More than 11 years after the baffling disappearance of a south Georgia teacher, the man allegedly responsible for her murder has been arrested.
JT Ricketson, special agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, says Ryan Alexander Duke is in police custody.
GBI officials held a 3:00 news conference Thursday at the Irwin County Courthouse in Ocilla, Ga., to announce a major break in the case of Tara Grinstead. "This gentleman never came up in our radar," Ricketson said of Ryan Duke.
Grinstead was last seen around 11:00 on the Saturday night of October 22, 2005, after the Miss Sweet Potato pageant of Ocilla's Sweet Potato Festival. A former Miss Tipton, Grinstead had helped with the contestants' hair and makeup. The 30-year-old teacher was reported missing by Irwin High School colleagues on Monday, October 24, when she didn't show up for work.
"The only things missing from her house are her purse and keys, but her car is sitting out front," Irwin County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Billy Hancock said at the time.
Grinstead's phone was also found inside her home.
Published reports said that a nightstand lamp was on the floor. Outside the house, investigators found a latex glove with a partial fingerprint.
Police never ruled out foul play in the case.
WSB Radio updated the investigation two years ago in February, when a source contacted the GBI, which led them to a small pond on some private property in Fitzgerald, on the north side of Ben Hill County.
GBI Special Agent in Charge J.T. Ricketson was hopeful about the tip which led them to drain the pond in 2015. Agents slogged through mud and silt with shovels and rakes, searching for clues--or a body.
"We found a few items that were mentioned from our source," said Ricketson. "We did not find any remains or anything like that, which was disappointing to us."
He was tight-lipped about what was found, but said they would follow the new leads wherever they took investigators.
"When we put together cases, it's like putting a puzzle together," said Ricketson. "Some jigsaw puzzles have 100 pieces. This one has several thousand pieces."
He added that there a particular obstacles involved in a missing person case. “When you look at a missing person case unlike say a homicide scene or a robbery scene, burglary, whatever--You generally have a crime scene that you can work with where you can go in and try to find evidence,” Ricketson explained.
“In a missing person case, you don’t really have any specific scene. They just vanished.”
He said in the case of Grinstead, the GBI “didn’t have a scene where we had a struggle or anything like that where you could back and look for trace evidence, DNA, fingerprints.
“We just were very limited in what presented itself to us, trying to backtrack Tara Grinstead and where she went, what her routine was, who she had contact with.”
Ricketson added, “And Tara was a very popular person. She didn’t have just a routine that was basic. She had a lot of things that she did, and she traveled in and around different cities and counties down there.
“It’s been a very difficult case."