The Mystery of Tara Calico

We all have our daily routines. We get up, get dressed, have some coffee, and maybe get some exercise in before starting our duties for the day. These routines can persist for years on end without you giving them a second thought. You never think that, maybe, one day, your routine could be your own demise. That’s something Tara Calico never thought about when she went on her daily 36-mile bike ride. A ride she often took with her mother, Patty, but Patty had stopped going with her after an unsettling occurrence with a truck. The truck had followed too closely during one ride. Nothing would keep Tara from sticking to her daily ride, though. Her mom tried to talk her into take mace with her, but she wouldn’t.

Tara Calico was a sophomore at The University of New Mexico. She was studying to become either a psychologist or psychiatrist, and was keeping a 3.9 GPA. She was also a stickler for keeping to a schedule. In fact, before she went for what was her last ride, she told her mom to come looking for her if she wasn’t home by noon because she had a tennis date with her boyfriend at 12:30. She also had a class at four that afternoon.

The morning of September 20, 1988, 19 year old Tara Calico laid out the things she would need for the day: Tennis clothes, racket, balls, purse, and school books. She even asked her mom to rewind a couple of cassette tapes, one of which was by the band Boston, so that she could listen to them on her Walkman as she took her bike ride.

She headed out of the house at 9:30 am on her mom’s 12-speed pink Huffy bicycle. Her own bike was broken. Patty’s bike was likely one of the most colorful bikes in Valencia as it was neon pink with yellow sidewalls and control cables.

When 12 o’clock rolled around, Tara hadn’t returned home. Shortly thereafter, Patty set out to look for her daughter, just like she had instructed. Patty traveled the route her daughter always took but she didn’t see her anywhere on the route. When she got back home, she phoned the police. John Doel, Patty’s second husband, had just returned home from the nightshift at the railway and was just about asleep when Patty charged into the room and told him Tara was missing.

A search party started looking for Tara. People were asked if they had seen Tara and only seven people had noted seeing her heading north on the return leg of your trip at around 11:45 am. They said she had her headphones on and wasn’t paying attention to the light-colored, older-model pickup truck behind her.

The night after her disappearance was windy and rainy, so it got rid of a lot of the evidence that may have been out there. But that didn’t stop Patty from heading out the next day to look for her daughter once more. That’s when she found the Boston cassette tape on the south shoulder of NM 47, which was one to three miles from the last place she had been seen, but going in the opposite direction. Meaning, she was, once more, riding away from the house.

Her Walkman was found 19 miles east of NM 47 near the John F. Kennedy campground. Patty believed that Tara deliberately tossed these things out to mark her trail. Detectives also noticed some bike tracks at the north side of NM 47 near the area where the cassette tape had been found, where a fight may have taken place. John felt it looked more like skid marks.

Pretty much the entire town came out to help look for Tara. They even had people in helicopters and on horseback looking for her. Bloodhounds tried to track her scent down. They used heat-seeking detectors, and they even had some help from psychics. Authorities even gave a water witch a piece of her hair so that they could try to find her encase her body was submerged in a ditch.

Patty stated that one of the detectives would call her every day and share new gruesome ideas of what could have happened. (which I think is wrong) One of the worst things that they had suggested was that she was abducted by a Satanic cult who cut her hands off to bury them for an autumn equinox ritual. Then they would have tied Tara to a post for three days and burned her at the stake. This detectives’ story continued on from there, but we won’t continue with this theory.

Eventually, the police started asking Patty and John what Tara’s home life was like. They asked them things like, “Was she happy?” “Did she mention travelling?” “Have there been any big fights lightly?” Her parents assured them that her home life was fine, but the cops still tried to suggest that she was just a runaway. Tara’s parents didn’t buy this. They knew she hadn’t just up and left.

Several months passed and they hadn’t gotten anywhere. Then, on June 15, 1989, somebody found a Polaroid in the parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe Florida. Nearly 1500 miles away from where Tara was abducted. In the picture were two people. One was a long-legged woman and the other was a boy. Beside the woman was a book by VC Andrews. They both had duct tape over their mouths and appeared to be bound.

The woman who found the picture called the police and told them that a white Toyota van had been in the spot before she found the picture. The police tried to track down the van, but they were unsuccessful. The Polaroid was shown on America’s Most Wanted and that’s when people started contacting Patty to ask if the girl in the picture was Tara. At first, Patty wasn’t sure if it was her, but the more she studied the picture, the more she felt that it was indeed Tara. She had a light streak on her calf, which was consistent with a scar she had gotten in a car accident, and VC Andrews was her favorite author. Patty was convinced it was her.

But the authorities weren’t as positive. The only police that did believe it was her was Scotland Yard. One thing that they did all agree on was the picture had to have been taken recently. Things got weirder when another New Mexico family identified the young boy in the picture was Michael Henley their nine year old son who had gone missing in April 1988 while hunting with his father.

