NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Dennis Murphy Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/29/2008 8:38:44 PM ET 2008-03-01T01:38:44
TRANSCRIPT

This story originally aired Dateline NBC on Feb. 29, 2008.

North of Detroit’s seamless sprawl of strip malls and subdivisions is a 4500-acre woodland preserve. In winter, it’s a bare forest that still belongs to the deer, coyote and occasional trail walkers like Sheila Werner.

What she spotted that last day of February, tucked under a tree, looked like more than litter. A one-gallon Ziploc bag.

Sheila Werner: Because there was snow on the ground it stood out like a sore thumb. I mean it was, there was bright red blood in the bag.

Sheila picked up the baggie. She thought the sheriff's office might want to know about it what with all the coverage on the news about that missing woman.

(News report)

“Not one call on a cell phone. Not one hit on a credit card. She has simply vanished."

The story of Tara Grant, the vanished wife and mother, had become as regular a fixture on the Detroit news stations as sports and weather.

The missing woman's husband, Stephen Grant, was on the local news almost daily, making teary -- on the verge of angry -- appeals to his wife of more than 10 years to come home. If not for him, then for their two young children, a girl, 6, and a boy, 4.

Stephen Grant, in tears: "Please call anybody. Call the police, call me, call my in-laws, call someone."

The family lived in a comfortable home northeast of Detroit. Tara was the breadwinner, thriving in a six-figure management position with an international construction and engineering firm. The most recent job site was in Puerto Rico. She'd been commuting between Detroit and San Juan for five months.

Stephen Grant worked in his father's small-time, two-man machine shop and looked after the kids while Tara was on the road. He prided himself on being a "Mr. Mom" at home and a soccer dad on the field, according to newspaper reporter Amber Hunt.

Amber Hunt: Took them to all their appointments and soccer games and appreciated getting the accolades for that.

And from the time he walked into the Macomb County Sheriff's office on Valentine’s Day, 2007, to report his wife missing, his story never changed.

As he gave the spare details of her disappearance to the desk sergeant in the lobby he may not have noticed the huge plainclothes detective walking by, but that officer remembered Stephen Grant because of the fragment of conversation he overheard.

Brian Kozlowski: And I heard him actually say, 'she's been gone for five days now.'

Detective Brian Kozlowski was still wondering why the guy had waited five days to report his wife missing when his desk phone rang and, sure enough, he'd been assigned the case.

It was his lieutenant, sounding urgent.

Kozlowski: "...I want you to get on it immediately."

By now, Det. Kozlowski had the report from the desk officer who'd taken down the husband's story, this story:

After a week-long business trip, Grant said, his wife Tara had come home the previous Friday night, Feb. 9. No sooner had she unpacked her bag when she announced she'd be going back to Puerto Rico early. Sunday, rather than Monday. Grant cried foul. She needed to be home more and traveling for her job less.

Kozlowski: Argument ensued, according to Mr. Grant. And he last heard her he thought was on a phone say, “I’ll be out in a minute.” She left the house, he looked out the window and a black sedan was leaving.

The husband agreed to meet the detective and his partner at the Grant home the night he reported her missing -- five days after, he said, she'd walked out in a huff.

Kozlowski: Mr. Grant answered the door. And I could tell he was afraid we were there, whereas he's our complainant, we're here to serve him and help him, but he's afraid of us.

One of the detective's first questions was why Grant had waited so long to report his wife missing. The husband replied that they'd had fights before when Tara walked out for a day or so but she'd always come back.

Kozlowski: We're immediately trying to establish her reason for leaving. Was it an argument? Was something prearranged?

Detective Kozlowski proceeded to ask Grant about the health of his marital relationship, potential lovers and potential enemies. While the other detective, Sgt. Pam McLean, was with the two children and their au pair, a 19-year-old German girl named Verena Dierkes, a live-in who looked after them because of Tara’s hectic travel schedule.

Det. Pam McLean, Macomb County Sheriff's office: I talked briefly with her for a few minutes, asked her about the night that Mrs. Grant supposedly had left.

Verena, the au pair, said she'd been out of the house the night the fight occurred and didn't see what happened.

As the detectives put away their notebooks, they asked if Grant would come down to the sheriff's office the following day for a lie detector test, and he agreed.

Kozlowski: He asked me, “Do you think that I’m going to be in trouble for any of this?” and I said, “Trouble? Meaning what Steve?” And he said “You know I didn't have anything to do with this.” And that's when he showed emotion. He put his hands over his mouth and he started to cry.

Photos: Remembering TaraHere at the sheriff's office, detectives were finding that Tara Grant's trail -- five days after she reportedly fought with her husband and walked out -- was growing stone cold. She wasn't using her cell phone, laptop, or personal credit cards. She hadn't talked to her family.

