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Wednesday, January 7,2009

Dead on

Dead on Local writers unearth chilling story of suburban murder

by Bill Castanier
Stephen and Tara Grant were the perfect couple. They had it all — good looks, a nice home in the suburbs, two beautiful children and exotic vacation spots. Then, on a winter evening in 2007, Tara Grant disappeared. Now Steve Miller and Andrea Billups, two Haslett authors, have written an engaging and chilling true-crime novel examining the Macomb County woman’s life and death.

On Feb. 9, 2007, 34-year-old businesswoman Tara Grant disappeared from her home with no trace. Stephen Grant waited until Valentine’s Day to report her missing. Soon he was on the run after a search of the Grant home uncovered gruesome evidence of murder and dismemberment.

Although the case was open and shut, a theatrical trial preceded Stephen Grant’s conviction of second-degree murder in December 2007. Covering the trial, the authors saw a much more complex case, as they spent eight months delving into a life and brutal death.

Unlike most true-crime novels, Miller and Billups’ “A Slaying in the Suburbs: The Tara Grant Murder,” doesn’t sensationalize the murder, even though the attempted cover-up by Stephen Grant, his dramatic flight and his brief affair with a German au pair dripped with enough juicy detail to draw the attention of virtually every national media outlet.

Miller and Billups, self-described “crime and cop writers,” were first pulled into the case as free-lance writers for People magazine. People initially asked Billups to monitor the disappearance of Tara Grant, and she pulled Miller in when the husband took flight across Northern Michigan. When that happened, Billups said, “They green lit the story and told us to go at it.”

The book offers much more than a collection of media reports and court documents; the authors did original reporting, talking with individuals who weren’t part of the police investigation. The writers undertook grueling interviews with childhood, teenage and college friends of both Grants, along with family members and neighbors to piece together the causes of this crime, which rocked a quiet neighborhood.

“[Tara and Stephen] were so attractive,” Billups said. “They lived in a great neighborhood. I went up there and walked the streets and talked to people who lived there. You look at the house where they lived, and that happened inside there, and that’s really chilling. If it isn’t safe inside their beautiful suburban home, where is it safe?”

After the story ran in March 2007, the writers realized they might have a book on their hands. “We knew it had some high national interest; crime shows had focused on it, and the bottom line is by May we had a book proposal, and by June we were working on the book,” Miller said.

By all appearances Tara and Stephen Grant were normal college students when they met each other at Michigan State University in 1994. She was from a small Upper Peninsula town and he from the Detroit area. They were high-need achievers who wanted on the fast track to success. Later, when he became a house dad and she the major breadwinner, it created stress in the marriage.

By doing original interviews with friends, family, classmates and co-workers, the reporters tracked a lifetime of abnormalities, but nothing foreshadowed the brutal outcome. It seemed most likely the marriage was headed for a divorce, but something snapped inside Stephen Grant. The reporters uncovered some of Stephen Grant’s confrontations with authority and his penchant for lying about his past, his jobs and his income. “He was a teller of tales,” Miller said.

Miller, who has interviewed Grant numerous times in prison following his conviction, said Grant contends he hardly remembers the three weeks following the murder before his arrest on March 3.

The authors cite their previous work writing for daily newspapers as preparing them for the grind of producing the book. The two alternated writing chapters and then reread each other’s work.

The authors said they were able to separate themselves from the emotional aspect of the crime.  However, at one point when Miller was writing about the dismemberment of the victim’s body, he said he was unable to sleep at night, and Billups remembers feeling a chill when she walked the area where Grant tried to dispose of the dismembered body.

Miller is now working on proposals for a couple of other true-crime books, and Billups is finishing a crime novel with a woman reporter as the protagonist. The authors continue to write for a variety of publications, including The Washington Times.

Miller plans to visit Grant again soon. He has no idea if Grant will have read the book (prison rules may prevent him from reading it), but if he has, Miller said, “It may be our last meeting.”

Andrea Billups & Steve Miller
Authors of “A Slaying in the Suburbs”
7:30 p.m. Jan. 14
Schuler Books & Music, 1982 Grand River Ave., Okemos
FREE
(517) 349-8840
www.schulerbooks.com


 

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