ABBEVILLE, Ga. — Jurors watched a videotaped confession Wednesday of a Georgia man admitting he helped a friend burn the body of a slain high school teacher until “it looked like it was all ash.”
The incineration of Tara Grinstead’s remains in a pecan orchard after she vanished in October 2005 would help keep her death a mystery for more than a decade. Now the first of two men charged in the case is standing trial in rural Wilcox County south of Macon.
Bo Dukes is charged with concealing the death of the teacher and onetime beauty queen, hindering the arrest of her killer and lying to police in an interview conducted months before his videotaped confession in February 2017.
Defense attorney John Fox, however, told jurors the evidence will show Dukes never concealed information.
In the video, played in court on the third day of trial, Dukes was slouched forward at a table while being questioned by a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent. Dukes said his friend with a similar name, Ryan Duke, told him the morning after the crime that he had killed a woman and then used Dukes’ pickup truck to move the body.
Dukes said his friend took him to a pecan orchard owned by Dukes’ uncle and showed him Grinstead’s undressed body lying in tall grass. Dukes said he asked exactly what had happened.
“He used a credit card to get into her front door,” Dukes told the investigator. “He jumped on her while she was in bed and strangled her right there.”
Dukes said he helped move Grinstead’s body deeper into the woods, where the two men covered it with wood and set it ablaze. He said they kept the fire burning for two days until even the bones turned to ash.
“I remember asking him, you know, several times, why. He never told me,” Dukes said. “I asked him if he was there to rape her, or kidnap her. He said he was not, did not.”
Grinstead’s disappearance stumped her hometown of Ocilla for more than a decade. Her face loomed large on a billboard in the area seeking tips in her disappearance.
Prosecutors have said Duke confessed to killing Grinstead, saying he broke into her home to steal money for drugs. He was charged with murder and his trial is scheduled to start April 1. In a recent court filing, Duke’s defense attorneys said he made a false confession under the influence of drugs and was actually home asleep the night Grinstead was killed.
On Tuesday, John McCullough, who said he met Dukes during Army basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, testified that Dukes confessed to him one night during a Christmas break visit to Georgia that he helped dispose of Grinstead’s body. But also on Tuesday, the jury heard an earlier interview that Dukes gave the GBI in June 2016, in which he denied having that conversation with McCullough.
When Dukes admitted to helping burn Grinstead’s remains months later, GBI agent Jason Shoudel asked Dukes why he had previously denied McCullough’s story.
“I don’t remember the conversation I had with him,” Dukes said. “I guess I was probably drinking a lot that night.”