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 Calico_tara1ride. 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.  Calico_tara2

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.
By Richard

If you liked this post, you may also like these:

  • Tara Grinstead; Missing From: Ocilla, Georgia Since 10/22/2005
  • Missing Tara Grant’s Torso found in Garage … Husband Sought by Police
  • Missing teacher, Tara Grinstead, birthday celebrated
  • Tara Grinstead still Missing; “I just want her back,” says Bill Grinstead.
  • Georgians pull together and search for missing teacher, Tara Grinstead

  • Comments

    31 Responses to “The Strange Tale of Tara Leigh Calico; Missing Since September 20, 1988 from Belen, New Mexico, PART I”

    1. Miss-Undestimated on August 6th, 2007 10:41 am

      How hard this must be for both families.
      Someone has go to know this camper and pick up truck and van. If people know and are keeping their mouths shut they are just as guilty as the people who kidnapped these children.

      This makes me sick to my stomach. When will our law makers take a productive approach to protecting our children?

    2. ldstlou on August 6th, 2007 2:07 pm

      This one made my stomach churn. Can you imagine what it must be like for the family, let alone Tara. I don’t understand where all these predators are coming from and what is causing our society to produce so many???!!!
      Will NEVER let my 7 year old son out of my sight again!!! This just makes me want to throw up.

    3. pdh3 on August 6th, 2007 3:08 pm

      I had heard of this story before, and the boy’s family also were notified about the photo as well, I think. I cannot imagine how these families feel, seeing the pain and terror on these children’s faces. It is a haunting photo.
      Someone out there does know what happened to these poor kids, but the parents may never get the answers they so desperately need.

    4. brie on August 6th, 2007 3:31 pm

      If this women called the police immediately did they put out an all points bulletin looking for the van. It couldn’t of gotten very far away.

      Kidnappers are everywhere……it’s one of the worlds worst crimes…you can’t even imagine how frightened these children are, let alone what becomes of them by the actions of the kidnappers….

      Anymore I think children are growing up in a world of violence, porno, drugs…watching cable TV has some pretty bad stuff, cd’s that are out there, the music they listen to and the violent video games they play….many, many children have their own TV’s in their room and no one is monitoring what they’re watching or listening too. When your exposed to this crap day in and day out, tell me it doesn’t have a permanent impact on the mind.

    5. Fools Gold on August 6th, 2007 3:34 pm

      Well, it clearly was not a runaway and this Satanists stuff is pure utter nonsense as is the use of psychics.

      I would inquire as to the nature of the damage to the bike and when it took place so as to determine if it was a prior stalking or simply a pervert tooling around town who happened to encounter her while she was unwisely wearing earplugs.

    6. Richard on August 6th, 2007 8:40 pm

      I will be providing the second part to this story asap. It doesn’t get any better.

      Right now I’m in the middle of a journey to Colorado, so posting is a bit difficult.

      Hope that everyone is having a good summer and staying cool, to the extent possible. I’m trying to be on the lookout for news from Aruba.

    7. Glaswegian on August 6th, 2007 9:00 pm

      Fools Gold…This incident occurred almost 19 years ago when the world seemed a safer place. If Tara choose to do what thousands of people were doing every day — working out in the middle of the day on a road where there was apparently traffic while wearing earphones, I don’t know that could be characterized as unwise under the circumstances. Also, remember these people are predators, no one does anything that gives them the right to kidnap, kill, or violate anyone. The victim should not be blamed in any shape or form — unless of course you are the predator or a defense attorney.

      And, yes, I was wearing headphones when I was attacked 18 years ago. I was a mile from home in the middle of a sunny day in a large city in California — believe me the headphones were not what tipped the scales. I was also wearing shorts — and people always mention that too. I was running, not heading to church. Don’t think I’m responding because I personally am sensitive to the issue because I’m not — after years of therapy and supportive friendships with other victims I really don’t care what people think about me being “unwise” or “stupid.” I do put my self in other’s shoes when I read unthinking — and usually unsolicited — comments like yours blaming the victim in some way. Believe me, no matter the circumstances, the victim blames her/himself plenty, they truly don’t need any help.

      And, believe it or not, I was the last lucky one. The men who attacked me killed their next 4 victims before they were killed themselves. Interestingly, none of the 4 were wearing headphones, jogging, or wearing shorts.

