The Strange Tale of Tara Leigh Calico; Missing Since September 20, 1988 from Belen, New Mexico, PART I
Imagine that your college-student daughter disappears one morning, while out on a bike ride. Imagine that you find evidence suggesting that she was forced into a vehicle, but that can learn nothing more. And you wait, and wait, and wait.
Then, months later, you hear from police halfway across the United States. “We have a photo here that you ought to take a look at ….”. Imagine all this, but you will not be imagining. You will, instead, be reading about the case of Tara Calico. And about her mother’s search and waiting that ended only last year, with her own death.
Belen is not far from Albuquerque, New Mexico. In September 1988, John and Patty Doel had been married for several months. Each had been married previously, and together the couple had five children. Of these, Patty’s youngest was 19-year-old Tara. A sophomore at the University of New Mexico, with a 3.9-grade-point average, she aspired to be a psychiatrist.
At 9:30 a.m. on September 20, Tara borrowed her mother’s neon-pink mountain bike, as her own was damaged, and set off on her daily 17-mile bike ride. She had a 12:30 tennis match and a 4 p.m. date that day. Her mother later remembered Tara saying to her: “Mom, if I’m not back at noon, come get me.”
Tara rode off into the desert. Later on, as many as seven witnesses would report seeing her just before noon. At that point, she was about two miles from home. She was wearing headphones, listening to music. Perhaps that explains why she was apparently oblivious to the presence of a light-colored pickup truck with an attached camper shell, close behind her. Noon came; however, Tara did not. Patty Doel went out to search for her, with no results.
Missing Since: September 20, 1988 from Belen, New Mexico
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date Of Birth: February 28, 1969
Age: 19 years old
Height and Weight: 5’7, 120 pounds
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. Calico has a cowlick on her right temple.
The next day, Patty went out to look again. She found something: a cracked Sony Walkman plastic cover to a tape by the band Boston. On the morning of September 20, Tara had asked her mother to rewind a Boston tape for her to bring on the ride. Near where the tape was found, scuff marks were noted, as though a bike had been forced off the road. But neither the bike nor Tara was seen. Authorities were alerted, psychics were consulted, and searches were carried out on foot, horseback, by vehicle, helicopter. All were fruitless.
One detective called the Doels frequently with new scenarios. He said she had been abducted by Satanists, who cut off her hands and burned her at a stake in some kind of fertility ritual. This same detective, presumably with no more evidence than he had for the Satanist spiel, told a newspaper reporter that Tara had probably run away.
And time passed.
Fast-forward to June 15, 1989, on the other side of the country. In Port St. Joe, Florida, a woman stopped at a convenience store. As she went in, she noticed that a dirty white van was parked in front of the store.
When she came out, the van was no longer there. But a photo was lying where it had been parked. The woman picked up the photo, stiffened, then ran to get the police.
The Polaroid picture found, a close-up image of the unidentified boy, and a computer generated image of the boy.
The photo was of two unidentified children; a girl about Tara’s age and a young boy. Both were bound and gagged in the interior of a van.