Tara Calico has been missing for more than 33 years. The woman was born on February 28, 1969, and since 1988, she has been missing.
She had the reputation of being fiercely independent, athletic, open-minded, and very passionate about life.
To this day, the authorities are still at a loss to explain Tara Calico's disappearance. The 19-year-old went missing on the morning of September 20 in 1988, after going on a bike ride in Valencia County, New Mexico.
She had done it a dozen times, but this time she did not make it back home. She took New Mexico State Road 47 during her ride, her usual route.
Usually, her mother accompanied her, but she had been recently missing some of the rides. It all started after a car drove dangerously close to her, scaring her and making her less excited about the morning ritual.
Tara Calico, however, was unfazed, and she continued to enjoy her rides. Even after her mom suggested that she get a can of mace, she happily dismissed the idea.
As she walked out of the door, she told her mother, as a joke, that she better head out and look for her if she did not get back by noon. At 12:30 that day, she had a tennis date with her boyfriend, and she had no plans of missing it.
What seemed like a joke turned out to be a shocking premonition. By noon, Tara had not made it back home, and that was incredibly strange.
Tara Calico's Mom, Patty Doel, Went Looking For Her When She Didn't Show Up
When afternoon came without Tara having come back, her mom Patty Doel decided to look for her. She knew the route she would have taken, and so, she drove up and down the route, searching for her.
Eventually, she realized she could not locate her daughter, and she informed the police about it.
Soon, a search party was formed. However, the girl or her pink bike was nowhere to be seen.
Those questioned about her possible whereabouts had no information to offer. Those who had seen her remembered seeing a light-colored pickup truck driving close to the girl.
Additionally, the police found Tara's Walkman and a cassette tape. However, her mom thought these were dropped and broken on purpose. To her, Tara had probably left them behind as clues.
The Police Turned Their Focus On Her Parents
When the police failed to find any evidence of foul play in Tara Calico's disappearance, they turned their attention to her parents, Patty and John.
They wanted to know if their daughter was happy at home and whether she talked about traveling.
It seemed like the girl had fled to the authorities, which is something her family absolutely denied. Tara Calico was a very enthusiastic girl with no reason to escape from home.
Her stepfather John said that she was an extraordinary girl who was very active.
With no clues as to how she disappeared, all her parents could do was wait. It seemed that their girl had simply vanished into thin air.
The Polaroid Photo That Revived The Case
After months of searching with no tangible results, Tara's case turned cold. That was until about nine months later when a Polaroid of Tara Calico turned up at a convenience store parking lot in Florida.
That meant the photo was found about 1,500 miles from where the girl had gone missing.
Tara and a young boy are on a bed with duct tape in their mouths in the photo. The photo was found by a woman who immediately notified the authorities of the shocking discovery.
She also informed the police that a white Toyota van had been parked where the photo was found. It was driven by a man in his thirties.
However, when the police tried to track it down, they were not successful. Nevertheless, the photo was quite popular, and it appeared on television.
Her mom was also sure that Tara was in the picture based on a discolored streak on her thigh, which she had gotten during a car accident when young. In the photo, there was also a book titled My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews, one of her favorite authors.
Her mother was glad that her daughter looked healthy in the photo. However, she admitted that the boy seemed very scared.
Patty could tell it was her daughter because the girl in the picture had no makeup. She could also account for the growth Tara Calico would have gone through within the period she was missing and when her photo was taken.
It did not seem that the girl's hands were tied too tightly together either since her shoulders seemed a little relaxed. There was also no redness around the taped mouth, which indicates that the tape had not been on her mouth for long.
It also appeared that the photo had been taken inside a van. Nevertheless, despite numerous reports about several vans, the tips did not yield any results.
Although Patty was sure that it was Tara Calico, the authorities were not as confident. However, although the FBI could not confirm the girl's identity in the photo, U.K's Scotland Yard was sure Tara was the girl in the picture.
Nevertheless, everyone agreed that the photo had been taken recently. Unfortunately, even with this significant development on the case, the authorities did not have much to work with.
Experts estimated the photo was taken after May 1989 because that is when the film used in the photo became available.
The Family Of The Boy Also Came Forward
The boy in the photo turned out to be Michael Henley. He had disappeared in New Mexico in April 1988 as he was hunting with his father.
Eventually, in 1990, his remains were found in Zuni Mountains in New Mexico, close to where he had gone missing. Investigators discovered that exposure to the elements had caused his death. In fact, he had died before the Polaroid was even developed.
However, Tara Calico's case went cold once again. Not even a 2013 task force specifically created to look into her disappearance found additional clues.
In 2003, her parents decided to move from New Mexico to Florida, 2,000 miles from their home. They had been putting it off for years, hoping their daughter would turn up.
By the time they moved, they had appeared in several shows, including Oprah, 48 Hours, A Current Affair, and Unsolved Mysteries.
Patty claimed that her home in New Mexico kept reminding her of her daughter.
The Man Who Knew What Happened To Tara Calico
In 2008, Sheriff Rene Rivera from Valencia County came forward with claims that he knew what had befallen Tara Calico.
The lawman also claimed that he knew who had taken her. Apparently, two men were behind the teenager's disappearance.
The pair was following Tara Calico when some sort of accident happened, and they got rid of her body. Because there were no remains, the sheriff could not make an arrest.
When Tara's stepdad heard of Rivera's claims, he was enraged. He wondered why he did not report the claims since strong circumstantial evidence can be used to get a conviction.
More Photos Surfaced
After the initial photo, two others surfaced. One of them was blurry, but the girl still had tape over her mouth. It was estimated to have been taken around May 1989.
The other photo, dated February 1990, showed a woman sitting next to a man on an Amtrak train. She was loosely tied up.
Sadly, no charges were ever made based on the photos.
Today, Tara Calico is still missing, and the case continues to haunt her family and investigators. And they all hope that one day, they will have answers that will help resolve the case.
In 2019, the FBI offered a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to the identification or location of Tara Calico.
In September 2021, the office of the Valencia County Sheriff, together with the New Mexico State Police, gave a statement in which they claimed to have found a fresh lead in the case.
They also had a sealed warrant to search a private residence in Valencia County. However, the authorities did not offer additional information about the lead.
Her mother, Patty, passed away in 2006. She still believed that the first Polaroid photo featured her daughter.
All the while, her parents maintained her room and brought her gifts during birthdays and Christmases. Her brother believed their mother died prematurely due to the constant stress of having to look for Tara.
The fact that police sent photos of any possible clue, including bones and dismembered bodies, didn't help her get over her grief. It broke her heart every time she received these photos.
Tara also left behind a step-sister known as Michelle
On social media, her case is still a source of debate. Some think Tara Calico is still alive, but others don't think she is. Sadly, her family has never found closure.