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A Slaying in the Suburbs: The Tara Grant Murder by Steve Miller and Andrea Billups–true crime book review

20 May 2011

It’s difficult to forget the relatively recent and especially gruesome Tara Grant murder. Back in 2007, a successful businesswoman, wife, and mother of two vanished. Five days later, ironically on Valentine’s Day, hubby Stephen Grant reported her missing. What followed next was a two-week very public search that captured the nation’s fascination. And hubby Grant quickly seemed to go from grieving husband to a defaming, defiant person-of-interest.

Published by Berkley True Crime Books in 2009, A Slaying in the Suburbs: The Tara Grant Murder spins an eventful tale of deceit, jealousy, and the ultimate betrayal. Where Tara Grant was a corporate success and the family’s primary bread-winner, hubby Stephen Grant was Mr. Mom, and that may have contributed to his feelings of worthlessness–feelings that perhaps led to the ghastly crime. What is most shocking, however, is not just that spouse murderer Stephen Grant killed his own wife in an apparent fit of rage, but that he also dismembered her afterward, limb by limb. He wound up with fourteen pieces of his former wife in all, and distributed his grisly cargo–also the mother of his two children–in a park in which their children had played.

The book is written by two reporters – Steve Miller and Andrea Billups – and as such occasionally (and understandably) lapses into “reporting” mode; that is, just a rendition of the facts, ma’am. This is a minor gripe as they do an otherwise good job of fleshing out the details (no pun intended), detailing the scenes, and adding depth by re-creating key conversations of the main players. 

The book goes into considerable detail about both Stephen and Tara’s lives prior to their marriage. Readers can feel they get to know these folks as much as one can get to know others in a book. By the time the murder rolls around, that feeling is cemented enough so that readers might well feel personally betrayed also. How could Stephen Grant do this? Worse, how on earth could he do what he did after strangling his wife with his bare hands?

I’ve read enough true crime books to know that strangling doesn’t happen instantaneously, and an enormous amount of pressure must be maintained for several minutes to choke the life out of another human. As I understand it, strangling someone is not an easy thing to do. Perhaps this is why Stephen Grant later said in his confession that he threw an article of clothing over her face. A strangled face is not a pretty sight, and I write these facts not to shock but to illustrate how cold-blooded this murder actually was, particularly where that victim is your spouse. There is definitely time to think while having to keep up constant pressure when choking someone, and therefore time to stop should one be so inclined. I’ve read perpetrators of strangling say their hands or arms became sore from maintaining the constant pressure. If so, Grant certainly had time to stop had he wanted to. At minimum, he had time to think about what he was doing, and he had to have done so while looking at his wife’s face.

But Grant admits later in his confession that he knew he’d crossed a boundary by becoming physically angry with his wife, and that he knew Tara knew it, too. This was his explanation for having to silence her permanently. He said Tara “realized at some point [he] wasn’t going to stop.” Imagine the sheer horror this reportedly small woman must have felt during the final moments of her life.

Page 134 reads:

Grant said he kept ‘squeezing, squeezing, squeezing, and wouldn’t let go…I think at some point she realized that I wasn’t stopping …’

The choking went on for several minutes, and by then, Grant knew she was dead; he had strangled her ‘too long, too much time had gone by … I knew she was dead.’ [Emphasis mine.]

That’s when, he says, he started to “panic.” What follows is a macabre account of exactly how he proceeds to dismember his wife – two days later! He’s got to make her disappear after all. So, he ultimately takes his wife’s body to his father’s metal shop, where he (Grant) works, and proceeds to do the deed, piece by piece. It’s extremely disconcerting to think that someone could cut up his wife just as methodically as if he’s working on some other project in the metal shop. Though Grant writes in his confession that he vomited several times, this act, which again would take a significant amount of time and effort, is shocking beyond the pale. This dismemberment, too, had other serious, surprising repercussions besides the obvious ones as readers will find out toward the end of the book (but no spoilers here, sorry).

All of this is going on during the midst of Grant’s affair with their German teenaged au pair. If Grant is having this affair, and his marriage is on the rocks as it’s alleged to have been, that might be a good argument for premeditated murder. The crime seems so sloppily pulled off, however, it rather strikes the sensibilities as more of a crime of passion. Bluntly put: Grant snapped.

After a well-publicized search for his ostensibly missing wife, her headless torso was found in the Grants’ garag! What police had upon arriving at the home was a search warrant, but not an arrest warrant, whereby Grant was allowed to slip away. A short but intense manhunt follows, complete with Grant’s suicide calls, drinking whiskey, and frostbite.

The book, at 294 pages, is a fairly comprehensively told story, and ends with all the details ironed out. Not wanting to give the ending away, that will be left up to you, readers, but the book is a good true crime tale and worth a read.

Of course, I would be remiss if she did not mention two additional victims in this story– Tara and Stephen Grant’s children. They have lost not one, but both of their parents. And in such despicable circumstances as to stupefy the mind. This type of true crime story reminds us all that one very, very poor decision–or knee-jerk violent reaction–can leave life-altering, devastating changes for so many, for so long.

Read more info on the crime here.

Ready to read? Buy the book on Amazon here.

Grade: *** (out of 5)
Status: Recommended
 

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Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a freelance writer and paralegal in Houston. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute. She is preparing to enter law school in the fall and holds a national advanced paralegal certification as well as six specialty certifications: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Individual & Entity Medical Liability; and Social Security Disability Law. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com.

Sami Hartsfield

  

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 Copyright 2011 Sami K. Hartsfield – All Rights Reserved

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