Tara Leigh Calico was born on February 28, 1969, in Belen, New Mexico. She was a normal, All-American girl who was enjoying the fact that she’d graduated high school and was ready to start her life.
Sadly, even the highest points of our lives can be laid low by the merest of unforeseen circumstances and one bike ride can turn one’s life and the lives of one’s loved ones, completely upside down.
Tara loved riding her bike. Every morning, she’d get up early and head out down the road for an hour or so. Sometimes, her mother, Patty Doel, would accompany her on the rides. That is, until the day Patty felt she was being stalked as she rode by a persistently passing motorist. Tara, however, was undeterred.
Patty, ever the good mother, advised Tara that if she was going to keep riding, she should think about carrying mace with her. Tara didn’t think it was necessary. After all, she’d rode her bike through the same neighborhood every day for years without a single incident. Why should she stop now?
On the morning of September 20, 1988, 19-year-old Tara Calico got dressed and headed out on her 9:30 bike ride. The route took her down New Mexico State Road 47. Tara had plans to meet her boyfriend at 12:30 pm that afternoon, so she told her mother to come and get her if she wasn’t back by noon.
Search the Route
When her daughter didn’t return at noontime, Patty Doel went searching for her along Tara’s usual bike route: it was the same route they had both rode many times. Despite riding along State Road 47 for hours, she couldn’t find any sign of Tara or her bike. She rode home as quickly as she could and called the police.
Police canvassed the area, hoping to find someone who might have seen Tara on her ride that way. Several people saw her but not a single one saw what happened to her: though one or two did mention they saw a light-colored pickup truck with a camper shell following her at one point. It was presumed that since the bike was missing as well, Tara must have been abducted.
As the police and helpful neighbors scanned every scrap of highway along State Road 47, they discovered bits of Tara’s Sony Walkman and a cassette tape, broken on the side of the road. Patty knew that it must have been Tara’s way of marking her trail once she was captured. Unfortunately, that was the only item of hers found along that road. That is, until a year later when a woman came to the police with a Polaroid photograph she had found.
She Found It
The woman who found the photo told police that she’d discovered in a parking lot outside a convenience store. The photo had been left in a space where a white, windowless Toyota cargo van had been parked before she entered the store. She remembered that the driver of the van appeared to be a mustached man in his 30s, but that the van was gone by the time she came out.
The Mysterious Photo
The Polaroid, found in June 1989, showed two unidentified persons, a young woman and a younger boy, bound and gagged in the back of a vehicle of some kind. Many believed that the girl in the photo was Tara Calico and that the boy was another local child who had gone missing the April before Michael Henley.
After the photo was broadcast on Current Affair, Patty Doel was contacted by some friends who had seen the show and thought that the young girl in it resembled her daughter. Meanwhile, relatives of Michael Henley also saw the episode and were certain that the boy in the background was their missing Michael.
Is it Her?
In an effort to commiserate with some people who shared her grief, Patty Doel met with the Henleys. They decided to meet with an investigator as well so they could properly examine the Polaroid. As soon as she saw it in person, Patty was convinced that the girl in the picture was her daughter only aged a year and lacking in makeup. She even had a scar on her leg that was identical to one Tara had gotten in a car accident.
In addition to all the physical markers, Patty noticed that there was a paperback copy of V.C. Andrews’ My Sweet Audrina, one of Tara’s favorite books, lying next to the woman in the photo. Even Scotland Yard was called in to analyze the photo and concluded that the woman was indeed Tara Calico, though the Los Alamos National Laboratory disagreed.
At the same time, Michael Henley’s mother said she was “almost certain” the boy in the picture was her son. Sadly, the identification of the boy in the Polaroid became a moot point in 1990, when the remains of a young boy were found in the Zuni Mountains, about 7 miles from the campsite where Michael disappeared. The remains were positively identified and it is believed that Michael wandered off and simply died of exposure. Tara, however, was still out there.
Like many missing women cases, Tara’s story received extensive media coverage on a number of television programs including A Current Affair, Unsolved Mysteries, and America’s Most Wanted. It was also profiled on The Oprah Winfrey Show and 48 Hours. Yet for years after, there was still no sign of Tara.
Then, twenty years after the Polaroid photo was found, more pictures of the boy in them were sent to the Port St. Joe police chief. He also received two letters, postmarked June 10 and August 10, 2009, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of them had a photo, printed on paper of a young man with sandy brown hair who had a black mark across his mouth as if it were covered in tape.
The second image contained an original picture of the same boy. On August 12, The Star newspaper in Port St. Joe received a third letter, pertaining to the boy that was also postmarked from Albuquerque. The photo inside was the same image of the same boy with a black marker drawn over his mouth. Yet none of the letters contained any information on the boy’s identity.
As with many of these cases, a number of psychics came forward stating that they could locate Tara Calico. One, in particular, said the letters might be able to help them connect with her. The psychic said that she’d met a stripper in California who had been a runaway and that she believed the girl to be Tara, but she was murdered before she could confirm anything. Lead after lead came through, until one day, someone came forward with the case’s first bit of real information.
The Sheriff Knows
Twenty years after her disappearance, Rene Rivera, who had been the sheriff of Valencia County, New Mexico, came forward with information about what really happened to Tara Calico. According to the sheriff, Tara had been followed on her bike by several boys who knew her. They drove up behind her in their truck and an accident occurred.
Tara was seriously injured in the accident and soon died of her wounds. The boys responsible then took her and her bike and covered up the crime. Rivera knew the names of those involved but didn’t find out what happened until sometime after they had disposed of all the evidence. And without a body, he couldn’t make the case.
Admission of Guilt
Rivera didn’t release any evidence that may have led him to this discovery. He did not release the evidence that led him to this conclusion. John Doel, Tara’s stepfather decried the sheriff’s actions as inexcusable and disputed the claims stating that he shouldn’t have said anything if he wasn’t willing to make an arrest and so, the case remained open.
In October 2013, a six-person task force was established to re-investigate the disappearance of Tara Calico, who many believe is still alive out there somewhere. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that Tara was likely killed long ago by her abductor. Still, her family holds onto hope that someday they will be reunited.