Tip leads to arrest in Georgia teacher’s 2005 disappearance


RUSS BYNUM, AP

Teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead vanished from her south Georgia home in 2005, leaving a mystery that had stumped investigators for nearly 12 years — until a tip led to an unexpected arrest.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Thursday that a former student at Irwin County High School, where Grinstead taught history, has been charged with her murder.

The suspect, 33-year-old Ryan Alexander Duke, was being held at the Irwin County jail in Ocilla, about 165 miles southeast of Atlanta.

“We always believed that it would be solved,” Connie Grinstead, the missing woman’s stepmother, told reporters at a courthouse news conference Thursday in which the GBI announced the arrest. “We just did not know when.”

The arrest provides some answers for a small farming community that has long grappled with Grinstead’s strange disappearance.

“When I heard, I just broke down in tears of relief, of anger, of sadness and frustration,” said Wendy McFarland, a fellow teacher and friend of Grinstead’s. “Everything that had been carried for the last 11 years and four months just bubbled to the surface.”

But many questions remain.

GBI agent J.T. Ricketson, the lead investigator, declined to discuss Grinstead’s relationship to the suspect and left open the possibility that others were involved. He wouldn’t even say whether Grinstead’s body had been found.

Ricketson told reporters a tip days ago led investigators to make the arrest.

Duke had been a student at Irwin County High School, where Grinstead taught history, about three years before the teacher vanished, Ricketson added.

He didn’t elaborate but noted that after hundreds of leads in the case that included interviewing numerous people, Duke had never been among them.

“This gentleman never came up on our radar,” Ricketson said.

McFarland said she was shocked authorities were accusing Duke, saying she remembered him as a polite high school athlete who played on the tennis team.

“My recollection of him is that he was a very bright young man,” McFarland said. “He was very nice.”