Still, investigators knew that she was a sophisticated international traveler, well equipped to take care of herself on the road. Maybe she was just cooling off somewhere after a heated confrontation.

The detectives also learned her husband was trying to reach her, because when they retrieved Tara’s voicemails after the night of the disappearance they heard Steve’s angry voice.

Stephen Grant voicemail message

"Tara, next time I call you, pick up your phone. ... It's absolute bull- - - - that you can't call me or your kids ... I know you're mad. I'm mad. You traveling this much is not right."

But anxious as he professed to be for help in locating her, Stephen Grant never did take that lie detector test the next day. He hired a lawyer who advised him to stop talking.

Stop talking to law enforcement, maybe, but not the media.

(Stephen Grant talking to media)

"We appreciate you guys. We appreciate all the people who've been helping."

Amber Hunt, crime and courts reporter for the Detroit free press, was surprised that Grant was constantly calling newsrooms and reporters on their cells.

Amber Hunt: Initially you think, oh, well the guy really wants to find his wife. Then after a while, hmmm, maybe that's not what he was looking for.

Meanwhile, Det. Kozlowski and the investigative team watched the live shots and took careful notes.

According to her husband Steve, Tara Grant stormed out the door of their suburban Detroit home after a fight and hadn't been seen since.

Stephen Grant: Everybody gets into an argument with their spouse. Tara would say things. I would say things. Was it bad? No. Not even close.

It wasn't until days later that Tara’s sister, Alicia, got the news at her home near Columbus, Ohio, from her mother.

Alicia Standerfer: She said, “I’ve gotten a phone call from Steve and Tara’s missing. He hasn't heard from her in five days."

Alicia Standerfer was almost two years younger than her sister. Like Tara she had two young kids and knew that it was ominously unlike her sister to walk out of her life even for a marriage timeout.

Alicia Standerfer: Tara would never leave her children and not let us know where she was. And she would never miss anything with her employer. In 10 years of working for the same company, she didn't miss a day.

When Alicia talked to her brother-in-law Steve, it was Feb. 13, the evening before he finally reported Tara as a missing person on Valentine's Day.

Alicia Standerfer: The conversation that we had started out, you know, with him telling the story and it very quickly changed tones. And he said to me, he said, “You know what? He said, she's probably shacked up in a hotel,” and those are his exact words.

Dennis Murphy: Shacked up?

Alicia Standerfer: “Shacked up in a hotel around the corner with some guy” and I remember at that instant, I said, “Stephen,” I said, “She could be in the slums of Detroit in serious trouble. She could be dead.” I didn't trust this man. Something was off. I didn't know what.

Alicia, in truth, had never been thrilled with her sister's husband. A smug underachiever, she thought. A guy who bellowed when he talked.

Alicia Standerfer: He always had to have the last word, no matter what.

Tara and Stephen met at Michigan State. A 4-H girl going for a business degree and a suburban Detroit boy with an eye on politics. When they married and kids came along...

Alicia Standerfer: Oh she was ecstatic. Lindsey was the sparkle of her eye.

Alicia and Tara had grown up together as farm kids on Michigan’s rural upper peninsula.

Alicia Standerfer: We had old MacDonald’s farm to a tee. We had everything: horses, you know, sheep cows pigs goats guinea hens rabbits chickens turkeys, geese, you name it we had it. Tara and I growing up, we had a list of things that we had to accomplish in the day. And if the list wasn't done when my dad got home, there were consequences to be paid.

And one activity on the list, more fun than chore, was making maple syrup, something Tara loved to do, even as an adult.

Alicia Standerfer: She was happy. She was a happy kid.

The snapshots didn't lie about the confident, chatty, take-charge girl everyone knew was going places.

Alicia Standerfer: She was my leaning post. When I had something very crucial to talk about, Tara was the first person I would call.

Her last call with her big sister came on Feb. 9. Forty minutes of girl-talk. Tara was in the Newark airport waiting for her connecting flight home.

Dennis Murphy: She seemed upbeat?

Alicia Standerfer: Yes.

Dennis Murphy: Did she ever say “I’ve got to turn around and go back to Puerto Rico on Sunday?”

Alicia Standerfer: No. In fact, she laid out all her plans to me which was to return to Puerto Rico on that Monday.

And now Tara was missing. Alicia and her husband drove five hours to Detroit to meet with the detective named Kozlowski and to paper the metro area with missing person posters.

Saturday night, the 17th, they made plans to go over to Stephen’s house for take-out pizza.

