The disappearance of Tara Calico and the circumstances surrounding it make this one of the most chilling disappearances in history. So many questions are left unanswered in this case.

Calico disappeared in 1988, with no sign of her in the following months. Then, in a truly eerie development, a polaroid photo of a girl resembling Calico, was found in a parking lot on the other side of the United States.

Despite this lead and long searches, no sign of Calico has ever appeared. Her disappearance has led to a range of theories and beliefs.

This article reviews this disappearance. There is also a reader’s poll at the end of the article, which we invite you to take part in. We will then see the thoughts of our readers as to what happened.

Calico disappeared in the state of New Mexico, USA

Background

Tara Leigh Calico was born in 1969 and was raised in Belen, New Mexico, USA. She was the child of David Calico and Patty Doel.

Calico was a keen cyclist, and would usually complete a daily bike ride each morning. She would normally ride approximately 15-20 miles on the New Mexico State Road 47 – a 60 mile stretch of road.

Calico was often accompanied by her mother, Patty Doel. However, following a belief that she was being stalked by a vehicle, Doel stopped cycling with her daughter.

The Disappearance

Calico disappeared on September 20th, 1988 – when she was 19 years old. She had set out at 9:30am on her usual bike ride along the aforementioned road.

Calico had said that she was expecting to be back home by noon. Her intention had been to play tennis with her partner at 12:30pm. But by noon, Calico had not returned.

Doel drove along Calico’s normal bike route, but was unable to see any sign of her. Eventually, Doel contacted the Police, who tried in vain to search the area for Calico.

The Investigation

The Police searched along the road, and were able to find fragments of Calico’s SONY Walkman and a cassette tape. The Police appealed for any potential witnesses.

The Police concluded that Calico had been abducted. But no one witnessed any abduction. However, several witnesses came forward to confirm that they had seen Calico cycling on the morning of her disappearance.

One line of enquiry which was followed was a consistent observation of a light-coloured pickup truck – which had a distinctive camper shell on it – apparently driving near to Calico.

As time went by, there were no significant leads. It was as if Calico had vanished into thin air. Other than some of the pieces of her belongings that had been found, there was no evidence. Crucially, her bike was also never found.

Later Developments

The most chilling – albeit crucial – development came approximately 9 months after Calico’s disappearance. The development happened in Florida – hundreds of miles away from New Mexico.

A polaroid photo was found in the car park of a local convenience store in the city of Port St. Joe, Florida. The photo featured a young woman and a young boy – seemingly in distress – gagged with black tape and bound.

A woman found the photo after she left the store. The location where she had found the polaroid was next to where a white windowless Toyota van had been parked when she first arrived at the store. A copy of the polaroid can be seen below.

Picture Credit: National Center for Missing Adults

As a polaroid produces an instant picture, it was believed that the picture had been taken just minutes before. The woman, realising it could be an emergency situation, alerted the Police.

She told them that the van had been driven by a man with a moustache, who looked like he was in his late 30s. The Police set up roadblocks, but were unable to find the car, nor anyone fitting the description of the man on the day the polaroid was found.

The Police contacted the Polaroid Corporation, who examined the polaroid, and confirmed that the picture must have been taken within the last month, as the film used had only been available since then.

Doel met with the Police, and after looking at the polaroid, she became convinced that the woman was Calico. She noted the woman in the picture had an identical scar to one that Calico had, while one of Calico’s favourite books was also visible.

Other investigative teams analysed the photo. The FBI were unable to make a conclusion one way or the other. Britain’s Scotland Yard agreed that the woman in the photo was Calico. Scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory however believed it wasn’t Calico.

Another family came forward to say that they believed the boy in the photo was Michael Henley – a young man that went missing whilst camping just months before Calico.

However, in 1990, Henley’s remains were found near where he had disappeared from, with the Police concluding that he had wandered off and died from exposure. This meant that the polaroid was deemed to be highly unlikely to feature Henley.

The photo was broadcast on a popular TV show, resulting in wider interest. Despite this interest and continued searches and investigations, no trace of Calico was found.

In the decades since her disappearance, other polaroid’s – potentially of Calico – have been circulated. One was found in California, which featured a girl’s face with tape covering her mouth again.

The background of the picture appeared to be similar to the pillow that was originally seen in the first polaroid. This photo would’ve needed to have been taken after June 1989 according to the Polaroid Corporation.

Picture Credit: National Center for Missing Adults

The other polaroid of note features a woman bound and gagged next to a male on a train. It has been suggested that this could possibly be Calico, though investigations came to nothing. Many believe the below picture was a prank.

