By Katie McLaughlin
Tara Grinsted’s alleged killer is finally headed to trial 16 years after her murder. Justice for the former beauty pageant contestant and popular high school history teacher may never have come had it not been for Payne Lindsey. Lindsey is the creator and host of “Up and Vanished,” a podcast credited with cracking the case that led to the arrests of two of Grinstead’s former students, Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes.
Lindsey visited the Court TV set to talk about the case with anchor and former prosecutor Julie Grant.
Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes used to be best friends and roommates. Duke, now accused of Grinstead’s murder, is set to go on trial in May. It took investigators nearly 12 years to get to the point of arrests since the 2005 disappearance of 30-year-old Grinstead.
Lindsay told Court TV he initially heard about the case from his grandmother, who lived in Fitzerald, a city not far from the small town of Ocilla, Georgia, where Grinstead lived and died. Lindsey says he was initially drawn to what he called “somewhat of an urban legend” that had gone unsolved for so long.
“We still don’t know exactly what happened to Tara that night,” Lindsey told Grant.
We know that Bo Dukes pinned the murder on Ryan Duke — they have similar names but are not related — but Lindsey suggested Dukes may have implicated Duke to protect himself. Dukes is accused of helping burn and dispose of Grinstead’s body.
Grant pointed out the fact that Dukes’ truck transported Grinstead’s body, which was burned in his family’s pecan orchard.
“Is he the most unlucky guy in the world that these things happen to him?” asked Grant.
“I don’t think he’s unlucky,” said Lindsey. I think that he’s definitely involved — in this murder, potentially. I think that if anything he’s probably equally as culpable as Ryan Duke.”
Everything Lindsey uncovered in the podcast pointed towards Duke — the defendant — being a nice guy. He was described as mild-mannered, non-violent, not-confrontational and had no criminal history.
Dukes, on the other hand, has an extensive criminal history, including embezzlement, lying, and a pending rape case.
Lindsey suggested to Court TV that a case could be made that perhaps the roles are actually reversed.
Unlike Dukes, people were surprised to find out Duke was accused of murder — some suggested Duke could have been the fall guy.
“On the surface, Ryan looks like a better dude, but nice people kill people too,” said Lindsey.
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When Grant asked Lindsey his legal theory about what happened and who should be charged, Lindsey explained that there are still many unanswered questions. The last place Grinstead was definitively seen alive was a barbecue down the street from her house. The rest is a mystery. She either went straight home after the barbecue or tried to find an ex-boyfriend who was back in town and hanging out at a nearby bar. The ex-boyfriend has long been ruled out as a suspect, and Lindsey stated Grinstead may have encountered Duke and Dukes in the parking lot of the bar.
Lindsey still wonders what Duke would have been doing at Grinstead’s house. He doesn’t believe the motive was theft. He believes Grinstead probably voluntarily let him into her home at some point before “things took a sour turn.”
“My gut tells me that it’s probably something sexual in nature,” he said. “I think that they knew each other and maybe he was coming on to her, maybe it was mutual, I don’t really know but I think that it was sexual in nature and something went wrong.”
Just because a murder trial is set to go forth, Lindsey is pessimistic that the case is open and shut.
“I really do hope that in the trial we find out what happened, we know the real narrative for Tara’s family, the community and everyone who’s listened to the podcast, everyone who really wants to know and cares for Tara and what happened to her,” he said. “I think that for us to know, that would be very settling. But I don’t have high hopes that we’ll ever know the full story, unfortunately.”
At the end of the day, people just want to know what happened to this young woman who, by all accounts, was beloved by the community. But Lindsey believes the investigation is far from over.
“There’s absolutely more to the story. I think ever since the arrest it felt like it opened a new door and it’s felt unsettled ever since then, and rumors about in South Georgia. But the narrative doesn’t entirely make sense. And we still don’t know exactly what happened to Tara that night.”
Jury selection in GA v. Ryan Duke is set to begin May 2, 2022. Court TV will provide LIVE coverage inside the Irwin County Courthouse.