Missing beauty queen was mending broken heart

By: CNN
By: CNN

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Tara Grinstead, a 30-year-old schoolteacher and former beauty queen, attended a Saturday night beauty pageant and then left a dinner party, telling friends she was going straight home. She has not been seen since that night -- October 22, 2005.

Tara Grinstead, a former beauty queen who taught at a Georgia high school, was last seen on October 22, 2005.

Friends and family called Grinstead the next day, but couldn't reach her.

The following Monday, when she did not show up for work at Irwin County High School, co-workers called police and reported her missing.

When police arrived at her home in Ocilla, Georgia, they found the clothes she wore Saturday night piled on her bedroom floor. Her cell phone was charging in the wall outlet, and her car was parked in the driveway. Watch how Grinstead's home looked »

Her purse and keys were missing.

A latex glove found in Grinstead's front lawn was sent to a laboratory for DNA testing. The results were inconclusive.

Grinstead's family says she was a very tidy person and would never leave her clothes on the floor. They said she never went anywhere without her cell phone.

They found it strange that her car doors were unlocked and that her car seat was pushed back way too far for someone her size. She was petite -- 5 feet, 3 inches tall -- and typically kept the seat much closer to the steering wheel.

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Also strange: An envelope full of cash was found on her dashboard, and her dog and cat were abandoned. Neither police nor family could say where the money came from or whether it belonged to Grinstead, and her sister and friends say Grinstead was an animal lover who wouldn't leave her pets without making arrangements for them.

The house showed no signs of a break-in or struggle, but Grinstead's bedside clock was found under her bed, and the time it displayed was six hours off. A lamp that was broken into two pieces was propped against the wall on her nightstand.

Co-workers and students at Irwin County High say the 11th-grade teacher was well-liked. She always seemed to be happy and appeared to lead a charmed life. She was beautiful, popular, dedicated and determined.

She was applying for a doctoral program in history and making plans for a very bright future, said her sister Anita Gattis.

But there were hints of trouble in her personal life. Grinstead's boyfriend of six years left her broken-hearted a year before, but had returned to town just a few weeks before she disappeared.

He was dating a much younger woman but continued to call Grinstead. The former couple had argued a week before her disappearance, Grinstead's sister said.

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Then there was Grinstead's young former student, who claimed to have had an affair with her. Police records show that she had him arrested for coming to her house and harassing her. Later, those charges were dropped.

And Grinstead had lodged a complaint with the police department against one of its officers. The officer was friendly with her former boyfriend, and on the night Grinstead disappeared, the two men were seen together in his patrol car, on what is known in police circles as a "ride-along."

Police characterize their investigation as a missing-person case. Investigators are not ruling out the possibility of foul play, but without more evidence, they say it is also quite possible that Grinstead may have just walked away from all the drama in her personal life.

Grinstead's family and friends insist she is not the kind of person to go off on her own without being in touch with her family. They emphasize that the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are highly of out of character for her. They are certain she was abducted.

Police have not named any suspects but continue to hope for tips that could help their investigation. The total reward offered is $200,000 -- $100,000 for Grinstead's safe return and $100,000 for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for abducting her. To report a tip, call 229-468-TIPS.


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