At 9:00 am on September 20, 1988, a hazel-eyed 19 year-old named Tara Leigh Calico set off on a bike ride from her home in the sleepy New Mexico town of Belen. Keen cyclist Tara had borrowed her mother’s neon pink Huffy mountain bike because her own was damaged. She was last seen at 11:45 am, making her way along Highway 47 in Valencia County. When Tara left home that morning, nobody could have imagined that she would soon be classed a missing person.
Tara Calico had made plans to play tennis with her boyfriend that afternoon. Having expected her home by lunchtime, Tara’s mother Patty Doel began to worry, and decided to set out in search of her daughter. Unable to find a trace of Tara, Patty contacted the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office. Missing person investigations quickly sprung into action, and police spoke to a witness that had seen a light-colored pickup truck driving alongside Tara. They discovered broken pieces of the young woman’s Walkman and cassette tape on the roadside, but no other signs or leads were forthcoming.
A Mysterious Polariod Is Discovered
Almost a year later, in June of 1989, a shopper made an alarming discovery in Port St. Joe, Florida. Some fifteen hundred miles from where Tara Calico had gone missing, the woman found a polaroid photograph in the parking lot of a Junior Food Store. She’d noticed the small printed picture after a white Toyota van pulled away from the parking spot. To her alarm, the woman realized that it depicted a young woman and a little boy, bound and gagged in the back of a van, so she called the police.
Local police immediately began searching both for the van and the possible captives suspected to be within it. Road blocks were set up around the area, but the vehicle was never found. Having both gone cold, the two cases were not connected until July 28, when Tara’s father Joel received a call from a friend who had seen the Polaroid image on a Current Affair television show.
The Sheriff’s apartment agreed that the girl in the image shared a likeness with Tara, although they couldn’t be sure. Simultaneously, the case of missing 9 year-old, Michael Henley, was also tied to the photograph. The boy had vanished in April of that year when hunting with his father around 75 miles from the location of Tara’s disappearance.
Uncertainty And Poor Communication
The Polaroid was analyzed by both the FBI and Scotland Yard, with the former concluding that it wasn’t Tara, and the latter concluding that it was. Michael Henley’s parent’s were convinced that the Polaroid depicted their son, but their suspicions were dispelled when the boy’s remains were found in 1990, not far from where he had gone missing. Mother Patty pointed out that the girl in the image shared the same scar as Tara on the back of her right shoulder. A book by one of Tara’s favorite authors was also visible beside the girl in the van.
Adding to the anguish of Tara’s parents, two more Polaroids appeared in the years that followed; one blurrily depicting a young woman’s face, and a second showing a bound young woman with an unidentified male on an Amtrak train. The identity of the individuals in all three Polaroids has never been confirmed.
As the search continued, a diversity of false leads led missing person investigators on several wild-goose-chases in their hunt for Tara Calico. In 2008, Valencia Sheriff Rene Rivera claimed that he knew what had happened to Tara, describing witness accounts of two teenage males seen harassing Tara before knocking her from her bicycle with their vehicle. Rivera indicated that they may have disposed of her body having killed her by accident, but refused to name the suspects citing a lack of evidence. Tara’s father Joel was reportedly greatly distressed that no arrests were made.
Reaching Out For Additional Missing Person Assistance
In their quest to discover what happened to their daughter, Tara’s parents never gave up hope. Each year, they brought Tara gifts and kept her room ready, just in case she ever returned home. Tragically, both Patty and Joel passed away without ever learning what happened to their daughter. Tara’s siblings and friends continue to search for answers.
For those who face the immense burden of a missing loved one today, there are more options available when it comes to seeking missing person assistance. The team here at Lauth Investigations are ever-ready to turn expertise, cutting edge resources, and more than two decades of experience to following the trail of your missing loved one. We can also assist with establishing effective Go Fund Me campaigns, so that friends and family members can focus on the search rather than fretting about finances. New resources such as Interpol’s I Familia database also aid us in taking missing person investigations international. To discover more about how we can assist, contact our team today.