Full Transcript: Up and Vanished – S1 E6 – Suicide

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Full Transcript: Up and Vanished – S1 E6 – Suicide

Previously on Up and Vanished.

On Friday, October 14th at 6:43 a.m., Tara sent Marcus Harper's mother an e-mail.

If I did not give a crap about Marcus, you all and his feelings, I would not be in this state. If this were all about me, I would not want Marcus. Just remind Marcus what I said about something happening to me or even him. He leaves it as this and something may happen to me.

Like I said though, the night of the Sweet Potato Pageant, she knew something was going to happen. She was not her normal self and everybody can tell you that she was but I know that she was not acting normal.

The second piece of evidence was a business card found in Tara's front door. The card belonged to a friend of Tara's family, a police officer from a nearby town called Perry.

Detective Heath Dykes, Perry Police Department.

Late Sunday night on October 23rd, Tara's mom was concerned because she wasn't responding so she asked this family friend to go check on her. So he drove there with the sole intent of checking on Tara?

Oh, yeah.

Do you think it's odd that Heath Dykes didn't see the glove on the ground?

I think it's unusual. You're dealing with a veteran detective.

The only thing that the dogs showed any indication to was a burnt house. We determined that they were responding to some septic lines or sewage.

Basically, are you telling me that somebody other than the folks who lived there owned it?

A guy named Michael Lankford owned the vehicle. The homeowner did not own that.

Why was his vehicle there is what I'm getting at now.

He saw a black truck parked in the yard. He said that there was individual in there and that individual said something to him. GBI went to talk to them so they clammed up and never discussed anything about the black truck, no kind of composite. They never got anything close to that.

According to Marcus, they rode around together in the cop car that night and made several stops in reference to a man named Benny Merritt. If there's no reports on Benny Merritt, then where was Marcus Harper?

All we have is one report on him. The report date was actually 10-27-2005.

Any other report on Benny Merritt?

No, sir. That's the only one we got on him.

If that's true, then somebody's told a bold-faced lie.

Ten years ago today marked the last time anybody reported seeing or talking to Tara Grinstead.

Officially, police are calling this a missing person's case.

GBI officials say investigators…

Latex glove found in…

An $80,000 reward is being offered for information.

Where is Tara Grinstead?

From Tenderfoot TV in Atlanta, this is Up and Vanished, the investigation of Tara Grinstead. I'm your host, Payne Lindsey.

Hey guys, before I get started, I have some good news for you. I originally plan on breaking this into two seasons and the next episode was supposed to come out in January but my plans have changed. Up and Vanished will now resume with Episode 7 on November 21st. We've recently had a huge surge of new listeners and I want to welcome everyone who is just now joining us. Unlike other podcasts, this investigation is pretty much happening in real time. So the content of the episodes is always changing last minute. The reason for the break in the first place was to kind of catch up on my investigation and organize everything into episodes. But with the great support you guys are giving me, I've decided to do this every week up until Episode 12. The podcast will resume with Episode 7 on November 21st.

Tara Faye Grinstead, first question. What is your greatest fear in life?

I really don't have a great fear in life. Whenever I have a hard time, whenever I feel like I'm down or I'm gonna stumble I just pray. And I know that the Lord is gonna see me through.

You're on the phone line, I don't know who you are. You could be the one that killed her, for all I know. I want to help you, don't get me wrong. And I want this case solved. I'm playing it close to my chest. Yes, my dog had interest at the building. Whoever burned the house knew that this was going to destroy evidence. Have you ever known, on a criminal case, them to lay all the cards on the table? They always keep so many back.

So you think police found evidence at the Snapdragon Road fire but didn't tell anybody?

Oh, I know they did because I gave it to them.

What was it?

I cannot say. The GBI's got it and the FBI's got it. That's all I'm saying about that.

