In this article:
- With roughly 40% of murder cases going cold, there are approximately 242,000 unsolved homicides in the United States.
- Thanks to the emerging popularity of true crime, an obsessive and growing group of hobby internet sleuths have solved cold cases that police had long given up on.
- Among those, podcast producers have been some of the most dedicated investigators, devoting months or years to crack the mystery and bring closure to victims’ families.
- One of the best examples of how podcasts solved cold cases is the 2016 Up and Vanished podcast, whose team cracked one of Georgia’s most enduring murder mysteries: the case of Tara Grinstead.
Podcasting has become a staple in the world of communications. And no, I don’t mean Joe Rogan. Despite the popularity of smoking weed and ridiculing the World Health Organization, podcasting is more than just rambling into a microphone.
When done well, it has the power to reach thousands, perhaps millions. With a solid message, it can change the course of lives.
At least, it did for podcast host Payne Lindsey when a passion project led to an arrest for the murder of Tara Grinstead, a 12-year Georgia cold case. Payne Lindsey’s podcast Up and Vanished covered the strange disappearance of the former beauty queen, leading to a conclusion that would shock the country.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Tara Grinstead
At the time of her disappearance, Tara Grinstead was a high school history teacher, loved by many. She was a former beauty pageant winner who volunteered to mentor local contestants. In fact, it was one of her last known whereabouts on October 21, 2005.
When Grinstead failed to show up for work on Monday, October 23, her family, and friends were immediately concerned, and a full investigation began into her disappearance.
According to friends, she was last seen at a BBQ on Saturday night, after which she left alone. Grinstead’s car was parked in her driveway, the clothes she wore at the BBQ laid limply on her bedroom floor, and there was no sign of forced entry.
Despite missing house keys and a purse, very little seemed out of place. For more than a decade, the case would remain cold. That is until one man vowed to see it through.
The Up and Vanished Crew Takes the Grinstead Case
Up and Vanished debuted on August 7, 2016, following in the footsteps of idolized podcast Serial. Payne Lindsey took an investigative approach in Grinstead’s case, interviewing locals and people close to the victim.
He poured over documents and information, strategically analyzing the largest case file in Georgia state history, pondering how a beloved school teacher could merely wander off in the middle of the night without a trace.
As Lindsey continued in his efforts, Up and Vanished caught the attention of thousands of true crime fans across the country, as well as residents of Ocilla, Georgia.
The stagnate decade-old case began circulating in conversation, and those who had kept quiet for years began to panic at the onset of media attention.
With the help of a private investigator, Lindsay probed leads and examined persons of interest through hearsay and evidence, igniting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to reexamine Grinstead’s disappearance.
Lindsay’s work paid off. In February 2017, the GBI received a credible tip that led to the arrest of Ryan Duke, a former student at County High School, where Grinstead was employed.
According to reports, Duke entered Grinstead’s home while she slept with the motive of robbing her. He was caught and in an act of desperation (and perhaps pure cowardice), strangled Grinstead to death. He then acquired the help of a friend, Bo Dukes, to move and dispose of her body.
During a 2017 press conference, GBI agent, J.T Ricketson, credited Up and Vanished with the movement of the case, stating, “[The media] have just been phenomenal in this whole endeavor. Please know that you have had an impact, a significant role in this investigation, and I am confident that today we have reached the point where we are in this investigation because of that involvement.”
He also stated to the media Duke “never came up on our radar,” further reinforcing that without the work of Up and Vanished, Grinstead’s murder would likely still be unsolved today.
Ryan Alexander was arrested on February 23, 2017, for Tara Grindstead’s murder and Bo Dukes was arrested on March 3, 2017, as an accessory.
Bo Dukes was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Ryan Alexander’s trial faced an onset of challenges and restructuring, moving his initial trial date from April 1, 2019, to May 2, 2022.
Other Podcasts That Solved Cold Cases
Up and Vanished was just the beginning for armchair detectives taking the lead in investigating dormant cases.
The Murder Squad, an investigative podcast led by former investigator Paul Holes and journalist, Billy Jensen, covered the case of Helene Pruszynski, a 21-year-old from Douglas County, Colorado, who was abducted in January 1980.
Similar to the capture of the Golden State Killer using DNA from genetic testing companies, one listener of the show submitted their DNA to GEDMatch, helping law enforcement identify Pruszynski’s killer, a distant relative of the show’s listener.
Additionally, the true-crime podcast The Bear Brook assisted in identifying three unknown individuals who were victims of a serial killer in the 1970s.
Using mitochondrial DNA from the remains, forensic investigators were successful in their attempts to name three out of four victims, hoping to identify the last remaining body using similar genetic methods.
Up and Vanished was one of the first to pave the way for amateur investigators everywhere, making their mark in successfully aiding in the closure of one of Georgia’s most puzzling cold cases.
With dedication, a stable Wifi connection, and a suitable microphone, anyone can embark on tackling a cold case. In fact, law enforcement might thank you for it.
Take notes, Rogan.
Looking for a fresh new True Crime podcast? Tea After Dark is the newest podcast in the A Little Bit Human family and focuses on topics pertaining to horror, true crime, and the occult, with ties to social issues. From how watching horror movies alleviates anxiety, to how the fascination with true crime has gone too far, each week Tea After Dark uncovers a prominent theme hidden within the morbid subject matter.