Friday, October 31, 2008

Three Year Anniversary of the Disappearance of Tara Grinstead

While this blog usually focuses on the strange and weird, there is one Georgia mystery that I find very intriguing-the disappearance of Tara Grinstead. For those that might not know, Tara Grinstead disappeared in Ocilla, Georgia on October 22, 2005. This October marks the third anniversary of her disappearance. Tara was an all-American girl. She was a 31 year old high school American history teacher who had her masters, was working on her specialist in education degree, and was planning on finishing her doctorate in education one day. She was a former Miss Georgia contestant, involved in many local community activities, was loved by her students, and had lots of friends. She was the kind of girl that any mother would hope her son marries.

Tara returned to her Ocilla home from a cookout on that Saturday night, and noone would ever see her again. She had a dog-Dolley Madison, a cat-Herman Talmadge, and a quaint little house in the city of Ocilla. She never left her animals unattended, but when police arrived at the Grinstead home, they found Dolley Madison (her dog) in the backyard where she had obviously been left most of the weekend. This was very strange for Tara. She always left the dog in at night. Suspicion that something might be wrong with Tara began on Monday morning when she failed to show up for work at the high school. Administrators called her family and police, and the family did report that they had tried calling Tara on Sunday but got no response. They chalked it up to her being busy or out with friends and out of range with her cell phone. When police arrived at the home on Monday, they found a few things out of the ordinary which included the dog being left out, a knocked over lamp in her bedroom, her cell phone still hooked up to the charger, her digital alarm clock on the floor and six hours behind, and the driver's seat in her car pushed way back as if someone large and tall had driven it. (Tara was short and petite.) While these things are kind of odd, they did not really jump out at police as evidence of something foul. However, when they combed the yards, they found what could be the only real evidence of something strange. They found a latex glove on the front lawn. Those who knew Tara knew that she kept a pristine lawn, and that she would have easily noticed a glove there and would have discarded it. Police collected the glove and had it sent off for testing.

Simply put, it just looked as if Tara Grinstead was either sucked in to thin air, or she got up and walked away, both of which seem improbable. There are some, however, who think that Tara may have decided to disappear and leave her former life behind. She did, afterall, have some problems in her social and romantic relationships that led some to hypothesize she might have been overcome with grief and frustration and felt that the only way to solve her situation was to leave it all behind. Tara's friends and family wholly reject that proposition. They say that she was not that kind of person, and that if the going got rough, and it did, she would not have walked away.

What kind of problems was she having? Well, she was still distraught over the breakup with her former boyfriend, Marcus Harper, a man she really wanted to marry. He was a former police officer and soldier in Iraq. The two had split up recently. Harper was going back and forth to Iraq as a contactor, and the relationship between the two had been strained. Harper was in the area the night that Tara disappeared. He was riding around with a friend who was on the force in his squad car as his friend patrolled the area. Harper was called in for questioning, and on the day he came to the police station to answer questions, Anita Gattis, Tara's sister, blared at him, asking, "What did you do to my sister?" Harper realized that there was much suspicion surrounding him, so he retained an attorney.

There were others that were looked at with suspicion. Anthony Vickers, a former student of Grinstead's was also fingered. Vickers had grown close to Grinstead and was even picked up one day for coming to Tara's house and beating on her door a while before her disappearance. Vickers was questioned but nothing came of it. Vickers did claim he and Grinstead had been having an affair, but there was no evidence to corraborate that.

