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Tara Calico: 35 Years Later, New Hope for a Resolution
Tara Leigh Calico's case
Tara Leigh Calico, an American woman born on February 28, 1969, vanished under mysterious circumstances near her residence in Belen, New Mexico, on September 20, 1988. Her disappearance has since become one of the most enigmatic missing person cases in U.S. history, largely due to the unsettling discovery of a Polaroid photograph in 1989. This photograph depicts Calico, allegedly bound and gagged, alongside an unidentified young boy, adding to the intrigue surrounding her disappearance1.
On the day she went missing, Calico, who was known for her routine morning bike rides along New Mexico State Road 47, left her home at approximately 9:30 A.M. Initially, her mother, Patty Doel, used to accompany her on these rides, but she discontinued the practice after feeling harassed by a motorist.
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On that particular morning, Tara had requested her mother's assistance in searching for her if she hadn't returned home by noon. She had plans to meet her boyfriend for a tennis game at 12:30. When Tara didn't come back, her mother followed her usual bike route but found no trace of her. Concerned, she contacted the authorities and reported her daughter missing.
Subsequently, fragments of Tara's Sony Walkman and a cassette tape were discovered along the roadside, indicating that she might have attempted to leave some clues behind. Several individuals reported seeing Tara riding her bicycle earlier that morning, although no one witnessed her presumed abduction. However, witnesses did recall seeing a light-colored pickup truck with a camper shell closely tailing her.
Regrettably, Tara's biological father passed away in 2002, and her mother, Patty Doel, passed away in 2006.
The Polaroid Photo
In June 1989, a chilling Polaroid photo was found in the parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe, Florida. It showed an unidentified young woman and a boy, both gagged with black duct tape and seemingly bound.
The woman who found the photo reported that it was in a parking space where a white windowless Toyota cargo van had been parked. The van was driven by a man in his 30s who has never been identified.
The photo was televised in July, catching the attention of friends of Tara's family who thought the woman resembled Tara. Upon seeing the photo, Tara's mother was "convinced" it was her daughter, noting that a scar on the woman's leg was identical to one Tara had.
However, the photo's analysis produced conflicting results; Scotland Yard believed the woman was Calico, but the Los Alamos National Laboratory disagreed, and the FBI's analysis was inconclusive.
In 2009, pictures of a young boy with a black band drawn over his mouth were sent to the Port St. Joe police chief, David Barnes, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The boy's identity is unknown, but officials believe it may be related to the disappearance of Tara Calico.
Two other Polaroid photographs, possibly of Calico, have been found over the years. The first was a blurry photo of a girl's face with tape over her mouth, found in California in 1989.
The second showed a woman bound in gauze with a male passenger beside her on an Amtrak train, and was found in 1990. Calico's mother believed the first was Tara, but the second may have been a hoax. The photos have been investigated by the FBI for possible DNA evidence or fingerprints.
After nearly 35 years, a significant development was announced in Tara Calico's case in June 2023. The Valencia County Sheriff's Office in New Mexico held a press conference, announcing substantial evidence had been obtained and would be presented to the district attorney's office for review of potential charges.
The details about the nature of the evidence or possible suspects remain sealed by court order until further notice.
Despite progress made in the investigation, certain individuals with close ties to the case have expressed their dissatisfaction with the way it has been handled.
Melinda Esquibel, a filmmaker and podcast host who has dedicated over a decade to investigating Tara Calico's disappearance, has raised concerns about the approach taken by the Sheriff's Office. She claims that crucial leads were disregarded during the investigation. Determined to uncover the truth, Esquibel intends to persist in her efforts to shed light on the mystery surrounding Tara Calico's vanishing.