That's the voice of Jim Handey, the man who led the search with all the cadaver dogs. When I first called him a few weeks back, he was pretty reserved with me, but for good reason. His experience with this case really hit home for him. And at first, he was pretty skeptical of who I was and why I was calling.

In our first conversation, he told me that his dogs alerted for cadaver at the house fire on Snapdragon Road. But the second time we talked, he opened up a little bit. And he told me that they found evidence there. What it was, he couldn't tell me or at least didn't want to.

Whoever burned the house knew that this was going to destroy evidence. Have you ever known, on a criminal case, them to lay all the cards on the table? They always keep so many back so that if somebody comes up and says, "Oh, she was wearing a blue dress." Well, that wasn't out in the police report, you're guilty or the knowledge that you're sharing is credible.

So you think police found evidence at the Snapdragon Road fire but didn't tell anybody?

Oh, I know they did because I gave it to them.

What was it?

I cannot say. The GBI's got it and the FBI's got it. That's all I'm saying about that.

Can you not say legally or you just don't want to say?

You've got to understand, you're asking me questions that if I don't know you and there's not a police officer beside you saying, "Yes, I can tell you this", I can't tell you that. It's an active case. I can't do that. The power's to be that have it and again, it gets to that thing of cards on the table. Okay?

Anything that you're allowed to say would be truly helpful for everybody, not just me.

I understand where you want, and I want this case solved more than you do. I guaran-damn-tee you. I'm going to give you one thing. All of the sudden we have a laid out plan. We're going to go to — today we're going to search A, B and C and tomorrow we're going to search B, C and F. And all of the sudden in the middle of the night, they get a clue, we're going to go search D which was out by Snapdragon Road, right. Everybody knew that this meeting the night before where we were going. And all of the sudden, "Oh, we saw a guy with her and it's over here.".

So then they send everybody up there to search and they never got back to Snapdragon Road. Somebody was leading that part of the information astray. If you don't want them search B, send them to Z. You know what I mean? "Oh, I don't want them to go there. I'm going to call in a tip and have them go here, give them false information and send them to Z.".

One of the things I would want to know, the Ford Expedition that was at that house, I would be asking him, at this time in your life, is there anything different you wanna say about that car? As the days go by, people get a little freer. Ten years down the road, he may be a little freer with what, where and how.

Obviously after hearing that, my mind was racing. What did he find? He didn't tell me but I definitely planned on finding out. I started my investigation in early 2016 and it hasn't stopped since. Literally each week before I release a new episode, I'm still learning new information. I had some theories of my own going into this thing but since then they've changed over and over again. On the surface based on certain information, this case in a way can seem pretty simple. It was easy for me to start pointing the finger at someone right away just based on a few suspicious facts. But as you dig a little deeper, you find other people who after a thorough examination look pretty suspicious too.

The bottom line is not everyone in this case is guilty. It's possible there was more than one party involved but there's only one culprit here. And the tough thing is these are all real people with real lives and careers and reputations at stake. My intent has always been to respect that. There's been several TV specials about this case over the years and they all seem to just skim the surface, reciting the same old narrative over and over.

I knew from day one that if I wanted this podcast and my documentary to actually help solve this that I couldn't leave anything out. So with that being said, I'm going to present all the facts and if doing that makes someone look guilty, then by all means please come clear your name. I don't have a dog in this hunt. This case is unsolved because of silence. The fear of blame.

Tara Grinstead was a prominent figure in Ocilla. She was beautiful, outgoing. She was only 30-years-old. Someone with a long, bright future ahead of them but somebody took that away from her. It's been 11 years now. Right now, it's time to dust off the cobwebs. No more silence, no more small town secrets and no more fear of what someone else may think. If somebody does know something, then I'm trying to find out.

