Real Name: Tara Leigh Calico
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Belen, New Mexico
Date: September 20, 1988
Date of Birth: February 28, 1969
Weight: 120 lbs.
Marital status: Single
Characteristics: Caucasian female. Brown hair with a cowlick, green eyes, large scar on back of right shoulder, brown birthmark on the back of one leg, large scar on her calf.
Details: Nineteen-year-old Tara Calico was a sophomore at the University of New Mexico. At 9:30am on September 20, 1988, she left her home in Belen, New Mexico to go on her regular thirty-four-mile bike ride. She rode her neon Pink Huffy bike with yellow control cables and sidewalls on her usual route along Highway 47. She was last seen along her route at around 11:30am. A suspicious pickup truck was closely following her. She and her bike have never been found.
When Tara was not home at 12pm, her mother, Pat, and stepfather, John, went out to search for her. The next day, a full-scale search began. Pat found Tara's Sony Walkman about 100 yards off of Highway 47. Footprints on the ground led to what might have been the site of a scuffle, where the Walkman was found. Bike tracks, possibly from her bike, were found nearby, along with a vehicle's tire tracks and an oil slick. Although there were several reported sightings of her in the southern United States in 1988 and 1989, none of them could be confirmed, and her case remains unsolved.
On June 15, 1989, Tara's case took a bizarre turn. A woman in Port St. Joe, Florida, 1200 miles from Belen, made a routine trip to her neighborhood convenience store. As she left her car to go inside, she noticed a white van in the next parking space. When she walked out of the store, she saw a Polaroid photograph lying face-down where the van had been parked. It showed a teenaged girl and a young boy, apparently bound with their hands behind their backs. Their mouths were sealed with black tape. It appeared to have been taken inside a white van. The woman took the photograph to the police.
The national media ran hundreds of stories about the grim photograph. Tara's parents saw one of the stories and got in touch with the Florida police. They recognized her as the girl in the photograph. The parents of Michael Henley recognized him as the boy in the photograph. He had vanished while on a camping trip with his father in the Zuni Mountains in 1988. Factory analysis determined that the photo was recently taken. The FBI has not been able to determine if the children in the photo are Tara and Michael. However, a forensic artist compared pictures of the missing teenagers to the photo and was 85% sure that they were the ones depicted.
Suspects: There are no known suspects, but witnesses report seeing a dirty white or light gray colored 1954 Ford pick-up truck with a white handmade camper shell following her.
Authorities are also looking for the white cargo van that was parked at the Junior Food Store in Port St. Joe, Florida, on June 15, 1989. It had no windows and a sliding door at the side.
Extra notes: This case first aired on the September 20, 1989 episode, the one-year anniversary of Tara's disappearance. It was also profiled on America's Most Wanted, 48 Hours, and The Missing. The photo was featured on A Current Affair on July 28, 1989. It was excluded from Amazon Prime episodes.
Results: Unsolved. It is no longer believed that the boy in the photo is Michael. His remains were found in 1990 just a few miles from the campsite where he was last seen. Authorities believe he was not the victim of kidnapping or foul play but instead died from prolonged exposure to the wilderness after getting lost in the forest on the camping trip. His disappearance is no longer considered connected to Tara's.
The Calicos moved to Florida in 2003. Sadly, Pat died in 2006 and Tara's biological father died in 2002. However, her stepfather, John Doel, is still alive and hopes that she will be found. Two other photos believed to be of her have surfaced in the years since her disappearance; however, the last one, showing a woman with bandages over her face on an Amtrak train with a man sitting next to her, is believed to be a prank.
In September 2008, investigators announced that they no longer believe that Tara was the girl in the photo. Instead, they have learned from witnesses that she was most likely killed on the day of her disappearance by men she knew from her high school. In 2013, a man named Henry Brown made a deathbed confession to police. He said that, shortly after her disappearance, he had been in the basement of a man named Lawrence Romero Jr. While there, he noticed what appeared to be a young woman's body, wrapped in a blue tarp and buried in a makeshift grave.
Romero, a man named Dave Silva, and another man with red hair told Henry that the body was Tara's. They said that on the day of her disappearance, they, along with a man named Leroy Chavez, were in a truck when they noticed her riding her bike. While trying to get her attention, they accidentally struck her with their truck and abducted her. They took her to a grave pit and raped her.
When Tara threatened to go to the police, Romero stabbed her to death, while Silva, Chavez, and the third man held her down. They originally hid her body in a nearby bush. However, as searches began for her, they moved her body to the basement. Henry told investigators that they threatened to kill him if he went to the police. He also said that they got away with the crime because Romero's father, Lawrence Romero Sr., was the Sheriff at the time. He and the parents of the other men also allegedly helped cover up the crime. He apparently found a note written by Romero Jr., confessing to Tara's murder, and destroyed it.
Henry also told investigators that he believed the men later placed Tara's body in a pond near one of their houses. He also said that her bike had been disposed of at a junkyard. Another man also came forward and told police that one of the suspects had confessed to him as well. Romero Jr. later committed suicide in 1991. Despite the testimony of the witnesses, since Tara's body has never been found, no charges have been filed against the other suspects.
In 2017, a friend of Tara's, Melinda Esquibel, created a podcast and started her own investigation into this case, along with Tara's sister Michelle. They are currently working on a documentary about it. In October 2019, the FBI offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the solution of Tara's case.
- Tara Calico Website
- Tara Calico on Wikipedia
- Tara Calico on the Charley Project
- Tara Calico on the Doe Network
- Tara Calico on the FBI Website
- Psychic Aids Officers In Search for Woman - September 29, 1988
- Teen's Disappearance 'Leads' Being Pursued - October 26, 1988
- 2 missing New Mexico youths may be pair in Florida photo - July 31, 1989
- New Mexicans seek ray of hope in Port St. Joe (Page 1) (Page 2) - August 2, 1989
- Missing children spotted in photo in Florida - August 2, 1989
- Hale helps solve TV mystery - September 23, 1989
- Discovery of child’s bones leaves questions unanswered - June 26, 1990
- Parents Retain Hope Daughter Remains Alive - July 6, 1991
- TV Show to Feature 1988 Disappearance - April 13, 1993
- Where's Tara Calico? (Page 1) (Page 2) - November 3, 1996
- Area woman sought 15 years later - September 20, 2003
- Parents of missing woman try to move on - September 25, 2003
- Prosecutor Requests Calico File - December 20, 2003
- Sheriff: Disappearance No Mystery - September 14, 2008
- Police reopen Tara Calico disappearance - October 2, 2013
- Tara Calico mystery: Polaroid photo of two bound children has stumped detectives for decades - June 29, 2017
- Former classmate says she knows who killed Tara Calico - July 28, 2017
- Renewed hope for answers 29 years after disappearance of Tara Calico - September 20, 2017
- Tara Calico Update: New leads, clues emerge in cold case of ‘Polaroid photo’ girl who disappeared while riding her bike - June 25, 2018
- Thirty years later, there's no sign of Tara Calico - September 20, 2018
- FBI Media Alert: FBI Offers $20,000 Reward in Tara Calico Case - October 1, 2019
- FBI Offers $20,000 Reward in Tara Calico Case - October 6, 2019
- New Mexico State Police - Tara Calico Case Documents