Alicia Standerfer: We drove up the driveway and Steve came out of the garage and proceeded to hug me in a very uncomfortable fashion. I tried to pull away and he would not allow me to pull away. He buried his head in my shoulder and he was crying.

Grant's tears became very familiar to TV news watchers but after a few days in the spotlight they dried up. He began bad-mouthing his missing wife in interviews like this one with Hank Winchester of Detroit’s NBC affiliate.

Grant: A couple of years ago, Tara and I did have a problem in our-- in our marriage with the-- with-- I don't want to call it an infidelity, but -- but pretty close to an infidelity.

Hank Winchester: What's pretty close to an infidelity? I don't understand what that means.

Grant: It was going there.

He started belittling Tara as an AWOL mom more concerned with her career and frequent flyer miles than her family.

(Stephen Grant)

I get that she has to travel for business but too much is too much and that was too much.

Alicia, meanwhile, felt compelled to speak-up for her sister in interviews, portraying Tara not as some one-dimensional, career woman but a loving mother who successfully balanced both work and family.

Alicia Standerfer: You know, I mean she's a family-driven, career-driven woman.

And the more Stephen Grant appeared on the news playing for sympathy, the more divided public opinion became about him.

Amber Hunt: He was a victim, or he was evil. And there really wasn't much in between.

Along the way, his "poor-me" image as the spouse possibly cheated on took a big hit. An old girlfriend of Grant’s leaked some recent e-mails that she'd received from Stephen two weeks before Tara went missing. They contained not-so-subtle come-ons, like:

"I am still in need of some excitement in my day ... Wink wink!"

"I just think of marriage vows like speed limits. Sometimes you have to break them ..."

Meanwhile, the agency that placed the young au pair in the Grant home became so uncomfortable with one of its girls being in the midst of a publicly messy domestic situation, it pulled Verena, the kids' nanny, out of the house against her will. She returned home to Germany on Feb. 21.

Reporter Amber Hunt knew why this juicy psychodrama about a suburban family had hit such a nerve.

Amber Hunt: They were the people next door.

Dennis Murphy: Nice house, good kids.

Amber Hunt: Yeah -- loving dad, successful mom, beautiful family.

But could reporters or anyone really find out what was going on under a family's roof? The husband, in particular, was proving difficult to get a fix on.

Amber Hunt: The people that we came across pretty much acknowledged that he was kind of a strange bird. He didn't bring home nearly the amount of money that she did. So, I don't know how that plays into somebody's psyche when you're pretty much left working for your dad and raising the kids.

Unobtrusively, the sheriff's office, meanwhile, had put surveillance teams on Grant, watching his house, studying his demeanor in security cam video from the mini-mart where every morning he bought the local papers full of news about the case.

The Macomb County detective team had no physical evidence and few leads, yet they had a gut feeling about the husband. His story, including her supposedly making a phone call and leaving in a black sedan, was full of holes.

Capt. Wickersham: The car service didn't work out. Nobody picked her up. The credit cards, nothing's going to be used. So it was pretty much, we're at a dead end.

With no fresh leads to run down, without the physical evidence they'd need to execute a search warrant of the house, the sheriff, Mark Hackel, announced to the public that they were going to search the sprawling park out by the Grant home over the weekend.

Sheriff Mark Hackel: We realized the public was in tune to this case. They really wanted to know what was going on, so we needed their help.

Someone out there listening to the sheriff was a dental hygienist, a person who'd adopted the narrow two-lane road that passed her house for litter clean-up chores. But her time in the case of the missing Tara Grant hadn't arrived. Not just yet.

Ten days after she was reported missing, reserves and deputies from the sheriff's department swarmed the vast Stony Creek metro park looking for any signs of Tara Grant, the 34-year-old wife and mother who'd supposedly walked out on her family.

Sheriff Mark Hackel: Just a hunch... we just didn't want to sit back.

For six hours, more than 150 searchers with sniffer dogs on the ground and a helicopter above, scoured a three-mile grid of the park.

Why? Simply because in his non-stop interviews in the media, Stephen Grant, the missing woman's husband, talked about Stony Creek a lot, maybe too much.

"The main reason we bought the house is because that park was there."

"I moutain bike out there, I run out in stony creek all the time."

"We love that park."

But at the end of the long day, the searchers came up empty. The sheriff asked the community to keep its eyes open.

(Sheriff press conference)

What we'd like people to do is take a look in some of the wooded areas and if they happen to see something call us immediately.

The missing woman's sister, Alicia, had gotten a heads up the night before that the sheriff's office was going to be looking for Tara’s body. At that moment, reality set in.

