• Mystery still surrounds Tara Grinstead's death

    By: Tony Thomas

    Updated:

    BEN HILL COUNTY, Ga. - Investigators spent a second day Wednesday in a South Georgia field searching for the remains of Tara Grinstead.

    Grinstead disappeared in 2005. Last week, Ryan Duke was charged with her murder.

    For the first time since the arrest, Grinstead's sister, Anita Gattis, is breaking her silence about the case.

    "This ripped the scab off the wounds that have never totally healed," Gattis told Channel 2's Tony Thomas.

    "Had the name Ryan duke ever popped up?" Thomas asked Gattis.

    "I'd never heard of him,” she replied.

    For months after her sister disappeared from Ocilla, Anita Gattis organized search parties and pushed for answers.

    She's been quiet for the past few years as authorities tried to solve the mysterious case.

    She spoke to Thomas by phone as agents worked through the pecan orchard just outside of Fitzgerald in Ben Hill County.

    Agents say they are following leads after Dukes arrest.


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    Grinstead was a former Beauty Queen and teacher at Irwin County High School. She vanished in late October, 2005, from her small one-story home.

    Police say there were few clues about what happened except for an overturned lamp and a plastic glove found in the yard. 

    Massive searches of South Georgia turned up few clues. Then 11.5 years later, a tip came into investigators that they say led them to Duke and busted the case wide open.

    Just before a judge issued a gag order in the case, GBI agents told Thomas that they have found some evidence in this field and are testing it to determine if it is connected to Grinstead. 

    Agents spent days zeroing in on this spot.

    "We continued to follow up with more interviews of people who were involved in this, and we've got a little bit more specific location," said GBI Agent JT Rickertson.

    "I just want to know why Tara? Why did he pick Tara?" Gattis said.

    For others in the area, the search brings back memories of the searches and feelings of despair as they tried to find the missing woman.

    "It does give me some closure," said 85-year-old James Wilcox.

    Wilcox lives just down Bowens Mill Highway from where authorities are searching.

    "When I look at this here, it just takes you back to all that I went through," Wilcox told Thomas

    Wilcox spent weeks walking through woods with teams and by himself, hoping to find Grinstead.   

    "A lot of places we went. And now they think they found her within a mile of my house, it’s amazing," he said. "When something like that happened in the neighborhood, it upsets everybody you know, so I went on the search."

    Wilcox can't remember anyone searching the exact area where authorities are now, but he says they searched just about everywhere else, including directly across the street. 

    Wilcox and others now wait to hear if agents will find Tara’s remains, and if anyone else might be arrested.

    “It is Georgia, don't believe anything you hear and half of what you see, a lot of rumors going around," said Jim Connell, a nearby resident.

    Wilcox told Thomas after years of wondering, he's relieved the case may finally be solved.

    "I'm just glad that they got somebody. I guess they got the right guy," he said as he looked out over the land near the search.

    Citing the gag order put in place by a judge, GBI agents have not said whether they plan on returning to the land again.

    The property owner, Randy Hudson, released a statement Wednesday saying in part, "Our most sincere prayers go out to the Grinstead family. I'd also like to say that we are cooperating with the local sheriff's agency and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in regards to this matter on our farm."

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