Arrest Made in Georgia Cold Case of Teacher, Former Beauty Queen Who Disappeared 11 Years Ago

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It was the news relatives of a Georgia school teacher and former beauty queen who vanished 11 years ago had been waiting to hear: an arrest in the case.

Law enforcement officials from several agencies announced Thursday that Ryan Alexander Duke, 33, had been arrested and charged in the 2005 killing of Tara Grinstead, who was 30 when she disappeared.

Duke graduated from County High School in Ocilla, Georgia — the same school where Grinstead taught history, authorities said.

Grinstead was last seen at a co-worker’s barbecue in October 2005. She left saying she was going to her home in Ocilla but raised concerns when she failed to show up for work the following Monday.

Five years after she disappeared, a judge declared Grinstead dead at her father’s request.

She was a former beauty queen who was well-liked in the small town.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said Thursday that someone walked into the sheriff’s office a few days ago with information that led to several new interviews and an arrest.

“Through these interviews, enough probable cause was discovered so we could swear out an arrest warrant charging Ryan Alexander Duke with the murder of Tara Grinstead,” said GBI Special Agent in Charge J.T. Richardson. “I can say that this gentleman never came up on our radar through the investigation.”

Duke was taken into custody Wednesday. On Thursday, he was arrested and appeared in court, where he was charged with murder, concealing a death, burglary and aggravated assault, Richardson said.

The judge alleged that Duke removed Grinstead’s body from her home.

Duke graduated from County High School three years before Grinstead’s disappearance, according to the GBI.

Grinstead’s stepmother, Connie Grinstead, said Thursday’s arrest was the beginning of a new phase in the case as well as the family’s healing process.

“For us, this just starts another chapter in a very long and painful journey,” she said. “We ask that you keep us in your prayers. Our wounds are deep and our hearts are broken.”

Despite the pain, the victim’s stepmother said the development brings some closure to the family.

“(I) want to thank God for answered prayers,” she said. “We always believed in the GBI and their dedication to her case. We always believed it would be solved, we just did not know when.”

She also thanked the Ocilla community for its love and support while the family lived there.

“So many people have been hurt by this. We hope and pray that with time this community can finally have closure and start to heal from this,” Grinstead said. “She was able to fulfill many of her dreams right here in Ocilla.”

Prior to becoming a high school teacher, Grinstead competed in multiple Miss Georgia pageants after winning the title of Miss Tifton in 1999. Before attending the barbecue on the day she disappeared, Grinstead had been advising local pageant contestants in a nearby town.

KTLA’s Erika Martin and CNN contributed to this report.