March 4, 2007 at 1:00 am

Stephen Grant: 'I was the perfect mom -- not Tara'

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP -- Stephen Grant resented the time his wife Tara spent away from home on business, and he often engaged in power struggles with her over "who was boss" and "who was going to run the household," he said.

In his last known interview Friday afternoon -- just hours before the Macomb County Sheriff's Office descended on his home with a search warrant -- Stephen Grant talked to The Detroit News about his growing frustration with his marriage.

Police were searching for Grant today after finding what they said were Tara Grant's body parts in the couple's garage and scattered at Stony Creek Metropark in northern Macomb County.

In a wide-ranging, hour-and-a-half interview with The News on Friday, Stephen Grant said he was offended because Tara treated him like a "valet," and he said she was a bad mother because she didn't spend enough time with their two young children.

During Friday's interview, Grant spoke in an animated voice about feeling disjointed, and how his life was "surreal like I'm walking around in a dream."

"I was the perfect mom -- not Tara."

At one point, Grant extolled his wife for being a "good mother." But a few minutes later, he called her a "bad mother," who never had time for her children.

"I was a better mom than Tara was. There's no other way to put it. I was the mom in the house -- she was gone all the time. If the kids needed someone to take them to swimming, or school, or soccer practice, I took them."

Tara Grant worked for Washington Group International, an Idaho-based construction company. She was a systems manager, whose job often took her overseas.

Grant's sister, Alicia Standerfer, told The News last week that Tara Grant was a loving mother who would fly home often to attend her children's school functions.

But Stephen Grant said his wife never came home for her children's activities.

"Some of her family has said in the media how much she loved her kids, and how she would try to fly back in order to attend their functions," he said. "But that's not true. I can't recall one time when she did that.

"To be honest, as weird as it sounds for me to say this, I was the perfect mom -- not Tara."

Grant said he often struggled with his wife over "trying to show who's boss, and who's going to run the household. It didn't need to be that way."

"I gave up."

Grant said the last time he saw his wife the night of Feb. 9, she walked out of their attached garage and got into a dark-colored car.

"All I could do was close the garage door," he said. "I was done I was tired of bickering about the travel, and I gave up."

Hours after Grant made that statement, investigators found his wife's torso in the garage.

Grant said he quarreled with his wife for several hours Feb. 9, after she told him she planned to fly back to Puerto Rico on business a day earlier than planned.

Tara Grant returned home from her company's Puerto Rican office that night, which was a Friday, and was originally scheduled to fly back Monday morning..

But those plans changed,Stephen Grant said -- "and that's when I got upset."

Despite the frequent bickering, Grant said he never got violent. "It was the opposite -- when she would yell, I'd get quiet," he said.

"In a lot of households, when there's an argument, that means fists are involved," Grant said. "But Tara and I never did that. It wouldn't come close to happening. I wouldn't do it."

But Grant said the two parted on bad terms after their fight.

"She left the house angry," Grant said. "My biggest concern was that I was going to have to explain to the kids the next day why their mother wasn't going to be there like she said she would.

"Before she left, the last words she said to me were, 'don't forget to take my truck in on Monday' (for repairs)," he said. "That really took the wind out of my sails. She was telling me that's all I was; it was like, 'You be the valet and take my car in.'"

After the argument, which Grant said took place in the couple's bedroom, he said his wife went downstairs to the kitchen. He said he heard her have a telephone conversation with someone, saying, "I'll be right out."

"I watched her leave through the garage and get into a dark car," Grant said. "That's the last time I saw her."

A surprise visit

Stephen Grant met Tara Destrampe while she was a student at Michigan State University. He had recently dropped out of school to take a job with former state Sen. Jack Faxon, D-Farmington Hills.

Grant said his wife's appearance changed from when he first met her.

"Tara looked completely different when we met," he said. "She was beautiful it's hard to explain she just looked a lot different. She had the big hair, and it was a different look."

Stephen and Tara stayed platonic friends for a few months after they met -- but not for lack of trying on his part.

"I asked her out, and she turned me down," he said. "She said she kind of had a boyfriend from up north where she was from. I said, 'that's like kind of being pregnant -- either he's your boyfriend or not.' But I respected that, and we were just friends at first."

When Tara's grandmother passed away later that year, she flew to her hometown of Escanaba for the funeral. Before the service started, Tara's family got a surprise visitor: Stephen Grant.

"I felt the right thing to do was to come up and pay my respects to her grandmother," Grant said. "So I drove up. It took all day. I called her and told her I was right there, and she said, 'what?' She was really surprised."

Tara showed up to meet Grant with her boyfriend. "It was awkward," Grant said. "But it wasn't terrible."

He said he went to dinner with the family, "but I felt really out of place. So I drove back to Lansing. The next day, Tara called me and told me she was in love with me."

Early years of marriage

The couple dated for a few months before Tara moved into Grant's Okemos apartment.

"I couldn't find another political job," Grant said. "That was right after 1994, the year the Democrats lost their shirts, and there were a lot of out-of-work Democrats. So I moved down here to work for my dad."

Grant's father owns a tool and die shop in Mount Clemens. Police also searched the shop early Saturday morning for clues, hours after searching Grant's home.

Stephen and Tara married in September 1996. Times were tough at first, he said.

"The economy wasn't so good, and it was hard to find a job," Grant said. "She finally got a temporary job at Morrison Knudsen (which eventually was acquired by the Washington Group.)"

In November, 2000, Tara gave birth to a daughter. Then, in November 2002, she had a son.

"Our son was a surprise," Grant said. "Tara had gotten what she thought was a (birth control) shot, but they gave her a flu shot instead. It was a surprise. At first it was tough, because we weren't ready for that mentally -- we thought it was going to be just one kid. But then he was born, and he was as perfect as his sister was."

"I learned to deal with it"

As Grant's wife climbed the corporate ladder, he said he saw less and less of her.

"She's been traveling all over the world for four years," he said. "It became difficult, but I learned to deal with it.

"I've heard comments in the media from people who said Tara must have met with foul play because she would never have left her babies like that," he said. "But this is the same person who was gone five days a week. Yes, she was there on weekends, but it wasn't out of the ordinary for her to come in, kiss the babies, and then leave again."

The Detroit News published a series of e-mails two weeks ago in which Grant expressed his frustration about his wife's frequent business trips to an ex-girlfriend

In the e-mails, Grant also seemingly flirted with his ex-girlfriend, telling her he wanted to see her naked and that he wanted her to give him a sponge bath.

He also wrote that he thought his wife was having an affair with a co-worker -- a man he referred to as "the old geezer."

Grant said he was joking when he wrote the emails.

"I did say 'I want to see you naked,' but that's because I'm a guy," Grant said. "Men always want to see women naked.

"Those were private emails sent jokingly to an old friend," Grant said. "There are a lot of things people say just kidding around that they wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper."

On Friday -- before police named Grant as a suspect in the case of his wife's disappearance -- Grant said he understood why people thought he killed her.

"That's what I would think when I watched cases like this," he said. "When Laci Peterson came up missing (in 2002), I was sure her husband (Scott) did it. But now I'm on the other side of it.

"I know people think I had something to do with why Tara is missing," Grant said. "But I didn't do it."

You can reach George Hunter at (586) 468-7396 or ghunter@detnews.com">ghunter@detnews.com.

Stephen Grant