A wooded area was being searched Tuesday afternoon for the remains of Tara Grinstead, a former beauty queen and history teacher. (Photo: Channel 2 Action News)

Investigators dig in search for Tara Grinstead’s remains

An extensive search of a south Georgia pecan farm has yielded evidence in the homicide case of Tara Grinstead, investigators said Tuesday.

 “We’re hopeful we can find her remains and that’s why we are there,” GBI Special Agent in Charge J.T. Ricketson said Tuesday afternoon.

But details on what was found weren’t released and won’t be any time soon. Late Tuesday, a judge signed a “gag order” preventing law enforcement from discussing the case of Grinstead, a teacher and former beauty queen who has been missing for more than 11 years. Potential witnesses, court personnel and family members of both Grinstead and her alleged killer are all prohibited from making statements about the case, the order states. 

 “Because this case is high profile and has generated extensive media coverage, and because the Defendant’s sixth amendment right to a fair trial may be prejudiced by extra-judicial statements, the Court has considered and weighed the issue and hereby finds that there is a reasonable likelihood the Defendant’s sixth amendment right to a fair trial by an impartial jury may be prejudiced by extra judicial statements,” Superior Court Judge Melanie Cross wrote in the order. 

 A team of 41 investigators and anthropologists dug through a wooded area Tuesday behind a farm in Ben Hill county. It’s the second time in a week investigators have searched the area, Ricketson said. The property’s owners are not involved with the investigation, he said.

Grinstead, an Irwin County High School history teacher and three-time Miss Tifton, was reported missing from her Ocilla home in October 2005. Last week, a former student, Ryan Alexander Duke, was arrested and charged with murder in Grinstead’s death.

The GBI declined to say how Grinstead died. But arrest warrants accuse Duke of burglary and aggravated assault, stating that he “used his hands in an offensive manner” and harmed Grinstead. Duke then allegedly removed Grinstead’s body from her home, according to a warrant charging him with concealing a death.

The Grinstead case made national headlines in the days and months following her disappearance. The former beauty pageant winner’s story was featured on television crime shows and a popular podcast. 

 But until last week, investigators had not made any arrests in the case despite hundreds of tips and interviews. It was a tipster that led detectives to Duke, Ricketson said.

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