      Sometimes we need to just think that there but for the grace of God….and try not point fingers to deflect from your own fears.


    8. Miss-Underestimated on August 6th, 2007 9:38 pm


      You go girl. I AM SOOO GLAD YOU POSTED

    9. Patti on August 6th, 2007 11:47 pm

      When you think of the circumstances of the boy from Shasta, California you have to wonder if the kidnapper had anything to do with the boat accident or if the boy was trying to run to safety when he was abducted… sad.

    10. Addison on August 7th, 2007 11:42 am

      When will we be seeing Part 2 of the story?

    11. MsVada on August 7th, 2007 11:45 am

      Fools Gold, I believe you were reminded that we don’t use the “blame the victim” scenario’s here at SM. I’ve read some of your posts here and at the .net site.

      So glad you haven’t been a victim to anything in your lifetime, and if you have, surely it wasn’t your fault.

    12. Treehouse on August 7th, 2007 4:46 pm

      Richard, I do wish you would post the next part of the story. I’m wondering if that part of the story provides more info that would lead us to the conclusions that have been drawn about the photo of the teenager and boy in the van.

      The girl and boy have their hands behind them. Hands may be bound…may not be.

      The tape over their mouths may have been placed there by a kidnapper…may not have.

      The book in the photo is V.C. Andrews “My Sweet Audrina” which, like all her books, deals with a subject matter of kids being isolated or imprisoned by their parent(s). The book may have been placed there by a kidnapper…or it may have been being read by a bored teenager on a long summer trip who thought it would be fun to stage a scene similar to what she had been reading.

      Who took this picture? The mom? The kidnapper? The best friend who went on vacation with them?

      The covers and pillowcases in the photo look awfully clean. Do kidnappers care about laundry?

      The tans on those kids look pretty dark and even for a couple of kids who’ve been bound and gagged in a van or a camper shell for a year or so.

      Mind you, I’m not saying that the kids in the van are not be kidnap victims. Could be. Might not be…

    13. Hilda on August 8th, 2007 8:17 pm

      My heart goes out to the family of these twwo abductees. Please hurry with the second part of this story.

    14. LL on August 9th, 2007 3:13 pm

      please post part 2 soon…. I’m intrigued!

    15. LL on August 14th, 2007 3:49 pm

      still wtg…. when will pt 2 come out?

    16. Addison on August 20th, 2007 2:28 pm

      Still waiting on Part II.
      Any ideas when?

    17. Hilda on August 25th, 2007 4:25 pm

      Hey, we’re waiting for part 2!

    18. LL on September 4th, 2007 4:50 pm

      Part II? When, when, when?

    19. LL on October 9th, 2007 4:28 pm

      are you not doing part 2?

    20. Laura on September 11th, 2008 1:48 pm

      There was a name and truck info turned in. He was the man next door to us. And yes we did turn him in and he did paint his truck and get rid of the camper shell, died his hair and put a perm. And please believe me our family went through hell over this. And the Belen police Dept. did nothing! There is even a report filed with the Dept. They did not even try and help my family.
      I would really like to know what happen to all the info we gave them.

    21. Laura on September 11th, 2008 1:50 pm

      They did nothing for Tara’s family! I’m very upset about the whole thing. And yes we did call the FBI we called anybody we could think of.

    22. Ben on September 20th, 2008 7:31 am

      Laura, if you have information, you should call the Valencia police department again. (Anyone who has information about the case is asked to call Detective James Purdy, 866-2400.) They have a renewed effort to solve the case because of the 20th anniversary. It seems that enough people have come forward that the current investigators know who did it and approximately what happened. Perhaps the individual you have mentioned is one of their suspects. The problem seems to be not who did it, but where the evidence is located (body, bike or clothes). Whoever disposed of the evidence has managed to keep the location secret all these years.

      There must have been very few 1953/4 Ford trucks with a camper shells in that area in 1988, so if you knew of one with the suspicious circumstances you have mentioned, you’re probably on to something.

      The picture in the van has always troubled me. I used to be sure it was Tara, but enough people close to the case have said it is not that I am now somewhat doubtful. It could have been an attempt to divert investigative attention away from the Belen area to Florida. In that case it could still be evidence.

