By Bill Hewitt
March 19, 2007 12:00 PM

Stephen Grant considered himself an exceptionally dedicated parent. He proudly called himself “Mr. Mom.” So in some ways it wasn’t at all unusual when, on the evening of March 3, he called his sister to check up on the well-being of his two young children, a 6-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son.

But one thing did make the call noteworthy: At that moment, Grant, 37, was on the run, wanted for the horrific murder and dismemberment of his wife, Tara Lynn Grant, 34. Within 12 hours police had traced the call and arrested him, tattered and frostbitten, in a wilderness area in Michigan. A family guy to the end, he told authorities how much he missed his kids.

Still, with Grant it was hard to know what to believe. For nearly three weeks, he had captivated people with a tale of how his wife, a hard-driving executive for an international engineering company, had gone missing and his tearful pleas for her safe return. “I have nothing to do with it,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “I pray she’s with some guy rather than any of the other options.” The day he was captured, Grant confessed that he had in fact killed her. “He said there was an argument, he was angry about something,” says Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel. “He lashed out in an extremely violent way by strangling her.” As to the motive, there was only speculation. But one source close to the case suggests that Grant, who worked with his father at his family’s tool and die shop, in addition to caring for the kids most weekdays, may have become resentful of his wife’s achievements. “A lot of men have a great deal of trouble dealing with a situation where the wife’s career is terrific and theirs is only okay,” says the source. “Some guys are okay with that kind of success, but I don’t think Stephen was.”

From the beginning Tara had seemed to have the upper hand in their relationship. The couple met through a friend while Tara was an undergraduate at Michigan State University. She was a farm girl from the Upper Peninsula who had her sights set on bigger things. “She was very goal oriented,” says high school friend Melissa Hanson. “She knew where she was going.” Grant, who also attended MSU, had his sights set on her, though she apparently turned him down the first time he asked her out.

Persistence paid off: When he proposed on the steps of an art museum in Detroit, she said yes. At least in the early days of the marriage, “He doted on her excessively,” recalls Tara’s aunt Carla Lanaville. “He cut her hair in a way that he wanted. She thought it was special.” While some members of her family liked him well enough, others felt uneasy about the relationship. “Steve had a controlling, loud voice,” says Lanaville, who never visited the couple at home because of her misgivings about Grant. “It was hard to tell when he was yelling and when he was just talking.”

Tara, who earned a degree in business administration, landed a job at an engineering firm and quickly began working her way up the ladder. Grant never finished college and, when his dreams of a career in politics fizzled, he took a job in the family business. In recent months Tara traveled almost every week to a company office in Puerto Rico, usually spending Monday through Friday there. Last year alone Grant told one reporter when his wife went missing, she had racked up 140,000 frequent flier miles. “She was double platinum,” he said.

Back home, Grant, who had help from an au pair, handled the parenting chores. He “was at the bus stop with his kids every day,” says neighbor Audrey Brown. Even so, Tara’s sister Alicia Standerfer insisted that Tara was a devoted mom. “She would call home every night to talk to her kids,” said Standerfer, who has been given temporary custody of the two children. But trouble was brewing in the marriage. Earlier this year Grant sent an e-mail to a former girlfriend that included a lewd come-on and in which he also voiced his belief that his wife had had at least one affair. Said the ex-girlfriend: “So what are you going to do about the cheatin’ wife?” Replied Grant: “Don’t know yet.”

It now appears that matters came to a head on Feb. 9, when Tara returned home from Puerto Rico. Grant initially said his wife announced she would have to be heading out again on Sunday, a day earlier than normal, and that they then had “words.” He told police he left her for a moment and that when he returned, he saw her getting into a dark sedan at the end of the driveway and leaving. He insisted that he never saw her again and gave a slew of emotional interviews in which he begged her to come home. “I miss her with everything I have,” he told the Detroit Free Press.

Police had doubts about his story. For one thing, Grant waited five days before reporting his wife missing. (He explained that he hoped she was just “blowing off steam.”) On March 2 investigators got a search warrant for the family home. Grant let them in, then drove off in a borrowed truck. In the garage police found Tara’s torso in a plastic container. They allege that Grant killed her, then dismembered her at his family’s shop. (In his confession, Grant, who has been charged with first-degree murder, acknowledged that the children were in the house at the time of the murder.) According to police, he scattered the body parts in a park area near their home but retrieved the torso when he got wind that investigators were about to search the area. “It’s got to be difficult for his friends to accept this,” says Sheriff Hackel. “He had friends and family who supported him.”

That was putting it mildly. “Everyone here is just stunned,” says Audrey Brown, who lives near the Grants in suburban Detroit and who brought flowers to the house with two of her children as carloads of gawkers drove slowly by. “She was a regular mom, you know? How could he do something like that to her?”