Picture Credit: National Center for Missing Adults

In 2008, Valencia County, New Mexico’s Sheriff Rene Rivera disclosed that he had received information that two teenagers had accidentally hit Calico with a truck, before disposing of her body.

Rivera received criticism for refusing to state where he received the information. Rivera said that he knew the names of those involved, but in the absence of a body, no case could be made.

In 2013, a man named Henry Brown made a “deathbed confession” to the Police regarding Calico. Brown told the Police that he had seen a body resembling Calico’s in the basement of a local man named Lawrence Romero Jr.

Romero allegedly told Brown that he and a few others (Dave Silva and Leory Chavez) had tried to get Calico’s attention before accidentally striking her with their car. Brown alleged that Romero said his group had raped her before stabbing her to death and disposing of her body in a pond.

Henry said that he was threatened with death by the group if he spoke out. Henry also said that a cover-up was possible as Romero was the son of Lawrence Romero Sr. – who was the Sheriff at the time.

It is unknown how accurate this account is. The Police were unable to file any charges due to the absence of a body. Romero Jr. took his own life in 1991 – long before this confession was given. It is unknown how accurate this “confession” was.

Hope has not yet been extinguished. As recently as 2019, the FBI announced that they were offering a reward of up to $20,000 for “precise details leading to the identification or location” of Calico.

To date, no remains of Tara Calico have ever been found. Investigators have ruled out any link between the disappearances of Calico and Henley. Tara’s parents both sadly died during the 2000s.

Theories

The disappearance of Tara Calico has confused many, with very few answers. There are a few different theories that have been put forward.

We now take a look at the evidence for the various theories:

Theory One: Tara Calico was kidnapped and eventually killed

The theory that is most widely accepted is that Calico was kidnapped while cycling. This makes the most sense – given that there was no trace of Tara, nor her bike – which could have easily been disposed of.

The fact that there were fragments of some of her belongings would add evidence to this theory. It is likely that a struggle would have ensued, where Calico’s belongings may have been left behind.

The next question is what happened to Calico after she was kidnapped. Unfortunately, it is highly likely that she was killed. It is open to discussion on whether or not the polaroid’s were of her.

When Calico would have been killed is not clear, nor where her body and bike were disposed of. Sadly, if this theory is correct, then whoever had kidnapped her sickeningly got away with the crime.

Theory Two: Tara Calico was kidnapped but is still alive

This theory follows the above theory mainly, albeit with the conclusion that Calico is actually still alive. This theory would argue that Calico is surely still in captivity, or is unaware of who she actually is.

This may seem far-fetched, but it isn’t out of the question. If the polaroid’s are accurate, then it seems that Calico was alive for at least some time following her disappearance – why would the person that kidnapped her then decide later to kill her?

It would also explain the lack of body. But the chances of Calico still being alive to this day remains low. She would be in her 50s by now.

Theory Three: Tara Calico was accidentally killed

There is growing evidence to suggest Calico was accidentally killed. The deathbed confession from Henry Brown and Sheriff Rene Rivera’s account suggests it is likely.

The body and the bike could have been disposed of to cover up the crime. Brown’s confession was detailed, making it somewhat unlikely that he would have made it up. As he was at the end of his life – he also had seemingly very little reason to lie about anything.

Aside from the above confession, it is possible that Calico was accidentally hit by someone else. While it would require effort to dispose of the bike and body without trace, this is possible.

But the main evidence against this theory is the question of the likelihood of an accident like this happening when no one was around, along with the polaroid’s suggesting Calico may have lived beyond the day she disappeared.

Theory Four: Tara Calico got lost and eventually died

While this is unlikely given the circumstances, it is possible that Calico managed to get lost and was unable to survive the elements. The road she was on did feature some barren areas – she may have decided to go off road to discover some new areas, only to get lost and then unable to find her way back.

But if this was true, the chances are that her remains would’ve been found during the search. Moreover, Calico was also known to be a seasoned and knowledgeable cyclist – again making this unlikely, albeit possible.

Reader Vote

With the above theories laid out, we now invite you to vote on the theory that you believe is most likely to be accurate in our poll below.

What Happened to Tara Calico?
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Summary

The haunting nature of the disappearance of Tara Calico makes it a rather uneasy case to analyse. The addition of the polaroid’s add another degree of infamy to this case.

At the very least, it is a tragedy that a family lost a member of the group, while a girl with a seemingly bright future ahead of her vanished, never to be seen again.

While the search for answers in this eerie case go on, this disappearance looks likely to remain unsolved forever.

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