, she had just completed her first year of teaching. "I'm an 11th grade history teacher at Irwin County High School. I also have a cheerleading squad of Junior Varsity cheerleaders. I just completed my first year of teaching, and I love every bit of it," Grinstead said in the interview.

She also works as a part time administrator at Irwin County Middle School. Friends say Grinstead loves to exercise, drink Diet Coke with grenadine, collects Barbies, and loves 80's music, especially Bon Jovi.

She is single, her friends said she had recently broken up with a boyfriend. She was never married. Her friends says she is happy, compassionate and kind, and they miss her very much.

Tara's best friend Maria Hulett asks you to continue to pray for Tara, and begs anyone with information to call authorities.

Tara Grinstead also helped coach the cheerleading squad at Irwin County High School, and many of her students are helping search for her.

monkalup - May 11, 2007 12:13 PM (GMT)
Search for missing S. Georgia teacher called off
Published on: 11/09/05

OCILLA, Ga. ? Police have called off their search for a popular high school teacher who has been missing for more than two weeks.

Tara Grinstead, 30, was last seen Saturday, Oct. 22 at a cookout. She was reported missing the following Monday when she did not show up for work.

"Essentially, we are through unless we get any additional leads that would call us back," Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock said.

Cadaver dogs, horses, helicopters, four-wheelers and people on foot have searched every day since she was reported missing, Hancock said. More than 50 public safety agencies from around the state have assisted in the search of Irwin County, which spans 358 square miles in south Georgia.

Hancock said little has changed in the investigation and that there are no suspects in the disappearance. Investigators have said they are looking into every possibility. But Irwin County Sheriff Donnie Youghn has said he is losing hope that Grinstead is safe.

Grinstead's sister, Anita Gattis, said civilian searchers will continue looking for her. Grinstead's stepmother, Connie Grinstead, said her family plans to meet with investigators to talk about future searches.

"We still don't know where Tara is, so I think we have to keep looking," she said. "We can't just give up."


http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/1105/09teacher.html

monkalup - May 11, 2007 12:14 PM (GMT)
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http://www.planethuff.com/darkside/archive..._grinstead.html

The Men in Tara's Life?
Nov. 2, 2005

In this article for Court TV's crimelibrary.com, the always-excellent Seamus McGraw added more layers to the mystery of what happened to Tara Faye Grinstead, age 30.

Since editor Marilyn Bardsley has spent some time in Ocilla, Georgia this week, she's been able to gather copious amounts of info verifying some rumors extant about the disappearance of the former Beauty Queen and 11th-grade social studies teacher at Irwin County High, down in rural south Georgia, near Valdosta and the Florida border. Marilyn was also able to dispel some rumors for me personally and Seamus's article is highly recommended for the clear-headed way he lays all this out. Court TV's crimelibrary.com is also now developing a full coverage of the Grinstead case, as they have done for years with many high-profile cases, as I most recently did, co-writing The Disappearance of Taylor Behl for them with Marilyn.

A significant development in Seamus's article is the first public mention of which I am aware of the name of Tara's long-time ex, Marcus T. Harper. From Relationships Could Provide Clues to Missing Woman's State of Mind, by Seamus McGraw:

Friends and others familiar with the probe say that her sometimes-stormy relationship with long time boyfriend Marcus T. Harper may help authorities piece together Grinstead's state of mind before she disappeared.

According to several sources who spoke on condition that they not be named, the couple began their relationship six years ago, and it was, in most respects, a classic small town romance. Harper, who could not be reached for comment for this story, had, according to friends of Grinstead, a fascination with law enforcement, and a driving desire to join the local police department, while Grinstead, a church going teetotaler, focused her attention on education and on the local beauty contest which she had once won.

In fact, according to several sources, Grinstead was deeply in love with Harper, he had a key to her home, a source said, and she had anticipated that someday they would marry. But that all changed after 9-11 when Harper left the police department and joined the U.S. Army, becoming a member of the Rangers, an elite branch of the special forces. He served, according to friends in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But during his stint in the military, and later as a contractor working in Iraq, the relationship changed.

According to one source, Harper became disenchanted with the relationship and, the source said, the couple began to bicker frequently. There was never any hint of violence between the pair, according to several sources, and in April, they finally broke up. By all accounts, Grinstead was deeply distressed by the breakup.

In fact, although she dated at least one other man, one friend told Crime Library that she remained deeply in love with Harper. In mid October one friend said, Grinstead had made efforts to reconnect with Harper, and when he resisted, she became so overwrought that she took a long drive and had to pull over and call for assistance to get home. The next day, uncharacteristically, she called in sick to school. A few days later, when a policeman from a neighboring community whom she had dated turned up at school, she left early. That too was unusual for the highly devoted and motivated ninth grade teacher...


What Marilyn's research and Seamus's article provided for me was a new perspective on the case of the missing teacher. While Tara was apparently well-adjusted and gifted in many ways (I couldn't help but note, from my own research, that her talent as a pageant contestant was singing), Tara Grinstead's life was not without its anxieties and stresses. Harper is not mentioned as an object of suspicion so much as a catalyst, perhaps. Through details Seamus McGraw included in the article and other details he wasn't able to fit that Marilyn gave me in a phone conversation (ironically, one we had as I stood in the book section at the Super Wal-Mart thumbing through true crime selections) the reason Tara's vanishing from Ocilla was, at least initially, not cause for the kind of concern in the press one might expect is fairly obvious. Sources close to the investigation unanimously agree -- what disarray there might have been at Tara's home was so minimal as to provide police with very little reason to think a confrontation or struggle had taken place. The first investigators on the scene also attached very little significance to certain details like Tara's phone being in her bathroom, and her bedside lamp being "broken." It had apparently been broken before, perhaps as a result of rambunctious behavior by Tara's cat, Herman.