Alicia Standerfer: I remember getting off the phone and going downstairs to where my children were and just sobbing, with my little son across the room from me standing there as startled as he could ever be. And I said, “Bud, mom needs a hug” and that little boy came running to me as fast as he could and jumped up in my lap.

It was four days later, on the Wednesday after the weekend search, when that dental hygienist, Sheila Werner, decided to go for a tromp thru the woods less than a mile from her house, a section of the same park the sheriff's office had searched.

Sheila Werner: I had no intention of finding anything.

But as she came up the rise back toward the dirt road, she saw it -- a one-gallon Ziploc bag.

Sheila Werner: I had a mitten on and I went over and I picked up the bag, and you could see blood just pooling to the bottom of the bag … I knew about the disappearance of Tara Grant but I had no idea what it could be.

So she brought it home, placed it on top of her freezer in the garage and called the sheriff's office.

Sheriff Hackel: So when a deputy got out there he found the Ziploc bag with some gloves in it, some metal shavings and stuff that was concerning.

Metal shavings? Grant worked in a machine shop. That and the determination that it was human blood in the baggie were the findings they'd needed to get a search warrant.

Dennis Murphy: So that gave you probable cause to go to Grant's house?

Sheriff: Yes

Dennis Murphy: And do a proper search?

Sheriff: Yes.

Two days later, at 5:00pm on Friday, March 2, detectives and crime scene techs from the sheriff's department arrive to process the Grant home, but with modest expectations. After all, Tara has been missing for three weeks already.

But now, events tumble quickly and we can see it in almost documentary real-time because reporting crews from the NBC station, WDIV-TV, are also on the scene.

(Reporter)

"He's getting out of the car ..."

A camera rolls as Grant is taken from his vehicle and patted down.

"They're patting him down ..."

But, significantly, he has not been placed under arrest.

Det. Brian Kozlowski: At that point we didn't have probable cause to arrest Mr. Grant.

The other crew, meanwhile, is getting ready to set up for an interview. Stephen Grant has asked reporter Hank Winchester to come out to the house.

Hank Winchester: And he wanted me to interview him in the garage of the house. And I asked him, "Why the garage?" He said, "Well, the garage will give you a look into what I saw that day, because I was looking out one of the windows when I saw Tara leave in the town car. But the interview never happened.

Never happened ... and certainly not in the garage, because as technicians inside are methodically searching the house, outside, Stephen Grant simply walks away, getting out of dodge, looking back as though he couldn't believe no one was stopping him.

What they found in the house 90 minutes later is detective Kozlowski's stomach-churning story.

By then, he and five other detectives had retreated to the garage to get out from underfoot of the CSI-types working in the house.

Det. Kozlowski eye-balled the usual garage clutter to see if anything had changed since his first and only visit back on Feb. 14.

Det. Brian Kozlowski: And I saw a green container that I, you know, was confident had not been there on the 14th. It looked out of place to me immediately. And there was a black bag, a black garbage bag in it and I opened up the bag and there was another bag in it. So I went through each bag ripping them apart with my hands and I stuck my bare hand in there and it was moist. and I saw what I thought was blood in plastic. And then  I could see, you know, what was a bra.

The detectives backed away to let a crime scene tech confirm what no one could quite believe.

Kozlowski: One of the evidence techs opened up the lid, cut the bag further and spread apart the bag and there was a female human torso.

Dennis Murphy: Your words in court were I think, “What the f---!'

Kozlowski: Exactly.

A plastic bin in the garage, containing a female torso, no head, no limbs.

Dennis Murphy: Did it all click together for you at the moment? It's Tara. She's murdered, he dismembered her and left her in the garage.

Kozlowski: Once I looked at lieutenant Darga and she said, “That's her.” I actually just left the scene.

That's when the detective got his second shock of the night: he discovered Stephen Grant had fled and had an hour and a half lead on him.

Dennis Murphy: How angry are you?

Brian Kozlowski: Oh, I’m very --  I’m going to get him.

Dennis Murphy: This guy's taking a walk on you?

Brian Kozlowski: Yes. I’m going to go find him.

Stephen Grant was on the run.

The detective had found the missing Tara Grant, but only a part of her, just the woman's torso in a plastic storage bin inside the garage of the home she shared with her husband and two children.

Det. Kozwloski: I’ve never seen violence like this.

Alicia, Tara’s sister, had returned to her home in Ohio by the time the awful discovery was made.

Alicia Standerfer: And my phone rang about 11 pm and it was Sheriff Hackel and he said Alicia, “Do you feel like Steve would ever harm you?”

The sheriff didn't tell Alicia that they'd found her sister. But he was concerned for her well-being because Grant was on the loose. He insisted that she come back to Michigan immediately.

