Tara Leigh Calico

Top Row and Bottom Left and Center: Calico, circa 1988 Bottom Right: Age-progression to age 32 (circa 2003)

  • Missing Since 09/20/1988
  • Missing From Belen, New Mexico
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Date of Birth 02/28/1969 (48)
  • Height and Weight 5'7, 120 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description An orange sweater.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Brown hair, green eyes. Calico has a large scar on the back of her right shoulder and a scar on her calf. She has a dime-sized brown birthmark on the back of one of her legs. She has a lazy eye and has a cowlick on her right temple. She has previously had braces on her teeth, and her ears are pierced.

Details of Disappearance

Calico left her house on Brugg Street in Belen, New Mexico to go on a bike ride at 9:30 on the morning of September 20, 1988. She took her mother's bicycle because her own bike had a flat tire. She was last seen riding her mother's neon pink Huffy mountain bike with yellow control cables and sidewalls on Highway 47 in Valencia County, at approximately 11:45 a.m. This location is approximately two miles from her home. She has never been seen again.

Calico biked the route daily during her routine 36-mile ride. Witnesses saw a dirty white or light gray-colored 1953 Ford pickup truck with a white handmade shell following Calico during her ride. It is not known if the truck is connected to her presumed abduction. She was apparently unaware of the truck's presence. Her mother's bicycle has never been located. A photo of it is posted below this case summary. Foul play is suspected in Calico's disappearance.

Calico is described as an efficient, independent person who liked to make lists scheduling her days. She enjoys running. On the day she vanished, she was concerned about staying on schedule and asked her mother, Patty Doel, to come get her if she was not home by 12:00 p.m.

Calico had plans to play tennis with her boyfriend at 12:30 p.m., and a class at 4:00 p.m. that day. She graduated from Belen High School and was enrolled as a sophomore at University of New Mexico at Valencia at the time of her disappearance. She had a high grade point average and planned to become a psychiatrist or a psychologist. She also held a job at a local bank. When Calico vanished she left behind her sneakers and equipment, school books, and purse.

Doel went to look for her at 12:05 p.m. the day she was last seen. When she could not find her along her usual bike route, she contacted police. The next day, Doel found a Boston cassette tape belonging to Calico by the side of the road. It was three miles from her home, and on opposite side of the highway, as if she had dropped it while riding away from her residence.

Later, part of Calico's Sony Walkman was recovered nineteen miles east of Highway 47 near the remote John F. Kennedy campground. Doel believed her daughter deliberately dropped those items to mark her trail. Near the cassette tape were some bike tracks and marks resembling a scuffle or skids.

Rumors have persisted for years that Calico was the unidentified female in a Polaroid photo discovered in Port St. Joe, Florida on June 15, 1989, nine months following her disappearance. A white Toyota cargo van had been parked in the spot prior to the discovery of the picture. The photo was located on the ground in a convenience store's parking lot in St. Joe. It depicted a long-legged young woman and a smaller boy lying on some sheets and a blue striped pillow. Their mouths were covered with duct tape and their hands tied behind their backs. The photograph was taken in the back of a white Toyota cargo van with no windows, manufactured in the late 1980s.

Officials from Polaroid say the picture had to have been taken after May 1989; that type of film was not available until then. A copy of the V.C. Andrews novel My Sweet Audrina, a plastic cup, and a squirt gun are also visible in the photo. V. C. Andrews also happens to be Calico's favorite author. There is apparently a phone number written on the spine of the book, but some of the digits are unreadable. Experts say it could be 300 possible numbers, 57 of which are valid.

Authorities believe that the girl in the photo was seen walking along the beach in Port St. Joe shortly before the Polaroid was located. Witnesses said that the girl was accompanied by several unidentified adult Caucasian males who appeared to be giving her verbal orders. An unidentified boy was also pictured in the photo; both he and the girl were bound and gagged. The girl's photo and a computer-generated image of the boy are posted below this case summary.

Some people believed that the boy in the picture was Michael Henley, a nine-year-old boy who vanished in April 1988 from the same area of New Mexico as Calico. His mother identified the boy in the photograph as her son. Henley's remains were found in the Zuni Mountains in 1990. The FBI examined the photo and cannot determine whether the girl is Calico or the boy Henley. The girl's hairline and ear are similar to Calico's, and she has a mark on her calf similar to a scar Calico got from an car accident injury. It is not known whether the photo was staged or whether the boy and girl were being held against their will.

Two other similar photographs have surfaced over the years. One Polaroid, made on film that was unavailable until June 1989, was found near a residential construction site in Montecito, California and depicted a girl's face with her mouth covered by duct tape. The image is blurry, but Doel said she thought the girl in the photo is her daughter. She has a cowlick on her right temple like Calico, and also a lazy eye like Calico has. The blue-striped fabric the girl is lying on is similar to the pillow in the first photo.

The third Polaroid photograph was shot on film not available until February of 1990, and shows a woman loosely bound in gauze, wearing large black-framed eyeglasses, with her eyes covered in gauze. There is a man sitting next to her on the passenger seat of an Amtrak train. Doel wasn't sure whether the girl in the photo was her daughter; she believed this photograph may be a cruel joke.

Police have information that Calico was approached by two teenage boys on the day of her disappearance and they accidentally hit her with their truck while they were following her and harassing her. Investigators believe the boys took her away from the scene in their vehicle and that they panicked and killed her after she threatened to go to the police. Several other individuals may have been involved in covering up the crime. This information has not been confirmed and no suspects have been publicly identified. Authorities believe Calico's body is probably in the same general area she went missing from.

Calico's mother and stepfather continued to live in the house where she'd lived until fifteen years after her disappearance, when they moved to Florida. Doel died in 2006. Calico's biological father died in 2002. Her stepfather and siblings are still alive. Calico's case remains unsolved.

Left: Unidentified girl;

Center: Unidentified boy;

Right: Tara Calico's bicycle

Investigating Agency

  • Valencia County Sheriff's Department 505-865-9604 OR Federal Bureau Of Investigation Albuquerque, New Mexico Office 505-224-2000

Updated 8 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated January 2, 2018; picture added, distinguishing characteristics updated.