About midnight Sunday, Tara Grinstead's mother, Faye Grinstead, called Tara's neighbor Joe adn Myrtle Portier to ask if they had heard from her daughter. "Normally, we saw her on an everyday basis," Joe Portier said. "I told Faye we had not seen her and her mother sounded concerned." After talking to Joe Portier, Faye phoned Heath Dykes, a Perry police detective and a close family friend of Tara's and her family and asked him to go and check on Tara. The drive from Perry to Ocilla is one hour and 15 minutes. After midnight Sunday, Heath arrived at Tara's house. Dykes left his business card wedged in Tara's front door.

Agent Rothwell would later say, "It was certainly a piece of evidence that we're interested in. I mean it's a business card stuck in the front door of a person that's now missing." The investigators later learned that Heath Dykes had talked to Tara around 10:20 p.m. while she was at the barbecue. He also phoned Tara more than 10 times, leaving messages on her answering machine. Agent Rothwell later said, "He was calling her all day Sunday." In a brief telephone interview with Crime Library in 2006, Heath said he had last seen Tara Grinstead weeks prior to her going missing.

She went over to the barbecue. While she was there now, she received numerous phone calls on her cell phone. She received one from a girl named Megan Evans. Megan was at a bar which is where Marcus Harper had dropped in to see some of his friends play in a band there. Megan talked to her but she talked to Heath Dykes too. He made about 20 phone calls to Tara's cell phone and her landline and left messages. And he was longtime friends with Tara's family.

Sunday night, see her momma, Faye, she couldn't get hold of Tara late Sunday night. She called Heath. She didn't call the police, she called Heath and asked Heath to go and drive to Ocilla and check on Tara and he drove down there. So he was standing in her yard about 12:30 to quarter one Sunday night.

You're a detective of all these years, that was the worst welfare check I've ever seen done by anyone on somebody at her house because he didn't do anything. The only thing he did is left his business card on the front screen door but I know Joe next door had a key. Nobody ever went inside the house and her car was there.

What I was interested in, and I've never been able to find out in 10 years, is when did he make the phone calls? He didn't make any of the phone calls before Faye called him. The thing is, if the phone calls were made before let's say, midnight Sunday night, then something's major wrong. Why would he become concerned about where Tara's at? Why would he call that many times before Faye called him? He knew when he was standing in front of that house Sunday night, he knew that she wasn't in the house.

If you retrace Tara's last steps, Heath Dykes immediately comes into the picture. We know she was last seen leaving the barbecue Saturday night, around 11 p.m. and from there, we don't really know what happened. What we do know for sure is that Heath Dykes was standing at Tara's doorsteps on Sunday night around midnight. He was supposedly sent there by Tara's mother to check on her. He didn't see anything suspicious so he placed his business card in the front door and left.

But the thing is, he's a police officer and to me, the setting at Tara's house that night did seem a little suspicious. Her car was in her driveway, her front door was locked and she hadn't been heard from in over 24 hours. But I'm not the only one who thought that was a little odd. In the weeks following Tara's disappearance, the national media took interest in this to.

On November 14th, 2005, three weeks after Tara's disappearance, the National Enquirer released an article about the case with some bombshell information. The article was titled, Cop is Quizzed Over Missing Beauty Queen. Was Tara having an affair with a married officer? This is how the article read, "A married policeman bombarded missing beauty queen, Tara Grinstead, with more than 20 frantic phone calls on the day of her disappearance. Authorities have already spoken to him and his wife. He may have been having a relationship with Tara. Investigators believe he told Tara he was going to leave his wife but backed out on the promise. A lawyer who has spoken to investigating officers said they had told him numerous messages were left on Tara's answering machine. The calls are from a married man and he's a cop.

So I think the glove is like there's a finite amount of possibilities why that could be there. It's not like it's infinite reasons a glove would be there. You know what I mean? What to you are those things?

It's only there to stage what happened in that house or to cleanup.

That's my friend Donald. He's been helping me with the podcast behind the scenes a little bit. And I call him up a lot just to talk about the case.