Alicia Standerfer: And I said,”Mark, I said, it's 11 o'clock. You want us to drive to Michigan. We have two small children?” He said, “Yes.”

Dennis Murphy: For your safety?

Alicia Standerfer: “For your safety."

At the sheriff's office the next morning, Alicia heard the incomprehensible news:  her sister, not only murdered but dismembered.

Then she had to tell her parents that their first-born was gone.

Alicia Standerfer: I don't even know what I said other than -- 'Tara’s dead, Tara’s dead.’

Stephen Grant had simply walked away before Detective Kozlowski discovered the torso. Now a day later the investigators were getting some good clues on his whereabouts.

Information pinging off cell phone towers told them that the cell phone Grant was using was headed north. They'd learned he was in a yellow Dodge Dakota truck borrowed from an unsuspecting friend.

Then a thoroughly unexpected and enormous break. The detective's desk phone rang.

Kozlowski: I recognized it right away as being an international call.

At the other end was a voice saying this is Verena Dierkes. Verena, the Grant's former au pair calling from her home in Germany.

Kozlowski: She was crying. And I had the sense to reach for my recorder and record the conversation.

(Audio from the taped Verena call)

Verena: Everything he said was a lie. Everything. And I believed everything.

And for the next 30 minutes what a story she had to tell. Verena, in the middle of the night for her, was saying that Grant had just called her and confessed to killing his wife.

Verena: He told me it was an accident … he said, 'She smacked me and she yelled at me and I pushed her back and she banged her head and was dead.'

The 19-year-old Verena swore to the detective that she'd always believed Stephen’s story that his wife had walked out. She had no idea, she said, that he'd actually killed Tara and the detective told Verena he believed her.

But he gently confronted her about stories told to him by the au pair's friends in the Detroit area. Rumors about her and Grant.

(phone conversation)

Kozlowski: Is there anything you want to tell me about your relationship with Steve?

Verena: There is nothing.

Kozlowski: You're absolutely certain about that, Verena?

Verena: Yes.

Photos: Remembering TaraGradually, the cop coaxed the truth out of the teenager, bit by bit.

Verena: We liked each other. We liked each other more than we should. And it started about four weeks ago...

Kozlowski: How did it start?

Verena: I don't know. It -- it was just talking ... I don't know what -- maybe 'cause Tara was always gone. And then it was ... Just happened ... but it was never physical. Never. On that I swear.

Challenged on that point, Verena admitted a little more.

Verena: We kissed, but that's all.

And then, after further probing, she admitted a lot more: she'd had oral sex with her employer.

Verena: But it was just one time ... And it was before that happened to Tara. It was before the -- February the 9th.

Kozlowski: OK, was it mutual oral sex or just him?

Verena: It was just him.

Was Kozlowski hearing motivation for the murder? Did Stephen Grant kill his wife so he could be with the cute young nanny who was so good with the children?

Meanwhile, the intense manhunt for Grant was still very much ongoing and Verena provided the detective a solid lead. She told him Grant's call to her had registered on her caller ID as coming from the 989 area code, a big chunk of northern Michigan.

Verena was certain he intended to kill himself.

And in yet another call from Grant that night, this one to his sister near Detroit, he even gave the name of the remote cabins where he intended to take his life. The sister called the detective.

Kozlowski: So I basically Googled it. And it showed up Wagashantz State cabins in Wilderness State Park in northern Michigan.

Quickly, police found the abandoned yellow truck, followed the footprints in the snow and there under a tree, at 6:30 Sunday morning, was a dead-tired Stephen Grant suffering from hypothermia but very much alive.

Dennis Murphy: Do you think he was trying to kill himself?

Kozlowski: I personally think it entered his mind but when it really came down to it he lacked the courage to do it.

A Coast Guard rescue helicopter was called to the scene to reel in Grant and deliver him to a hospital.

He may have been exhausted but Stephen Grant still hadn't tired of talking about himself. He was about to tell everything.

Search teams went back to Stony Creek Park the day after Tara Grant's torso had been discovered in a bin in the family garage.

Sheriff Hackel: Boy! When they started walking through that field, there were some pretty gruesome discoveries.

Not far from where the hiker had come upon the bloody Ziploc bag, they began finding blood, hair and dismembered body parts scattered about, under fallen tree limbs, down in hollows. Grant had cut his wife into 14 pieces. Police found 11 parts marked by the red dots in this aerial photo. But they never did recover all the remains. Animals had gotten there first, they said.

With his client in custody and the man's wife in pieces, Stephen Grant's lawyer announced he was no longer representing "Mr. Mom."

Grant himself was in a northern Michigan hospital, under guard, recovering from exposure when he asked if he could talk to detective Kozlowski.

