Tara and the small town at the center of her disappearance

Who is Tara?

Tara Faye Grinstead was born in Hawkinsville, Georgia to Billy and Faye Grinstead on November 14, 1974. During her upbringing in Hawkinsville, she was a cheerleader and an active member of the Baptist church.  After high school, she went on to Middle Georgia College to pursue higher education and become a teacher. Subsequently, she earned a Master’s Degree in Education from Valdosta State University. She was planning to pursue a doctorate degree at the time of her disappearance.

In 1998, Tara began teaching at Irwin County High School in Ocilla, GA. She was a devoted and well-liked 11th grade history teacher. She was compassionate and truly cared for her students outside of the classroom, even allowing one to temporarily live with her after the student’s house burned down. According to friends and family, Tara was widely known for her generous and trusting nature.

As for her background in beauty pageants, Tara first took up pageantry to earn scholarship money for college. She participated in numerous pageants and was crowned Miss Tifton in 1999. Later that year she also competed for the title of Miss Georgia. Wanting to pass along her knowledge and experience in pageantry, Tara went on to coach young competitors in Ocilla. One of Tara’s last known whereabouts, on the Saturday she went missing, was helping the young pageant contestants with their hair and make-up. She was 30 years old at the time of her disappearance.


This is Dolly, Tara’s dog. Marcus Harper gave Dolly to Tara, and Dolly was only about a year old when Tara disappeared. Dolly is still alive and well today, and currently in the care of Tara’s next door neighbors.


A Beautiful Small Town with a Dark Secret

A Portrait of a Small Town

Ocilla is a small town located in Irwin County, South Georgia. It’s approximately 2.6 square miles in size and sits inland, almost equidistant from the coast and the Alabama border. Ocilla has a population of about 3,600 people and only two traffic lights. Though it’s less than a 3-hour drive from Atlanta, it feels like a different world. When visiting, you may get the feeling that many of its citizens have never lived anywhere else— or at least not anywhere very far. The people of Ocilla take pride in their town, and there’s a strong feeling of community throughout. It’s quiet and charming (and maybe slightly eerie) in a way that only small, southern towns can be. As far as attractions, it’s known for its Annual Sweet Potato Festival, which started in 1961.