To be clear: This is an account based in the reporting of the Up and Vanished podcast, and as host Payne Lindsay has also made clear, these are not facts, but rather speculations based on local testimony made on the podcast.
By now, you are probably familiar with the investigative true crime podcast, Up and Vanished, that has been working for the last two years to shed new light on the disappearance of 30-year-old Tara Grinstead from the small town of Ocilla, Georgia in 2005. Smack in the middle of the podcast, created and hosted by filmmaker Payne Lindsay, there was a huge break in the 12-year-old case. An arrest had been made, and Tara's body had been located. Surprising everyone who has followed this case, a man name Ryan Duke, Tara's former student, was arrested and charged with malice murder, two counts of felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary and concealing a death. Ryan Duke was 21 years old at the time of the murder, and his name had never been mentioned on the podcast or in news reports, and the GBI claimed never to have had had him on their radar. But is this the truth?
The GBI claims that Ryan Duke planned on robbing Tara, but when she awoke it startled him and he used, and the statements differ in the official GBI report, either his “hands” or his “hand” to commit the murder, prompting questions around whether this was a case of strangulation or if it was a punch that killed her.
Not long after, a second arrest was made of a man by the name of Bo Dukes, another previous student of Tara's, no relation to Ryan Duke other than a friendship that apparently led Bo to help conceal Tara Grinstead’s body. Bo Dukes admitted to burning Tara’s body in his family’s pecan orchard, after Ryan came to him and told him about the murder, then showed him the body several days later. When asked why he involved himself, loyalty was one reason he gave. Fear instilled by Ryan’s threats were another, after all, Ryan was driving Bo’s truck, and Tara’s body was on his family’s land. So which is it? It’s hard to imagine that Bo Dukes could hold these two things simultaneously. Why would he would become involved with a murder for his best friend, the same friend who was threatening to pin the murder on him if he didn't help him conceal her body?
This isn’t Bo Dukes' first run in with that law. Back in 2013, Bo and his ex-wife plead guilty to defrauding the US Army, stealing over $150,000 in property, prompting some to wonder how trustworthy he really is.
Another person of interest in the podcast and the case at large, is Bo’s ex-girlfriend, Brooke. Brooke has been vocal about her involvement in convincing Bo that he had to confess to both his crime and Ryan Duke's. Bo allegedly admitted his role to her shortly weeks before he turned himself in. The Grinstead family and their friends are suspicious of the intentions of Brooke, who many in the small town know personally, saying she wants attention. Others wonder if there is a conspiracy afoot: one in which Bo is granted immunity for his crime (because the statue of limitations has passed) in exchange for his testimony against Ryan Duke, and Brooke receives the reward money for her tip. It should be noted, though, that Brooke did convince Bo Dukes to finally confess, putting an end to so many questions and finally allowing a family, and a town, to rest. All the rest is speculation at this point.
So much of this case has been speculation from day one, which has people wondering how, exactly, two 21-year-old men pulled off this “perfect crime.” How did they get away with it for so long, especially if what has been reported in Up and Vanished is true: that there was a police search of the Pecan Orchard after they received a tip shortly after Tara went missing? They found nothing, because they were not searching in the right spot. But this shows that local law enforcement and the GBI had access to this information in the beginning of the case, and if what the podcast is speculating is true, that up to eight individuals (Bo and Ryan’s group of friends known to party and have bonfires at the same pecan orchard) had some knowledge about Tara’s murder, then it seems shocking that this case took 12 years to solve.
Other questions remain based on phone calls from local calls into the UAV podcast. There is the fight that happened back in 2004, that Ryan and Bo, as well as their group of friends, and some other young men from the nearby town of Fitzgerald were all involved in. This fight left two men, one 60-years-old, hospitalized for life-threatening injuries. Bo and his friends were never charged, while the young men from Fitzgerald, who still claim that they were simply witnesses to the fight, were charged with felonies. The fight was legendary in Ocilla, some remembering up to 40 people being present, some carrying weapons like lead pipes. One of the men who was charged from Fitzgerald is claiming on UAV that because those from Ocilla were friends with the son of the District Attorney, Paul Bowden, another person who was present at the fight, they were let off while the Fitzgerald men were used as a scapegoat. This is, of course, difficult to prove, though it does beg some important questions.
Outside of a character sketch of Bo Dukes and Ryan Duke, why does this fight matter? It matters because the DA of Irwin county is still the same man, and Paul Bowden is likely responsible for the gag order that has been put in place surrounding this trial. The word “corruption” has been thrown around. As well as conversations around Bo Dukes' prominent family, including his grandfather who was a Georgia senator. Although there are no hard facts yet, It is almost certain that there is more to this case than meets the eye.
Even more strange are pieces of the confession that Bo Dukes gave. He claimed that he believed that Tara deserved to have someone watch her body burn, and he claimed that he read the Lord’s Prayer over her body. In the same statement, he also mentioned a statement about Tara’s body so vile that it easily contradicts any previous empathy it may appear that he was expressing for Tara (I have chosen not to repeat it here, it can be heard on the episode of UAV titled Who is Bo Dukes?). The only person who seems to have a positive view of Bo Dukes’ personality is his Brooke, and it is difficult to believe her to be an impartial witness, especially with the talk of reward money, and her recent TV spot.
Ryan Dukes was, by many accounts, a morose individual, a lovesick person prone to writing sad, cliché lyrics on his Facebook. It has also come to light that he also messaged another former teacher, calling her “sexy,” which has created some questions around the "robbery gone wrong" narrative. Bo Dukes, by many accounts, was much more aggressive than Ryan. Many people in the community are having a hard time believing that Bo was not more involved with Tara's disappearance. However, until there is hard evidence it will be difficult to know the truth definitively. Ocilla, Georgia is a small town, and just like any small town, the gossip is huge, and when there is a podcast making this small town famous, well, the gossip takes on a new power, and a new problem. Many people feel that they are becoming victims of this podcast, this case. So lets all remember, myself included, that speculation is fine, but until there is hard evidence, lets not demonize anyone. The truth will come out, there are many people dedicated to it.