Seamus also referenced Anthony Vickers, the 20-year-old former student from Wray, GA who apparently had a crush on Tara Grinstead:

Among the relationships that have attracted the attention of authorities is the missing woman's dealings with a 20-year-old former student. The student had apparently become smitten with Grinstead, and on at least one occasion, was so aggressive that Grinstead called police when he showed up at her home and began banging on her door. The young man was charged with disorderly conduct. Authorities interviewed the man on Monday...

Marilyn clarified for me the question of a restraining order against Vickers... there never was one. Vickers was indeed arrested for pounding on Tara's door, but that was the extent of Tara's legal action against him so far. Vickers obviously has his defenders, people who are quite sensitive about the suspicion that is, at least privately, being expressed right now in Ocilla about his infatuation with Tara Grinstead and what, if anything, he had to do with her disappearance. I know, I've heard from them. Additionally, Anthony may have a solid alibi for the night of Tara's disappearance -- that is still not entirely clear to me. I mention his name for the first time only because I've been made aware that his name will be in the media sometime today, anyway.

All the preceding tells you why I started off by saying Seamus McGraw and Marilyn Bardsley, in a way, have only added layers to the story. It is quite clear to me now how frustrating this case might be for the authorities investigating. There are, or were, perfectly good reasons at first for those with inside knowledge of Tara's life and the circumstances of her vanishing to believe she might have run off.

Now we are moving towards two weeks since Tara's disappearance, and each day so far of searching in Ocilla and the surrounding areas has been fruitless.

Often, when someone disappears like this, one of the first hints of what their fate may truly have been is broadcast when the media states that the person's finances have remained untouched since they vanished. Tara Grinstead did take her purse with her when she left her house on October 22, 2005. Has her bank account been accessed? If an automatic teller was used, could there be video somewhere of the person using her ATM card, if that was used? What about her credit cards? Did she make a big withdrawal from savings prior to Saturday, October 22? If the answers to all these questions is no, then there couldn't be a much stronger indication that foul play took the bubbly Miss Tifton of 1999 from her home that next-to-last weekend in October.

There is always the Groene factor, as I call it. When Brenda and Slade Groene and Brenda's boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, were found dead, Dylan and Shasta Groene missing, I personally made it a point to discount a theory I'd had that I thought too awful... that a stranger had simply decided he wanted the children, and the most effective way to get them was to kill any potential witnesses to the abduction. Naive as it seems now, I just couldn't wrap my head around a child predator that motivated -- that he'd brutally bludgeon two adults and a young teen just to try and get his real prey, the children.

Yet that was exactly the case. A stealthy serial predator targeted the Groene children anonymously. He staked out the home, and when he thought the time was right, he struck. I remember distinctly thinking that such an idea was so awful I didn't want to consider it... it seemed unrealistic. Now that Joseph Edward Duncan III is likely his generation's answer, in some ways, to Ted Bundy, I know that such monstrous predators do exist, and hide in plain sight. Were there any special events in Ocilla aside from the pageant in neighboring Fitzgerald the weekend of the 22nd? Events that might bring in strangers?

What about Harper? A former cop, and then an Army Ranger. As a correspondent of mine with a long and impressive career in law enforcement pointed out to me in an e-mail; what does the Army teach you to do? To kill, for one thing. Special Forces, Rangers, Green Berets, Navy Seals, all exceptionally organized and well-trained soldiers, or they don't stay in those programs. A former cop would know just what crime scene investigators look for first, as well. If he was able to switch on the kind of cool-headedness surely demanded by special operations, he would have been meticulous about making a victims' home appear as if nothing had really happened. That, and 5'3" woman who was still perhaps infatuated with him would have presented no physical challenge. But inside that statement is the very reason one might not suspect Harper at all: it sounds like he was the one being chased.

Then there is the question of being stalked. Is that what Vickers was doing? Or did he simply mistake the fact that Tara was a notably kind and sympathetic person for attraction, and get the message after she called the cops? He wouldn't be the first young man to take a welcoming smile from a pretty girl the wrong way. I'd lay good money on a bet that nearly all of us have done it at one point.

Neither man has even been mentioned publicly by police, though sources close to the investigation have admitted both have been questioned to some extent. Neither man is officially even a person-of-interest.

But where would Tara have gone late on a Saturday night in a town of about 3,300, without her own car, almost 20 miles from Interstate 75? Someone would have seen her. Suicide? How? I lived a couple of hours north of Ocilla for more than a year... it isn't like their are any high buildings, much less cliffs and/or bridges in that part of Georgia. It's pretty flat and rural.

I have to wonder, too, if something significant was missing from her home that isn't being revealed. Was all her jewelry there, for instance?

And finally, again from the article at CrimeLibrary.com, by Seamus McGraw:

Investigators are also trying to determine the origin of a latex glove ? the kind used by paramedics, doctors and police officers ? on the front lawn of her home after she was reported missing...

Evidence of my "Groene factor?" And can epithelials truly be lifted off rubber gloves? Evidence of someone highly organized having a moment of disorganization?

Questions. That's all Ocilla, Irwin County High, and people like me have, still.




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