Disappearance Of Tara Calico: The Morbid Mystery Behind The "Polaroid" Photo Still Remains Unsolved

On September 28, 1988, a teenage girl named Tara Calico left her home in Belen, New Mexico to go for a bike ride on Highway 47. Unfortunately, neither Tara nor her bicycle was ever found and her disappearance remains a mystery to this day.

On September 20, 1988, 19 -year-old Tara Calico set out for her daily bike ride in Belen, New Mexico, a town known for its beautiful sunny days. The ride, which usually took place at around 9:30 am, was a routine activity for Tara. She would normally ride with her mother, Patty Doel, but Doel had stopped accompanying Tara on her rides due to her belief that Tara was being stalked by a motorist. Tara never returned from this bike ride and has been missing ever since.

Tara's mother, Patty Doel, suggested that Tara consider carrying mace, a type of self-defense spray invented in the 1960s, to protect herself. However, Tara rejected the idea.

The Disappearance Of Tara Calico

On September 20, 1988, Tara Calico set out on her usual bike ride on New Mexico State Road 47, using her mother's neon pink Huffy mountain bike. She brought with her only her Sony Walkman, headphones, and a cassette tape of Boston's music.

Before departing on her bike ride, Tara told her mother that if she wasn't home by noon, her mother should come and get her because she had plans to play tennis with her boyfriend at 12:30. Doel agreed and unknowingly said goodbye to her daughter for the last time.

Tara's mother, Patty Doel, became concerned when Tara did not return home by noon as planned. She went out to look for Tara, driving along Tara's usual route. After driving back and forth twice, she realized there was no sign of Tara. When she returned home and found that Tara was still not there, Doel called the Valencia County Sheriff's Department to report Tara as a missing person.

Later that day, officers discovered pieces of Tara Calico's Walkman and cassette tape scattered along the side of the road. However, they were unable to find Tara or her bike. For weeks, investigators searched the area, with local and state police and hundreds of volunteers combing the area on foot, horseback, ATVs, and planes. Tara's stepfather, John Doel, remembered that the bike track marks resembled skids, which could have indicated a struggle.

Witnesses Of Tara Calico's Disappearance

On the day of her abduction, no one saw Tara Calico being taken, but seven people later reported seeing her riding her bike back toward her home at around 11:45 AM. She was wearing headphones at the time, and several witnesses saw an older model, white or light-colored pickup truck following her. It is believed that the truck was towing a shell camper. This was the only information that investigators had for the first nine months after Tara Calico disappeared until a mysterious photograph was found in the parking lot of a convenience store in Florida.

The Mysterious Polaroid Picture

On June 15, 1989, a woman in Port St. Joe, Florida pulled into the parking lot of a Junior Food Store and saw a polaroid photograph lying face down on the ground. When she picked it up, she was horrified by the image that was depicted.

The photograph depicted a young woman and a boy, both bound and gagged with duct tape, lying on a pile of uneven pillows and sheets. Their wrists appeared to be tied behind their backs, and they both had tense expressions on their faces as they looked directly at the camera. They were crowded into a small, dimly-lit space. It appeared that the only source of light was behind the photographer, suggesting that the photograph was taken in the back of a windowless van with the side door open.

As soon as the woman saw the photograph, she called the police. She told them that when she arrived at the convenience store, a windowless Toyota cargo van was parked there. The driver of the van was described as a man in his 30s with a mustache. The police set up roadblocks, but they were unable to find the vehicle. Officials from Polaroid later confirmed that the photograph must have been taken after May 1989, because the film used was not available before that time.

The following month, the image was shown on the television program "A Current Affair." Some of Tara Calico's friends saw the show and thought that the girl in the photograph looked similar to her. At the same time, the family of a 9-year-old boy named Michael Henley, who went missing in New Mexico in May 1988, watched the episode and believed that the boy in the photograph resembled their son.

Analysis Of The Polaroid Photograph

The Doel and Henley families met with investigators to examine the photograph. Both Patty Doel and Henley's mother claimed that the photograph showed their children. Tara had a distinctive scar on her leg, which was visible in the photograph. Patty also pointed out that a copy of Tara's favorite book, "My Sweet Audrina" by V.C. Andrews was visible in the photograph.

The photograph was analyzed by Scotland Yard, who concluded that the woman in the photograph was Tara Calico. However, a second analysis by the Los Alamos National Laboratory disagreed with this conclusion. The FBI's analysis of the photograph was unable to reach a definitive conclusion.

Police Found Michael Henley

In 1988, Michael Henley went missing while hunting turkey with his father, about 75 miles away from where Tara Calico was abducted. His parents were convinced that the boy in the photograph was their son, but this is now considered to be unlikely. In June 1990, Michael's remains were found in the Zuni Mountains, about 7 miles from where he disappeared. To this day, the identities of the boy and girl in the photograph have never been definitively established.

Two other polaroid photographs have been found in the years since Tara Calico's disappearance that some believe could be of her. The first was discovered near a construction site. It was a blurry photograph of a girl who appeared to be nude, with tape over her mouth and light blue striped fabric visible behind her. The fabric was similar to that seen in the original polaroid. The film used in this photograph was not available until 1989.

The second photograph shows a terrified woman who is bound and has her eyes covered with gauze and large black-framed glasses. She appears to be on an Amtrak train (possibly abandoned), and a male passenger can be seen taunting her in the photograph.

Tara's mother believed that the first photograph, with the striped fabric, could be her daughter, but thought that the second might be a tasteless joke. Tara's sister, Michelle, said "They had a striking resemblance. As for me, I will not rule them out. But keep in mind our family has had to identify many other photographs and all but those were ruled out."

A Mother's Years Of Hope And Grief

Patty Doel, Tara's mother, moved to Florida with her husband John but passed away in 2006 due to complications from multiple strokes. Despite her death, she always thought about her missing daughter.

Pat and John Doel have left their daughter Tara Calico's room exactly as it was the day she disappeared. On the bed are presents from birthdays and holidays Tara missed, photographed on July 5, 1991. (Alexandria King/Albuquerque Journal) Tue Sep 18 17:01:09 -0600 2018 1537311669 FILENAME: 1282991.jpg

Patty and John maintained a bedroom for their daughter, filling it with gifts for the holidays and her birthday. Even towards the end of her life, Patty "would see a young girl on a bicycle and would point and write down Tara," according to her longtime friend Billie Payne. "And John would tell her, 'No, that's not Tara.'

This raises the question: will there be any more clues? Is Tara Calico still alive? Will her family ever find closure? As of today, the person or persons responsible for her disappearance remain a mystery.

Contact Me If Have Any Information

If you have any information about Tara Leigh Calico's disappearance, please contact the Valencia County Sheriff's Department at 505-865-9604. You can also contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New Mexico at 505-224-2000; The FBI announced a $20,000 reward in 2019 for specific information about the location of Tara. The FBI released age progression photos showing what Tara would currently look like.