Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Profile of Tim Miller and Texas EquuSearch

The Beauty Queen

Tara Grinstead
Tara Grinstead

Immediately after returning from the January Aruba trip, Miller went back to Ocilla, Georgia, where his team was prepared to make yet another effort in the search for a missing high school teacher and former beauty queen, 30-year-old Tara Grinstead. They had been involved in this case since December.

According to Crime Library reporters Steve Huff and Seamus McGraw, who covered the story, Tara apparently vanished on October 22, 2005. She had returned from assisting young girls at the Sweet Potato Festival in Fitzgerald, Georgia, and it appeared that after dinner with friends, she had made it home around 11:00 p.m. She turned on a nightlight, plugged her cell phone into a battery, and removed the clothes she had worn that night. Her absence was noticed on October 24 when she failed to show up to teach her ninth grade social studies class at Irwin Count y High School. She had called no one to say she was ill, and although she had once left school early over emotional issues, it was not like her to fail to report in. While people initially said she had no reason to just pick up and leave, subsequent discoveries indicated that the idea was not out of the question. There were reports that someone had seen her as late as Sunday afternoon, but skipping church, which she had done, was out of character for her.

Irwin County School
Irwin County School

Recently, Tara had broken off her six-year relationship with a boyfriend, Marcus Harper, and she reportedly struggled with conflicted feelings over its failure. In addition, she'd had to deal with a former student who had developed a strong crush on her, and she was suffering from the stress of taking classes to prepare for a doctorate. There were conflicting reports that she might be suicidal: Harper said she was, while others insisted she was not.

After Tara was reported missing, investigators went into her home. There were only a few hints that something might be wrong: some small items knocked over, missing earrings that she had worn on Saturday night, her car seat pushed back uncomfortably far for a five-foot-three woman, and a latex surgical glove lying on the lawn. But she was not the type of person to just run off. She was in a graduate program, well-connected to the community, loved by many, and known to be responsible. According to McGraw, "While [people in the community] acknowledge that that it is plausible that the young woman might have been abducted, or in the worst case, even killed, there is also the possibility that she could no longer stand the stress of her life, her grueling study schedule, her demanding profession, her increasingly unsettled personal life."

Marcus Harper
Marcus Harper

Marcus Harper, a former Ocilla police officer, became a suspect, although he had been in the company of another police officer Saturday evening and Sunday morning. He denied reports that he and Tara had been fighting before she disappeared.

To get more assistance, the local police called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. They also used K-9 units and helicopters, and several Internet Web logs devoted to missing persons added their first entries. In addition, a contingent of volunteers helped to search the entire county for her, but they came up with nothing. After two weeks with no leads, the official search was called off, but Tara's family and many volunteers vowed to keep going until they had searched every possible area in the county.

TES came into the search, as reported on December 5, 2005, and Beth Twitty eventually joined them, assisting with organizing the 500+ volunteers who came to help.

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