So far, there has been no sign of Tara. Her mother has passed away since her disappearance, and her family is still heartbroken. They continue to search for Tara. This case is quite strange. Why was her house locked but her car under the carport unlocked and her cell phone still inside on the charger? If she took the time to lock her house because she was leaving, would it not stand to reason that she would also take her cell phone? Why was her driver's side seat pushed so far back, as if someone large had been driving it? Why was her alarm clock on the floor and six hours off? What happened to the lamp inside the house? Was it knocked over by a struggle? Did the abductor, if that is what happened, return to the home and try to straighten up? If that happened, then would it not stand to reason that the assailant would have put the lamp and clock back like he/she found it? Would that person also not have been smart enough to put the car seat back in the position it would have been in had Tara driven the car? Or perhaps the abductor was attempting to do that, but got scared off before he/she could finish? But what or who scared him or her off? Perhaps it was Dolley, Tara's big dog, who scared him off with her barking? The neighbors did say that Dolley was barking profusely early Sunday morning. How early? Not sure. But what is strange is that they do not report that the dog was barking very loudly earlier or late Saturday night. Perhaps Dolley saw Tara when the pair was leaving and was not alarmed. Perhaps the abductor did not return to the scene until much later. Was Dolley barking at him then? Dogs usually stop barking after a while even if they are outdoors and want to come in. My dog is the same way. He just gives up and lays down on the grass until I decide to come get him. Dolley probably did the same thing after the two left the home, but started back up when she saw the stranger return without Tara. Was the abductor wearing a pair of gloves when he or she took Tara and just dropped one in the front yard on his or her way out without knowing it?

Here is my hypothesis. I agree with Anita Gattis, in part, that is. I think that Tara was home when someone she knew arrived. If the person who abducted her is the same person who drove her car last, then it seems to me it was a man simply judging by the way the seat was positioned. Then again, I guess it could have been a very tall woman, but that is highly unlikely. This leads me to my next idea. Why did the abductor drive Tara's car? More than likely he walked to her house rather than take the risk of being seen in his vehicle, which could have easily been identified by a license plate number among other things. I think the abductor was someone she knew. She let him in the house. He had a pair of gloves in his pockets because he knew what he wanted to do. She answered the door and let him in because she knew him. Tara had been changing clothes in her room because they found the clothes she was wearing that night lying on the floor of her bedroom. Since no body fluids were found, I highly doubt she was raped, at least there. There has been no evidence of body fluids in her car either, so it is highly unlikely that she was raped in her car either. But I think that when the man came inside, he followed her to her bedroom because that is where the alarm clock and lamp were. Perhaps there was a struggle and that was what knocked off the lamp and disturbed the alarm clock. Then, perhaps the abductor took her out of the house and took her somewhere in her car. The dog would probably have been let out by Tara to use the bathroom and to get a little outside time before being brought in for the night, which is why the dog was outside in the backyard when the police arrived and more than likely why the neighbors heard the dog barking early Sunday morning. So I don't think Dolley was inside during the abduction. She was more than likely outside, and she was still outside when the abductor came back to the house to bring home Tara's car. That is probably when Dolley started barking early Sunday morning. I feel that the abductor went inside the house to clean up any evidence but Dolley started barking so much that he was scared off before he could pick up the lamp and alarm clock. He probably hurriedly exited the house, taking Tara's keys and locking the door behind him and accidently dropping one of the gloves in the front yard as he was leaving. I am sure he probably used the gloves to strangle her when he took her away from the house, or he may have just used the gloves while he was inside the home when he abducted her and when he returned to clean up the house. He more than likely had them on while he was driving her car to keep from leaving fingerprints. As to why he may have kept her keys, well, he may have touched them and her purse, and because it would be difficult to totally clean off prints from keys and a purse, he decided to just keep them. During the struggle, she more than likely would have not had an opportunity to get to her phone, and he would have not touched it either since it was on the charger, so it was safe to have left it there. That is more than likely why her purse and keys were missing but not her cell phone. He probably had to leave so quickly because of the barking dog and the fact that others would be up stirring around to see what the dog was barking at, so he would not have had time to lock the car and did not want to risk it if he did.

Those are just some of my theories. I would be very interested to hear others. But whatever happened to Tara Grinstead, I hope that her family can find some closure and maybe one day, Tara might even come walking up to her family's front door and say, "I am sorry I caused so much trouble, but I had to get away for a while." Somehow I don't think that will happen. I think Tara was the victim of the rage of a lunatic and her soul is with the Lord, and her body is somewhere in a deep unmarked grave. I pray for Tara and her family.