That's why you would go in with gloves, come out, take the gloves off so you're not outside with some damn latex gloves on with you. But I don't think you're wearing gloves to abduct her if she knows you especially because she's voluntarily probably going with you. I think your glove come into play when you go back to clean up. You come out the door, close the door and lock it, take them gloves off and put it in your pocket, one falls on the ground, you leave. I don't even know what other scenarios I can think of where that would happen.

He was there at her house Sunday night at 12:30. He's probably gone by one. Here's the thing is that at 9 a.m. on Monday morning, you know, basically nine hours later, because he was there 12:30 at night, that glove was in the yard. So it most likely was there when he was there. The chances of it not being there are very slim. That would mean that somebody between the time he left between like one in the morning and like six in the morning, somebody put it there or it was already there.

Right.

The business card to me is strange because it's so formal for somebody who was so close to somebody.

Yeah, I'm just trying to understand the mentality of it but all that stuff just doesn't add up.

Right.

Twenty calls, some frantic voicemails, talking to the mom but if he called the mom, that means he knows the mom personally. If she called him, she knows him personally. It was such a personal relationship across the board, why leave a business card? It makes it look formal like no one's going to ever know that I was sleeping with this woman. I can't look like the crazy boyfriend, I got to look like the detective trying to help.

This is another weird scenario in this case but the question is does it actually mean anything. How did a police detective who was friends with Tara's family drive an hour and 15 minutes to Ocilla in the middle of the night and not see this glove on the ground? Was it not there yet? Was it just too dark? Possibly, but it wasn't really sold on that. To me, this needed further investigation.

At the end of episode five, I called the Irwin County Sheriff's Department to see if they had any reports on Benny Merritt. To refresh your memory, Benny Merritt was supposed to have been the subject of numerous police calls on the night of Tara's disappearance that both Marcus Harper and his buddy Shawn Fletcher responded to. These reports on Benny Merritt didn't exist at Ocilla PD and they didn't exist at the county either. But there was actually one more place I had to check, the dispatch logs from that night.

Whenever an officer is on duty, they radio in to the dispatcher each time there's an incident or whenever they're responding to a 911 call. All this information is then logged by the dispatcher with times and names of the responding officers. So basically if these Benny Merritt incidents happened, they would have to be in these dispatch logs.

The report was actually 10-27-2005.

Any other report on Benny Merritt?

No, sir. That's the only one we got on him.

Okay. This is probably a harder one for you to get but how do I go about getting dispatch logs?

I don't know if dispatch logs fall on open records or not.

They're supposed to.

Okay. I guess you would have to put the days that you were looking for in their request and then send it in. Let me get you to our secretary. She deals with all the open record stuff. Just hold on just a second.

Okay.

The two that handle that are not here. Are you just wanting the dispatch logs?

Yes ma'am.

You can just fax it and put down what day you need.

Okay.

All right.

Awesome. Thank you very much.

Bye-bye.

Awesome. I can just fax in my request with my fax machine. Thank god there's an app for that now. But still I was pretty surprised by how easy it was to get these records. Well, not so fast.

Irwin County dispatch.

County Sheriff's Department.

Irwin County dispatch.

Irwin County dispatch.

Irwin County Sheriff's office, can I help you?

This is Payne Lindsey again calling about the dispatch logs.

I will get them together but it's probably not going to be today.

It's Payne again about the dispatch logs.

Okay, she's on a 911 call right now. Do you want to hold or call back?

Dispatch logs I was trying to get.

The director, she will be back this afternoon around six or so.

This is Payne Lindsey again calling about the dispatch logs.

Oh, she mentioned them but I don't know if they were done cause she got called out.

Dispatch logs.

I've got to go through them but I'm having to work the radio tonight.

Dispatch logs.

I have them. I have them ready but the thing is you're gonna have to have a certain size paper to be able to receive this.

Okay. So it wasn't that easy. The lady in charge will be sending them this week, fingers crossed. But this leads me into a bigger issue with this case and for any case in the state of Georgia, under the Georgia Open Records Act, all public records can be made available to citizens. That sounds great, right? Well, not exactly.

