Tara Calico, Missing Since 1988, Might Have Been Spotted In A Mysterious Polaroid

Tara Calico's last words to her mother were, “Mom, if I'm not back by 12, come look for me."

19-year-old Tara Calico, pictured here, went missing on Sept. 20, 1988 while riding her bike.

On September 20, 1988, 19-year-old Tara Calico went out for a bike ride near her parents’ home in the small town of Belen, New Mexico – and never came back.

Photo by: FBI


By: Catherine Townsend

BELEN, NM — On September 20, 1988, 19-year-old Tara Calico went out for a bike ride near her parents’ home in the small town of Belen, New Mexico – and never came back.

Calico, a college sophomore, loved taking long rides on her bike while blasting music on her yellow Sony Walkman. ”Tara was a very active person. From the time she was little she was in peewee cheerleading. She did softball; she was part of the ski club. She loved playing tennis,” Calico’s sister Michele Doel told Investigation Discovery. “She would ride 17 miles out and 17 miles back. It was a very isolated area, and it was very serene. She had time to herself.”

On the morning she disappeared, Calico left the house at around 9:30 A.M. to take her regular route. She told her mom, Patty Doel, that she planned to come back by noon, in time to play tennis with her boyfriend.

Her last words to her mother were, "Mom, if I'm not back by 12, come look for me."

Shortly after noon, Calico’s mom got into her car and headed out to pick up her daughter. She expected to find her walking along the road with her bike, but saw no trace of her.

Panicked, Patty called her boyfriend, and then contacted police. Calico’s sister, her friends, and her boyfriend went out to search for her, scouring the area looking for clues.

According to police, investigators found signs of Calico — and a possible struggle. Sergeant Joseph Rowland of the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office has been the lead investigator on the Tara Calico case since 2016. He said that bike tracks were found along the side of the road that appeared to be spun out, as well as tire marks from a vehicle. They also located broken piece of a yellow Walkman similar to the one Tara used.

“It felt like Tara was smart enough to leave a trail of things,” Michele said. The search also turned up a cassette tape along the side of Highway 47 — one that, according to Patty, belonged to her daughter.

Multiple witnesses came forward, all describing a similar scene: They had seen a girl riding her bike, and a Ford pickup truck trailing behind. “If there’s a car running half on the road, half off, 10 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone in a remote location, and it’s being reported sometimes it’s 20 feet directly behind, it certainly shows an indication that whoever was operating that Ford pickup truck was intent on the young lady riding that bicycle,” Sergeant Rowland told Investigation Discovery.

Over the next several days, police and hundreds of volunteers scoured the area and conducted a massive search, but didn't find Calico. The sheriff’s department released a sketch of the driver, but got no credible leads.

Polaroid found in Port St. Joe, FL, that may depict Tara Calico [Valencia County Sheriff's Office]

Mystery Polaroid that might depict Tara Calico and an unknown boy

Photo by: Polaroid found in Port St. Joe, Florida in 1989 [Valencia County Sheriff's Department]

Polaroid found in Port St. Joe, Florida in 1989 [Valencia County Sheriff's Department]

Then, in the summer of 1989, a mysterious photo surfaced in Port St. Joe, Florida. It had been found facedown outside of a convenience store. The photo showed two people — a woman who bore a striking resemblance to Calico, and a young man. Both appeared to have been tied up, and had duct tape over their mouths.

The FBI came to Florida and, at that point, became the lead investigative agency in the case. A media frenzy broke out, and police were flooded with thousands of tips. Other clues surfaced, including a book containing an indecipherable phone number.

Then, parents of a boy who had gone missing came forward to say that they believed that their son was the second person in the photo with Calico. But that lead hit a dead end when his remains were found in the mountains of New Mexico, and an investigation concluded that he'd died of exposure.

The FBI and Scotland Yard both analyzed the photo. The FBI stated that they believed that the photo was not of Calico. Scotland Yard reportedly disagreed.

Michele says that she is “torn” about what to believe, but says that she believes that the picture looks exactly like Calico. She also began working with one of Calico's former classmates on The Vanished podcast. She indicated that she believes that the answers can be found close to home. Michele said: “I think that what happened is that these boys were catcalling her, driving alongside of her, harassing her, and either purposely or accidentally hit her and that would be where the scuffle is on the side of the road. Maybe she panicked and said, ‘You’re not going to get away with this!’ or whatever — and that’s when things got worse.”

Michele also believes that the family of the person or people involved in the crime is helping cover it up. Her theory has been met with skepticism. “I believe that some sort of foul play took place that day, on September 20, 1988, and Tara was taken or abducted or murdered, or something,” Rowland said. Rowland also stated that he is determined to find answers in the case, but admits that he has encountered frustration due to the fact that “[for] the vast majority of those crimes that could have been committed … the statute of limitations has long since been expired.”

He said that he believes that there are people who have information about what happened to Tara Calico, and urges them to come forward. For her part, Michele says that she will never stop trying to get answers.

Police have asked anyone with information about Tara Calico’s case to contact the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office at (505) 866-2400 or the FBI at (505) 889-1300.

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