Tara Grinstead’s accused killers confessed in 2005, court documents claim

Within weeks of a South Georgia teacher’s disappearance, two of her former students told friends at a party they had killed Tara Grinstead and burned her body, according to documents filed this week in Irwin County Superior Court. 

Grinstead was reported missing in October 2005, and the following month, Ryan Alexander Duke and Bo Dukes told others they were responsible for her death and it was reported to police, court documents state. But the case remained cold until early 2017, when both Duke and Dukes were arrested. 

So did investigators drop the ball? Yes, according to Duke’s attorneys. And because it took so long to arrest the suspects, most of the charges should be dropped due to the statute of limitations, the motion states. 

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“It is undisputed that Irwin County law enforcement knew of these crimes within months of the disappearance of Tara Grinstead,” a court motion states. “In fact, a search of the area where Ms. Grinstead’s body was allegedly burned was conducted...”

Grinstead, 30, an Irwin County High School teacher and former beauty queen, was last seen on Oct. 22, 2005, when she left a cookout and said she was going straight home. Two days later, she was reported missing when she didn’t show up to teach history.

Ryan Alexander Duke, 33, was arrested and charged with murder in the death of Tara Grinstead. (Photo: GBI) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Because Duke and Dukes were identified as suspects later in 2005 but not charged until 2017, all but the murder charge should be dropped, Duke’s public defenders claim in one of two dozen motions filed in the past week. 

“Duke and Dukes were identified as suspects and known to law enforcement in 2005,” the motion states. “By a generous application of the statute of limitations of four years, the statute would have run (expired) near December of 2009.”

The GBI declined to comment on the allegations in the motion and referred questions to the District Attorney. The District Attorney could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. 

Bo Dukes (right) was arrested and charged in connection with the death of Irwin County teacher Tara Grinstead. (Channel 2)

In another motion, Duke’s attorney asks that his indictment be dismissed because the language used is too “vague, ambiguous and indefinite.” In April 2017, a grand jury indicted Duke on six counts, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary and concealing the death of another.

In June 2017, Dukes was indicted on charges including concealing a death, tampering with evidence, and hindering apprehension of a criminal. 

Dukes “did unlawfully and knowingly destroy physical evidence by burning the body of Tara Faye Grinstead, a human being, at a location off Bowen’s Mill Highway,” in Fitzgerald, the indictment states. 

After Duke and Dukes were arrested, the GBI searched woods behind a pecan farm in the area but have not publicly said what was found.

A hearing on the motions has been scheduled for Sept. 20 in Irwin County. 

Channel 2's Tony Thomas reports.

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