The detective got on the line and after a few seconds, Grant made a surprising proposal.

(phone call)

Stephen Grant: Come up, we'll talk ...

Kozlowski: Come on up, we'll talk?

Grant: Yup. Me and you.

Dennis Murphy: I mean, here's his lawyers walked off the case. You don't know how long you're going to have this window of opportunity with him.

Kozlowski: Exactly.

Dennis Murphy: Are you breaking speed limits to get up there?

Kozlowski: Absolutely.

Five-hours later, Kozlowski and Detective McLean--the two who'd made the original house call on Grant -- were Mirandizing the husband in his hospital bed after pressing record on their tape machine.

Kozlowski: You do in fact understand that you are in fact under arrest right now?

Grant: Right.

Kozlowski: For the murder of your wife, Tara?

Grant: Yes.

As though shooting the breeze over coffee in a diner, Grant told the detectives it started with a fight in the master bedroom on Friday, Feb. 9. Tara saying she was going back to Puerto Rico early, Grant angrily accusing her of not spending enough time at home.

(Stephen Grant on police video)

She said, “I got to do what I have to do in my job and it's none of your business.” So she started to turn around and I grabbed her wrist ... “Just stop,” I said, “you're not going anywhere.” And I said, “We're going to finish this conversation” and she slapped me ... and after that I don't really remember what happened ... she fell. I know that she banged the back of her head on the floor, and then she said something like 'That's it. I'm going to take the kids. You're going to be f- - - ing homeless. You're a piece of - - - -.” and I choked her...

Kozlowski: In the bathroom?

Grant: On the carpet ... She had started to get back up when I put my hand on her neck  ... I grabbed her neck and choked her.

Det. Mclean: Were you looking at her face?

Grant: No, I covered her face up.

Det. Mclean: What'd you cover her face up with?

Grant: Gray underwear or a gray t-shirt...

Kozlowski: How did you know that she had died?

Grant: When she stopped moving... and I was worried. I was really worried.

The two children, Grant said, were in their rooms down the hall from their murdered mother. The au pair was out. Authorities would say later, Grant text messaged her, “You owe me a kiss" and left a note reading the same on her pillow.

Grant said he returned to his wife's body, tied a belt around her neck and dragged the corpse down the stairs and out to the garage. He was going to hide the body in the back of Tara’s Isuzu trooper.

(Grant police tape)

And I dropped her. She was too hard to pick up and the belt ... Broke and she fell. It was the most disgusting noise. It just sounded like dropping a watermelon on the cement.

He went back upstairs only to hear the front door opening. Verena. He told the teenager the story for the first time about a fight and Tara leaving in a black sedan.

(Grant police tape)

And I kept thinking we've got a body in this garage. What the hell do I do with the body? And thinking I killed my wife. I was thinking my life was over.

For the next day the body of Tara Grant lay inside the Isuzu in the garage.

The day after that, Sunday, he had a plan. Grant drove the SUV and Tara’s remains to his father's grungy machine shop where the two of them made ball bearings.

He backed the truck in and set down plastic bags.

(Grant police tape)

So I looked around the shop ... I was looking for something. I was looking for a hacksaw or something.

Through trial and error, he found that the blade of a broken hacksaw worked best. He started with the hands.

(Grant police tape)

At some point I threw up. And I threw up again. And then I drank some more whiskey. And then I just told myself, 'look if you don't do this you're going to prison for the rest of your life.' ... and I kept cutting her up.

He then drove back to the house -- his wife's dismembered body in the back of the SUV -- and joined Verena and the kids for a nice Sunday afternoon.

(Grant police tape)

I tried to make things as normal as possible for everybody. And I continuously flirted with Verena because I thought that was the only way I was going to be able to get through this ...

That Sunday night he loaded the kids' plastic red sled in the Isuzu and at 3 am Monday drove off looking for a place to dispose of his wife's pieces.

He ended up at Stony Creek Park, near some big overhead power lines. He popped the hatch and dumped the body parts onto the kids' sled.

He pulled the last of Tara up through the snow to the open fields.

(Grant police tape)

And as soon as I started going it was like “Keystone Kops.” The sled took off and now I’m chasing after this sled that has my wife's cut-up body in it down a hill ... finally got it stopped when it fell over and it broke. So now all these pieces are now fallen all over the place.

Kozlowski: OK.

Grant: So Tara’s torso I took and I buried in the snow. And then the pieces I put on the sled and I buried that in the snow.

But Grant was unhappy with his pre-dawn work.

(Grant police tape)

I'd done a very very bad job of hiding anything. It's right there in the open.