      By the way, I have looked at Brugg Dr. on Google Earth/Maps and also looked over the route Tara rode–desolate country! Do you know which house on Brugg she lived in? I know the family sold it years ago and moved, but it would be interesting for a starting point for measuring her route. You can email it to me at if you would rather not post on a public forum. Thanks.

      I assume you are a relative or friend of Tara. Thanks for sharing a little of what you know. Interesting. I have followed this case for about four years and have always hoped it would be solved for the sake of the family. Thanks for your efforts and sorry you were treated poorly by the police/FBI. You did the right thing. Let us hope that after 20 years the truth will be known.

    23. Laura on October 2nd, 2008 12:17 pm

      Ben, we called everybody we could think of over an over. The man lived next door to us, he watched us all the time. When we would leave our house he would go inside an eat. At that time my dad was out of town an it was just my mother myself an my little sister.
      This man is crazy! I called the number they gave for the FBI an it was Disconnected. I really do not want to call the Belen police Dept, the town is very small an i do not trust them!
      As for the truck, Belen is a small town an i don’t remeber any other truck’s like that. I DO KNOW how Mike painted his truck with a spray can an removed the camper and colored and perm his hair an also grew a beard. An yet all this happen an the police were called an the FBI an nothing happen. That is why i feel like i do. Ben, i really want to help. An maybe they already know about Mike I don’t know. I don’t know who is there now, we moved away.

    24. Paula S on November 27th, 2009 8:11 am

      I know your family suffered beyond belief. I was friends with Cynthia, Tara’s friend. I knew Chris in high school but moved away after graduation. Believe me, my family hasn’t forgotten and neither have many, many others. I trust you know in your heart that this man is guilty and I wish someone would come forward to help prove it! God bless your family. I pray you will get the closure you deserve one day.

    25. norstralian on February 25th, 2010 4:37 am

      turned it was not the boy-his body was found in the mountains sometime later-he had been out camping or something-but at any case it turned out not to be him

    26. David B on April 5th, 2011 12:28 am

      I am a former police officer and a Private Investigator who is very interested in The Tara Calico case.. any information that could be emailed to me will be confidential.. I too have provided lots of information to the investigators in New Mexico and am not impressed with there abilities please email me any information you may have to thanks….

    27. Tina on November 6th, 2011 11:10 am

      There is a documentary being made on Tara Calico. If you have information, you can contact them at Thanks.

    28. Older Native of Belen on August 4th, 2014 1:53 am

      I have to sigh. As a native of Belen, I remember this case well. It was huge news for our small town, especially for the railroaders, where her mother worked. Willy Tate had told me about the case and it was just heartbreaking. The road she rode on is desolate and out in the middle of nowhere. It is easy to get a sense of safety but it is truly dangerous to travel this alone. What is creepy here is that numerous people want you to send them information. How do you not know if they, themselves, were involved or not? As far as the Belen Police Department….not something I would put too much faith in. So sorry for the family as her mother died still in anguish over the loss of her daughter. As far as the young man, also sorry for the family. What a true shame. Alot of sick bastards out there. Our prayers are with the families and Tara is remembered and will always be remembered.

    29. Michele D. on September 11th, 2014 9:13 am

      855 542-0952. Task Force for Tara Calico.

      PLEASE report anything you may know ASAP
      Your information will not be dismissed and kept
      Confidential. …even if you have reported it before
      Thank You

    30. nicolea on April 11th, 2016 12:07 am

      I don’t really know a lot about this case because I was very young but I think we need to keep in mind how human trafficking is getting a lot worse Idk just something to think about because they never found her .this story breaks my heart but thank god the parents aren’t suffering anymore I can’t even imagine

    31. Marietta on June 18th, 2016 2:32 pm

      I’d like to know who that officer was that was giving the family false scenarios. The exact same thing happened to my grandmother for years! My 16 year old (at the time) Aunt Esther Valdez has been missing since 9/7/1984, from Chama NM. Even with several people confessing to being there when she was murdered and who killed her, it remains a cold case to this day (going on 32 years this year.) The police even refused to list her had a missing child for over 20 years!

    Leave a Reply

    Support Scared Monkeys! make a donation.

    • NEWS (breaking news alerts or news tips)
    • Red (comments)
    • Dugga (technical issues)
    • Dana (radio show comments)
    • Klaasend (blog and forum issues)
    E-mail It