Portrait of Tara Calico
|Born||Tara Leigh Calico
February 28, 1969 (age 48)
|Disappeared||September 20, 1988 (aged 19)
Belen, New Mexico, U.S.
|Status||Missing for 28 years, 8 months and 29 days|
Tara Leigh Calico (born February 28, 1969) is an American woman who disappeared near her home in Belen, New Mexico, on September 20, 1988. She is widely believed to have been kidnapped. In July 1989, a Polaroid photo of an unidentified young woman and boy, both gagged and bound, was shown on television after it was found in a convenience store parking lot. Calico's mother met with investigators and examined the photo; she believed it was her daughter after taking "time, growth and lack of makeup" into consideration. Her case received extensive coverage on television programs such as A Current Affair, Unsolved Mysteries, and America's Most Wanted. It was also profiled on The Oprah Winfrey Show and 48 Hours.
On Tuesday, September 20, 1988, Calico left her home at about 9:30 am to go on her daily bike ride along New Mexico State Road 47. She rode that route almost every morning and was sometimes accompanied by her mother, Patty Doel. However, Doel stopped riding with Calico after she felt she had been stalked by a motorist. She advised Tara to think about carrying mace, but Tara rejected the idea. On the morning of Calico's disappearance, she had told Doel to come and get her if she was not home by noon, as she had plans to play tennis with her boyfriend at 12:30. Doel went searching for her daughter along her usual bike route but could not find her; she then contacted the police. Pieces of Calico's Sony Walkman and a cassette tape were discovered along the route. Doel believed that she might have dropped them in an attempt to mark her trail. Several people saw Calico riding her bicycle, which has never been found. No one witnessed her presumed abduction, although several witnesses observed a light-colored pickup truck (possibly a 1953 Ford) with a camper shell following her.
On June 15, 1989, a Polaroid photo of an unidentified young woman and a boy, both gagged and seemingly bound, was discovered in the parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe, Florida. The woman who found that photo said that it was in a parking space where a white windowless Toyota cargo van had been parked when she arrived at the store. She said that the van was being driven by a man with a mustache believed to be in his 30s; police set up roadblocks to intercept the vehicle, but the man was never caught or identified. According to Polaroid officials, the picture had to have been taken after May 1989 because the particular film used in the photograph was not available until then.
The photo was broadcast on A Current Affair in July, and Doel was contacted by friends who had seen the show and thought the woman resembled Calico. Relatives of Michael Henley, also of New Mexico, who had disappeared in April 1988, saw the episode and said they believed he was the boy in the photo. Doel and Henley's parents both met with investigators and examined the Polaroid. Doel said she was "convinced" it was her daughter after taking "time, growth and lack of makeup" into consideration. She also noted that a scar on the woman's leg was identical to one Calico had received in a car accident. In addition, a paperback copy of V.C. Andrews' My Sweet Audrina, said to be one of Calico's favorite books, can be seen lying next to the woman. Scotland Yard analyzed the photo and concluded that the woman was Calico, but a second analysis by the Los Alamos National Laboratory disagreed. An FBI analysis of the photo was inconclusive.
Henley's mother said she was "almost certain" it was Michael in the Polaroid. The identification of the boy in the photograph as Henley is considered unlikely: his remains were discovered in 1990 in the Zuni Mountains, about 7 miles (11 km) from his family's campsite from which he had disappeared, and 75 miles (121 km) from where Calico disappeared. Police believe that Henley wandered off and died of exposure.
Twenty years after the Polaroid photo was found and shared by the media, pictures of a boy were sent to the Port St. Joe police chief, David Barnes. He received two letters, postmarked June 10 and August 10, 2009, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. One letter contained a photo, printed on copy paper, of a young boy with sandy brown hair. Someone had drawn a black band in ink on the photo, over the boy's mouth, as if it were covered in tape as in the 1989 picture. The second letter contained an original image of the boy. On August 12, The Star newspaper in Port St. Joe received a third letter, also postmarked in Albuquerque on August 10 and depicting the same image, of a boy with black marker drawn over his mouth. The boy has not been confirmed to be the same one as in the previous photo. None of the letters contained a return address or a note indicating the child's identity, making the officials there believe it may have something to do with the disappearance of Tara Calico.[why?] The letters were sent at the same time that a self-proclaimed psychic had called about Calico, saying she had met a runaway in California with whom she worked in a strip club; this girl was eventually murdered. The caller said she had dreams suggesting the runaway may have been Calico and that she may be buried in California. Searches did not lead to any discoveries. The photos were given to the FBI for further investigation in hope of finding fingerprints or possible DNA evidence.
Two other Polaroid photographs, possibly of Calico, have surfaced over the years, but they have yet to be released to the public. The first was found near a construction site in Montecito, California, and is a blurry photo of a girl's face with tape covering her mouth, and light blue striped fabric behind her, "similar to that on the pillow in the Toyota van photo". It was taken on film that was not available until June 1989. The second shows "a woman loosely bound in gauze, her eyes covered with more gauze and large black-framed glasses", with a male passenger beside her on an Amtrak train. The film used was not available until February 1990. Calico's mother believed the first one was Tara, but thought the second may have been a gag. Her sister stated, "They had a striking, uncalming 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 three were ruled out."
Twenty years after her disappearance, Rene Rivera, the sheriff of Valencia County, claimed that he knew what had happened to Calico. According to Rivera, boys who knew her drove up behind her in a truck and some form of car accident followed. Calico later died and those responsible covered up the crime. Rivera stated that he knew the names of those involved, but that, without a body, he could not make a case. He did not release the evidence that led him to this conclusion. No arrests have been made and the case remains open.[when?] Calico's stepfather, John Doel, disputed these claims, saying that the sheriff should not have made these comments if he was not willing to arrest anyone and that strong circumstantial evidence should be enough for a conviction.
In October 2013, a six-person task force was established to re-investigate Calico's disappearance.
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- Case File 257DFNM, The Doe Network
- Tara Leigh Calico, The Charley Project
- Vanished: The Tara Calico Story, documentary by a friend of Calico (Vanished: The Tara Calico Story on Internet Movie Database)
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