March 9, 2007 at 1:00 am

Grant called nanny on night of killing

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP -- Stephen Grant called the family's 19-year-old au pair several times on the night police say he killed his wife, according to phone records.

The calls to Verena Dierkes, which took place over several hours on Feb. 9, were short -- most of them lasting less than a minute, a source close to the investigation told The Detroit News.

The phone records -- along with Stephen Grant's statement to police that he was romantically involved with the au pair, a claim he also denied -- have renewed police interest in interviewing Dierkes, 19.

Investigators questioned her about Tara Grant's disappearance before Dierkes returned to Germany on Feb. 20. At that time, investigators had not yet secured the phone records, a source said.

On March 2, police found Tara Grant's torso in the family garage. Stephen Grant, 37, was charged with first degree murder Tuesday after police say he admitted strangling his wife with his hands, dismembering her at his father's shop and scattering her remains in Stony Creek Metropark.

Cops hope to talk to nanny

Police are now working with Au Pair in America, the firm that employed Dierkes, in hopes she will voluntarily return to the United States for questioning.

"When Tara Grant was reported missing, we told Verena she must leave the Grant home," said Nancy Sterling, speaking for Au Pair in America. "We did offer to place her with another host family. However, she chose to return to Germany and we accommodated her request, only after she had been interviewed by police and they cleared her departure," she said in a statement.

Calls to Sterling were not returned.

Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel declined to comment Thursday on any element of the investigation.

Investigators returned to the Grant home Thursday afternoon with a second search warrant, and left with a small paper bag, according to WXYZ (Channel 7).

Police also returned three vehicles owned by the couple, including a maroon Mazda that neighbors said Dierkes used.

Police spoke to Dierkes on the telephone after she returned to Germany, sources said, although it was not clear what was discussed.

While investigators still insist Dierkes is not a suspect in the murder, they do want to know more about what Stephen Grant told her the night he allegedly killed his wife, the source said.

County prosecutor Eric Smith has said it could be legally problematic to get cooperation from Dierkes.

A man answering the phone at a Dierkes family home in Germany declined comment Thursday.

Return must be voluntary

Lawyers said there is no way Macomb authorities can legally require Dierkes to return to the area or to work with local investigators.

"Foreign witnesses can only get here voluntarily," said David Moran, a criminal law professor at Wayne State University. "You can transmit a subpoena to somebody overseas and ask him or her to show up, but it's up to them."

In those cases, federal authorities would help provide a subpoena to foreign officials, who would give it to the witness, Moran said.

If Dierkes were charged with a crime, U.S. officials could seek her extradition, Moran said. But she would be entitled to a hearing in a German court to ensure there was some reasonable basis for the charges, he said.

While investigators continued to inquire about the former au pair, Stephen Grant's lawyer, Stephen Rabaut, filed papers seeking a gag order in the case. A hearing on that request is scheduled for Monday in 41st District Court in Romeo.

Stephen Grant's sister, Kelly Utykanski, blamed her brother for shattering all the families involved during an interview Thursday with WXYZ.

"I'm very, very disturbed. I don't understand what happened, and I don't think I ever will," she said.

She described it "just a horrific thing that has changed all of our lives. It's changed Tara's family forever. It's changed our lives forever. We're grieving. We lost a sister-in-law. I lost my brother forever, and the kids have lost their parents forever.

Following a jailhouse visit with Stephen Grant Thursday evening, Utykanski told The News she will now see her brother once a week.

She declined to discuss how the Grant children are doing or how the family is coping.

"We're just kind of getting through it one day at a time," she said. "We're grieving as well."

Stephen Grant first reported his wife of more than a decade missing on Valentine's Day. He initially told authorities he had not heard from her since Feb. 9, when she angrily left their home.

A businesswoman who worked in Puerto Rico five days a week, Tara typically maintained close contact with her two young children, leading her friends and family to fear foul play. Stephen Grant repeatedly made tearful public pleas for his wife's safe return.

While police searched the family home, Stephen Grant fled to northern Michigan, but was caught in an Emmet County park barefoot and suffering frostbite and hypothermia.

Detroit News Staff Writers Ronald J. Hansen, Rob Snell and Joe Menard contributed to this report. You can reach George Hunter at (586) 468-7396 or ghunter@detnews.com">ghunter@detnews.com.