But, after all was said and done, only one family would get closure. Michael Henley’s remains were found in 1990 in the Zuni Mountains only seven minutes away from where their campsite had been. He hadn’t died of foul play. Instead, he had died of exposure likely because he had gotten lost and couldn’t find his way back. This meant that he wasn’t the boy that was in the picture because he died long before the picture was taken.

But what did this mean for Tara? Was there a chance that it wasn’t her in the picture? Sure, but her mother still believed it was her. Her case has remained cold since, but people have never stopped trying to find some answers. Two other pictures were found that may have been of Tara. One showed up near a construction site in Montecito California. This photo had to be taken after June of 1989, and it showed a blurry photo of a woman’s face with duct tape across her mouth. Patty believed this to be Tara as well. The third photo had to be taken sometime after February of 1990. This one showed a woman on an Amtrak train with a man sitting next to her. She was bound in gauze with her eyes covered and wearing black glasses. Patty wasn’t as certain about this picture, and didn’t believe it was Tara.

Over the years, Patty was sent pictures of unknown deceased women so that she could see if they were Tara. None of them were. Patty never let her daughter go. She kept her room as it was when she went missing. She continued to buy her daughter Christmas and birthday gifts and kept them in her daughters room.

The Doels, in 2003, decided to move 2000 miles away to Florida to try and get away from the ghosts of the past. They even packed up Tara’s things, gifts included, and brought them to their new home. Patty still never stopped hoping her daughter would return home. Her mother died in 2006.

Now, John was Tara’s stepfather, and he was there with Patty through all of this trying to help track down Tara. He acted as the calming force to Patty’s driving force.

Patty was the one who kept the fight alive, and with her gone, who was going to take over? In 2013 a task force was put together to continue looking for Tara. But in 2008 Sheriff Rene Riviera of Valencia came forward and said he knew exactly who did, but he couldn’t do anything without a body. He didn’t state any names, but he said it was two men, teenagers at that time. They had been following Tara in a truck and caused her to wreck. They panicked and disposed of her body. This didn’t sit well with John. He said that there was no excuse for him to say something like that when he couldn’t arrest someone.

But quietly in the background there have been two women working on bringing Tara home in some way. Tara’s younger sister, Michele Doel had joined forces with Melinda Esquibel, who know Tara in high school.

In fact, they started a podcast called Vanished: The Tara Calico Investigation. Melinda was confused by Rivera’s statement about knowing which boys did it, which, as you will learn, makes perfect sense if what people say about Tara’s disappearance is true. Melinda would bring this statement up to her family during a visit at Christmas. Her family’s reply astonished her. They said, “Oh, Melinda, the whole town knows who did it.”

After Melinda and Michele started their investigation, they soon realized the answers were right in front of them to begin with. Remember back to how, the people who had seen Tara out that morning, also saw an older-model truck following her. Well, the witnesses also said that the person in the front seat was none other than the son of a powerful law enforcement officer. He would have been around the age 18 and Tara knew him.

Rivera had said people had stated the boys in the truck had been grabbing at her, and when they caused her to wreck, they grabbed her. In November, 2013, when the new task force was started, there was a police report filed that contained a death bed confession by Henry Brown who told them that three young men, including the officer’s son, were the people involved in her disappearance. The son was Lawrence Romero Jr. Henry was in Lawrence’s basement when he notice what looked like a woman’s body wrapped in a tarp and buried in a makeshift grave. Romero and the two other men told Henry that the body was that of Tara’s. Henry said that they threatened to kill him if he told anybody. He said that they tossed the bike into a junkyard and they disposed of her body in a pond. He said that they got away with it because of Romero’s father, and that Rene Rivera had helped them cover it up. Supposedly, Rivera had found a confession written by Romero and burned it. We don’t know what the police did with this information. Obviously, nothing, since nobody has been arrested for her death.

Some people have also stated that the men raped her before stabbing her to death after she said that she would go to the police.

Another man came forward after Henry and stated that one of those same men confessed the murder to him. Unfortunately, all of the men were dead by the time this information became known.

Possible gravesites have been dug up, but nothing has been found. According to sources, the son of the officer that may have been involved in the disappearance died at the age of 21. He either committed suicide or it was an unfortunate game of Russian roulette. It depends on who you believe. His father, the cop, on the other hand said that his son was murdered. But his father died in 2017.

Despite the deathbed confession and the research Melinda and Michele have done, officials refuse to arrest anybody because they don’t have a body or any hard evidence.

It has been 32 years since Tara Calico went missing. While some questions seem to have been answered, we can’t be certain. While many people remain hopeful that this case will be able to put to rest at some point, and that just the right piece of information will crack this case wide open, it doesn’t seem like they are getting any closer.

Many people truly believe that four teenagers were involved, and that the people in the truck were to blame, but nothing will come of it until they find where they buried Tara. Have they thought about searching the ponds around the boy’s home, like Henry had said? We don’t know. Hopefully they will, one day, find Tara and finally put her case to rest.

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