Tuesday at dusk, he returned to the park, retrieved all the body parts wrapped in clear plastic bags, cut them open and scattered the remains here and there under fallen trees.

(Grant police tape)

The hands, feet, Tara’s head, everything.

He left a one gallon Ziploc bag stuffed with all the plastic wrap by a tree near the road.

And he was done.

Until he heard, more than a week later, the sheriff announce a search of Stony Creek Park.

(Grant police tape)

And I thought I’m screwed. They're going to find that-- because that torso at this point still is buried in the snow.

So on that very Saturday morning, mere hours before the sheriff's search, Grant went back to the park at dawn to recover his wife's torso.

(Grant police tape)

I had to dig it out. It was frozen in the ground...

McLean: How did you carry it?

Grant: I threw it over my shoulder and carried it.

"It" -- no longer Tara, a wife, a human. Just "it," merely a problem to be dealt with.

Amber Hunt: I’ve covered crime my entire career and it's hard to shake some of these details.

Details like Grant using his kids' red sled -- this red sled from an old home video -- to transport his wife's body parts, and his being tickled by that same sled running away stacked with pieces of Tara.

Amber Hunt: To describe it like “Keystone Kops” is just so flippant. It's your wife. She might be in multiple parts at that point, but you should still recognize that that's your wife.

Grant returned to the car with Tara’s dismembered body. He shoved it into plastic garbage bags and drove once more to his father's machine shop. He then hid the torso behind boxes in the loft space beneath the ceiling.

But he worried that the remains would thaw and start to smell. So five days later, he stashed the torso in a green plastic container, drove it back to the garage in his home and hoped for the best.

(Grant police tape)

And I kept thinking, 'I got away with this. I can't believe I got away with this.'

Dennis Murphy: Look, how do you keep from just going for this guy, just throttling him?

Kozlowski: I guess I should be credited for that cause there's more than one time I would've liked to have done that.

The case had turned very personal for this tough-guy detective.

Dennis Murphy: Do you ever wake up at night and you're back in the garage putting your hand in the tub?

Brian Kozlowski: You see that green tub. I can see that almost every day. I'll take it to bed with me every night.

Grant signed a written version of his confession, but the case wasn't over because Grant later pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder.

The day after his capture and confession, Stephen Grant, the husband who couldn't get enough of the TV cameras, faced them one more time: in a perp walk, a perp roll actually.

Later that day for an arraignment he was in a hospital wheelchair and wearing not the conventional institutional jumpsuit, but old-timey prisoner's stripes selected personally by the sheriff for maximum humiliation.

Sheriff Hackel: They were a brand new set, and I had one of our officers transport them right up to the hospital.

Grant had told his murdered wife's sister she was probably just "shacked up" somewhere. Now he'd been brought to ground.

Alicia Standerfer: I saw an empty shell. In all honesty I saw an animal.

And, more than anything, Tara’s sister Alicia wanted that animal she saw locked up for the rest of his life. But only a first-degree murder conviction could guarantee no chance at parole.

Alicia Standerfer: He's never going to get out. Second degree? There's that possibility.

So that was what was at stake when the murder trial of Stephen Grant began ten-months after his arrest: would he get life in prison, meaning exactly that? Or would the jury find him guilty of murder in the second-degree, leaving the door open for him to walk free at some future date?

Despite his legally air-tight confession, Grant had pleaded not guilty.

Eric Smith, prosecutor: When you strip it all down it's a domestic violence murder and somebody has to speak for Tara, and that was our job."

The Macomb County prosecutor, Eric Smith, never for a minute believed Grant's story that he and Tara had a fight over her traveling so much.

Eric Smith: I don't see an argument. I see a beating. He picked that very calculatingly, that it makes him look good. Here's my wife. She's out of town all the time. I'm this poor husband sitting at home taking care of my kids. I'm Mr. Mom. This jury of sixteen people, we had to bring them back to reality real quickly to show them what this case was actually about.

Dennis Murphy: And that was what?

Smith: It was about sex. It was about Stephen Grant wanting to replace his wife with his au pair. And something that was really telling in this entire case is, the first thing he did after murdering his wife was pick up a cell phone and text the au pair, saying, “you owe me a kiss.”

The judge wouldn't permit cameras in the courtroom as the prosecutor argued his case for premeditation, which was a requirement for Grant to be sent to prison without the possibility of parole.

He introduced evidence:

There were Grant's recent steamy e-mails to the old flame, all but asking for a fresh hook-up.

And then him changing erotic targets from the former girlfriend to his children's au pair, Verena, the German teen fresh out of high-school.

And in a moment of high theatre, the prosecutor called a blockbuster witness -- Verena, now a brunette.