In the written law, there's a couple exemptions to this request. One of them being "pending investigations". That means any case like this that is unsolved. Now, it doesn't mean that they can't give them to you, it just means they don't have to and they probably won't.

And that brings up a bigger issue. Who is policing the police? The answer is no one. As a citizen, we're supposed to trust the government with this information even after 11 years and no arrest. So that means stuff like Tara's cell phone records, a real list of people they've swabbed DNA for, any of that is just a big secret to the public. My argument here is how can law enforcement claim that this particular investigation is still in fact pending. From where I'm standing, it doesn't appear that this case is very active and in the eye of the public, it doesn't seem like they're any closer to solving it than they were 11 years ago.

But just so we're clear, I'm in no way trying to disparage the work of the GBI or the Ocilla PD in this case but it's been 11 years now. And obviously whatever they've been doing isn't working. The Georgia Open Records Act actually declares in the first paragraph that the state is in favor of open government and that public access to records is not only our right, but in their words, it's encouraged. So I can still submit a request for these case files but good luck getting them. In the recent history, submitting this request has often backfired on people.

Thomason says he and his lawyer were arrested because a Fanning County judge didn't like the questions he was asking. He says it all started last year when he got a tip that officials in the Fanning County courtroom used the N word to describe a black witness. Using George's open records law, Thomason says he requested the transcript and the audio recording from court and it led the court reporter to sue him for $1.6 million claiming defamation for implying her written transcript was inaccurate. Thomason says the court reporter then wanted him to reimburse her for the legal bills that resulted more than $16,000.

Thomason says he continued to dig and found evidence suggesting those attorneys' fees had already been paid from a taxpayer funded account managed by Superior Court Judge, Brenda Weaver. Thomason filed an open records request with Judge Weaver for copies of the checks but she refused saying judges are not subject to the open records law. Next thing he knew, he and his lawyer Russell Stookey were being arrested for identity fraud, attempt to commit identity fraud and making a false statement in an open records request. He was jailed and forced to take several drug tests and his ability to cover other stories on the court fee was limited. All because he says he dared to ask tough questions.

Well, you see, I've been on this case for 11, almost 11 years. Can you imagine doing a podcast for 10 and a half, 11 years?

I'd feel terrible.

See the last year and a half, you know I've been dealing with cancer so — but here's the thing. There's just too many wanna be web sleuths out there. And so here's the thing. What I wanna do is this, I'm going to work one lead. I've had this lead for a good while. And I wanna just do it til it just looks like I can't go any further. And then after that, I'm going to just quit the case for my health reasons, the psychology of everything. Unless the killer, the culprit is someone totally off the radar, I think I've laid enough ground in 10 and a half years of a case to be made about my involvement in moving toward a resolution.

But I'm gonna tell you something now. In 2010, this individual, he drove to Knoxville, Tennessee and he got into praying position and he shot himself in the head and killed himself. The question is, what does this have to do with Tara case?

He wrote a letter. He said that he could not live with himself anymore that he knew what happened to Tara. He was threatened and he saw something that he shouldn't have seen. There's something to this. You're not going to meet your maker on a lie. In the letter, he listed 12 individuals names. Each one of these individuals need to be talked to. I'm gonna work this lead and when I've taken as far as I can take it, then I'm quitting the case.

Thank you guys for listening to Episode 6 of Up and Vanished. There will be a new case evidence episode next Monday and this season will resume with Episode 7 on November 21st. If you're enjoying this podcast and you want to support, you can go to upandvanished.com/donate and send a donation of any size. They all go straight into the production of this podcast.

Later this season on Up and Vanished.

His first question was have you seen or heard from Tara. She didn't show up at work this morning. Then I get a call while I'm in my meeting from her phone.

She took me there one day and then like four strands of this long strand of dark hair.

Come on. I mean really, they don't use evidence tape unless they got something.

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