Ocilla, GA

Former Students Charged with the Murder of Teacher Tara Grinstead

True Crime Mysteries (Megan)

She went missing in 2005, and new arrests were made after a podcast covered her cold case disappearance

Tara Grinstead (Image courtesy of People)

October 24, 2005, in Ocilla, Georgia, kids and facilities started filing in to begin the school day at Irwin County High. The bell rang, but one of their teachers, thirty-year-old Tara Grinstead, hadn’t arrived. Her classroom was still locked, and students waited outside.

This was highly unusual for the history teacher. She had always been on time and would have called if something had come up. Her coworkers called her home but didn’t get an answer. Ocilla was a small town with a tight-knit community.

Tara was single and lived alone. She was working on her Ph.D. in education and kept a busy schedule. She had last been seen on Saturday. A retired pageant queen, she had been helping young pageant hopefuls Saturday morning. Later that day, she attended a BBQ with friends and went home around 11 PM that night.

When law enforcement entered her home, they discovered no signs of forced entry. Her car was in the driveway, but her purse and car keys weren’t in the home. Her cellphone was found still plugged in and charging. Nothing looked amiss in the home except a broken lamp in her bedroom.

It initially appeared as if she had gone out, but something that stood out was that her dog had been left in the backyard, and those close to Tara stated that she would never have her dog outside unattended for an extended time. Her cat had also been left unfed. Tara’s pets were everything to her, and she would never have gone without arranging care for them, and she certainly wouldn’t have left her dog outside for multiple days. Detectives knew Tara had returned home after the cookout because they found the outfit she had been wearing that night on the floor in her bedroom.

For days local law enforcement searched for Tara. Massive search parties searched, and hundreds of tips were followed up with. Many had hoped Tara had picked up and run off to start a new life, but those closest to Tara knew that wasn’t in her nature. Neither her bank nor credit cards had ever been used after her disappearance, which was also a sign that she hadn’t left her life voluntarily.

Tara was extremely busy. In addition to her job, coaching for beauty pageant competitions, and schooling, Tara also had a wide circle of friends and was very social.

In Tara’s front yard, a latex glove had been recovered, which turned into one of the only pieces of evidence. It led detectives to believe that someone with intimate knowledge of police procedure had abducted Tara. Their lead suspect was Tara’s ex-boyfriend, who had retired from the military and had briefly worked as a police officer. Though there was no evidence connecting him to the case, he had a strong alibi for that weekend.

Another piece of evidence was a business card wedged in Tara’s front door. The card had been to a local business, leading to a dead end.

Eventually, the case went cold.

In August 2016, the podcast “Up and Vanished” aired its first episode. The series focused on Tara’s disappearance and became hugely popular across the globe, and had also gotten people talking locally, which in turn reinvigorated the investigation.

The podcast interviewed various people in Tara’s life. It detailed all the available evidence and covered some local rumors and theories that swirled around Tara’s disappearance.

Six months after the first episode aired, a tip came in with critical evidence.

Brooke Sheridan had been dating her boyfriend, Bo Dukes, for about a year when she noticed him behaving differently. It had been a sudden shift starting that summer. She described him having panic attacks, talking about being suicidal, and having general anxiety. On January 10, he had a panic attack, and this time, Brooke had convinced him to tell her what was bothering him. What he said next shocked her. Bo said he knew what had happened to Tara Grimstead.

Bo stated that two days after Tara had gone missing, during a massive search, his best friend, Ryan Duke, called him. Ryan said help, and during that call, he confessed to murdering Tara Grimstead. Bo claimed that initially, he thought Ryan had been joking, but then, Ryan revealed he had dumped her body on Bo’s grandfather’s pecan farm.

Bo Dukes (Image courtesy of BEN HILL COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

Ryan brought him to where Tara’s body was, and Bo said he freaked out and asked Ryan what had happened. According to Bo, Ryan stated that he had been in Tara Grimstead’s home, looking for things to steal when she returned home. At the time, Ryan was dealing with a severe drug problem and needed money. He said that when Tara came home, he was still inside and attacked her and strangled her to death. Ryan also revealed he had borrowed Bo’s truck to transport Tara’s body.

Both Ryan and Bo knew Tara. They had been students in her class. Bo claimed to have panicked. He didn’t think anyone would believe he hadn’t been involved in Tara’s murder, given the body was on his family’s property and Ryan had used his truck. He stated that the two decided to burn Tara’s body using firewood from the property. For the next twelve hours, they kept a bonfire going until they couldn’t see any remains left, and then they buried the rest and purposely started a wildfire in the nearby brush to explain the burn pit.

Ryan Duke (Image courtesy of Irwin County Sheriff's Office)

Ryan Duke was arrested, but he claimed it had been Bo who murdered Tara, and he helped Bo move her body, and it had been Bo’s idea to burn her body. Bo Dukes was also arrested on charges of concealing a death, evidence tampering, and hindering the apprehension of a criminal. Bo Dukes was able to post bond and later pleaded not guilty despite his earlier confession. Ryan Duke also pleads not guilty.

The two had separate trials. Bo Dukes’ trial was first in 2019, where he was found guilty of concealing Tara’s death and making false statements to law enforcement. He received twenty-five years in prison.

Ryan Duke’s trial was in May 2022. He faced murder and burglary charges as well as aggravated assault charges. He was found not guilty on all charges except he was found guilty on the concealment charge. He was given the maximum sentence of ten years in prison. The two still face several civil suits.

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Sources:https://people.com/crime/tara-grinstead-georgia-teacher-beauty-queen-second-suspect-arrested/ https://lawandcrime.com/live-trials/live-trials-archived/beauty-queen-tara-grinstead-murder-case/i-think-it-ruined-me-murder-defendant-testifies-that-former-schoolmate-is-tara-grinsteads-real-killer-fondled-the-body-before-burning-remains/ https://season1.upandvanished.com/

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