Amber Hunt: People flew over to Germany to try and track this woman down, and she was having nothing of it. So we really thought that she would just keep her distance.

Murphy: Set the scene, Amber, because we have no cameras, of course.

Amber Hunt: I saw her just shoot these looks at him. They were scowls. And it seemed like she was really there to say, “You've messed me up for some time and I’m here to make sure that you get what's coming to you.”

Verena, in a confident voice, recounted how her employer became suddenly flirtatious at the end of January, stealing kisses and actually exposing himself to her, until finally, the night before Tara is murdered, he gets her into his bed.

Eric Smith: No one can ever tell me that it's a coincidence that the night before he murders his wife he has sexual relations with the au pair.

The defense throughout, meanwhile, answered the accusation of premeditation by asking where are the signs that Grant prepared for the crime? Where's the “to do” list of plotting a murder? A defense witness argued the case was really about a man snapping during a physical confrontation, and therefore he should be found guilty of no more than second-degree murder.

(Grant police tape)

Stephen Grant: Tara’s torso, I took and buried in the snow ...

And yet when the jury heard all three hours of Grant's passionless recollection of murder and dismemberment, how could that be anything but first-degree murder?

Dennis Murphy: When you hear it, there's a remoteness from the things he's talking about, isn't there?

Alicia Standerfer: Yeah. There's no remorse. There's not an ounce of remorse.

In his closing argument, the prosecutor brought the jury back to the bedroom as the murder occurred. The medical examiner had testified that Tara likely went unconscious after 15 seconds of strangulation. But then, it probably took another 3 minutes and 45 seconds of Grant choking her before she actually died.

Prosecutor Smith took out a stop watch and set it ticking for four minutes, plenty of time, he said, to think about going through with a murder and just as significantly, plenty of time to make the conscious choice to stop. That, he told the jury, also constituted premeditation.

Eric Smith: When I said, "Tara Grant is now unconscious," those next 3 minutes and 45 seconds were an eternity. Stephen Grant had the opportunity to choose life or death. He chose death.

The jury went out to deliberate and stayed out, confounding all courtroom betting for a fast verdict. Three days later they returned.

(Reporters outside courthouse)

Question: "What is it, Hank?"

Hank: "Second."

Channel 7 reporter: "Second-degree murder."

Radio guy: "Stephen Grant, guilty of second-degree murder."

Photos: Remembering TaraGuilty of murder in the second degree. After a split jury tussle, they'd finally been persuaded by the defense's argument against premeditation. The defendant, in full panic mode during and after the killing, his rational self, as it were, no longer at the wheel.

(Prosecutor press conference)

Well, the jury has spoken … I wanted first-degree murder, but what I wanted more than anything was to make sure Stephen Grant was going to be off the streets, and be off the streets for a long time.

And two months later, in her sentencing of Grant on Feb. 21, the judge ensured just that. Grant will be in prison for the next 50 to 80 years.

(Prosecutor Smith after sentencing)

"Today, justice was served. Nothing will bring back Tara Grant. But also nothing will bring back Stephen Grant."

Grant's first opportunity for a parole hearing won't come until he's 87 years old.

The judge had far exceeded the state's sentencing guidelines and handed down a virtual life sentence, citing among other reasons, the depravity of Grant's psychological damage to his young children.

(Alicia Standerfer's press conference)

Lindsey and Ian will never have to see their father. They'll never have to experience his hurtful ways, his abusive ways anymore.

There had been yet another shocking disclosure.

In her victim-impact statement, Tara’s sister told the court that this past Christmas day -- just days after the trial ended -- her now 7-year-old niece had spilled a long-kept secret.

(press conference)

Hearing Lindsey describe detail by detail by detail , you know, what she saw that night was unbelievable. I don't think anything could have prepared me for hearing those words come out of her mouth.

Both Lindsey and her younger brother Ian had watched their father murder their mother that awful night. They heard her final groan.

Nightmares, understandably, roam both children's minds, the court was told.

But with time, counseling and a new supportive home life, there's hope for them. Alicia and her husband, Erik, recently adopted their niece and nephew, blending with their own two children. Tara's kids now call their aunt and uncle mom and dad.

Alicia Standerfer: And there was a part of me that felt like I was, you know, dishonoring my sister by allowing them to call me mom and it was really my husband that said, 'You know what? This is the best thing for them.”

Dennis Murphy: So her children will be the legacy for Tara?

Alicia Standerfer: I believe so. How could they not? I mean Lindsey’s the spitting image of her mom, right down to the curly hair and her personality. I think, "Oh my gosh, that's Tara. That's Tara."

Stephen Grant has a little more than a month to file an appeal.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Inside the Grant home

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