OCILLA, Ga — A suspect sits behind bars accused of murder in what’s been called the largest missing persons case file in the history of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. A former Irwin County high school student is charged with murder in the disappearance of missing teacher Tara Grinstead.
For more than 11 years, no one could figure out what happened in Tara Grinstead’s small Ocilla home.
“It was essentially my legacy. It was a failure under my watch,” says Gary Rothwell, retired GBI agent.
Retired GBI agent Rothwell led the investigation for years. He says trying to figure out what happened to the 30 year old former beauty queen and teacher was the case of his career.
“What made it so difficult, you’re dealing with a missing person. You don’t know what happened so you can’t rule anyone out,” says Rothwell.
Rothwell rushed from Florida to watch Ryan Duke face charges he murdered Grinstead. Current investigators say Duke wasn’t even on their radar until recently.
“A few days ago a person came forward and reported they had information,” GBI agent J.T. Ricketson told reporters Thursday afternoon, February 23, during a press conference.
We learned several new key details about this investigation and what GBI agents feel happened inside Tara Grinstead’s home in October 2005. They told a judge they first believe Duke came here for a burglary and he killed Grinstead with his own hands and then took her body elsewhere to hide it.
“Our wounds are deep, our hearts are broken,” says Connie Grinstead, Tara’s stepmother.
The Grinstead family calls this another chapter in their painful journey.
“Thank God for answered prayers,” Connie Grinstead told reporters.
At a house outside Ocilla linked to the Duke family, a man would not make a comment.
“Human nature is that it’s a relief that maybe it wasn’t something that we overlooked or didn’t do that caused this case to be unsolved for so long,” says Rothwell.
So far, there’s no word as to whether authorities have any clues as to the location of Grinstead’s remains.