A Teen Girl Was Kidnapped, And The Only Evidence They Found Of Her Being Alive Was A Horrifying Polaroid

Prior to the highly publicized kidnappings of Elizabeth Smart and Amanda Berry, Tara Calico's bizarre disappearance rocked the southwestern United States. After leaving on a bicycle ride, 19-year-old Calico, from Belen, NM, disappeared on September 20, 1988. The case never reached a resolution, but it remains open and under federal investigation. 

It wasn't just the kidnapping that shook citizens - there was a photograph discovered in a Florida parking lot located roughly 1,600 miles away from where Calico had disappeared. The photo featured a boy and young woman, and many believe the woman to be Calico. The people in the photograph appear distressed, but it is unclear if this is truly the case or simply the result of a sinister prank. Many infamous crime scene photos have shocked the public, and this particular picture is also alarming because of its ambiguity: were the people shown in the picture slain victims?

The disappearance of Tara Calico and the suspicious Polaroid are both unsolved mysteries which, for more than 30 years, have left investigators, family members, and citizens questioning everything and mourning a young woman's tragic disappearance.

  • An Alarming Photograph Turned Up In A Parking Lot In Florida

    A Port St. Joe, FL, resident was preparing to go into a grocery store on June 15, 1989; she parked adjacent to a Toyota cargo van with a mustached man sitting inside it. After leaving the Junior Food Store, she spotted a Polaroid photo in the space where the Toyota van had been parked minutes earlier.

    The woman walked over to the picture, picked it up, and stared at the image. It appeared the picture's subjects - a boy and young woman on their backs with duct tape over their mouths - were in a small enclosed space, such as a windowless vehicle. 

    The woman promptly took the picture to the police department, giving the officers a description of the vehicle and man parked beside her. The police set up roadblocks in the area, hoping to question the man who was driving the Toyota, but there were no other reported sightings of him.

  • Some Believed The Polaroid Showed Tara Calico, Who Went Missing 1,600 Miles Away

    Some Believed The Polaroid Showed Tara Calico, Who Went Missing 1,600 Miles Away
    Photo: Courtesy Photo / via KRQE / Fair Use

    In July 1989, the Polaroid photo appeared on an episode of A Current Affair. Some who watched the program contacted Patty Doel, whose daughter, Tara Calico, went missing in September 1988. They thought the young woman in the photograph resembled Calico, despite the photograph being found about 1,600 miles away from where she had gone missing.

    Once Doel saw the picture, she, too, felt that the young lady resembled her daughter. Doel believed the woman had similar features to her daughter, noting a scar on the woman's leg was a match to the scar on Calico's leg from a past car accident. According to Doel, the book shown in the Polaroid next to the girl - a paperback copy of My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews - was one of her daughter's favorite books. 

  • Some Initially Believed The Boy In The Photo Was Michael Henley

    On April 21, 1988, several months before Calico went missing, 9-year-old Michael Henley went on a hunting trip with his father and a family friend in the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico. They were preparing to hunt wild turkey, but while setting up the camp, Michael disappeared. Michael's father immediately reported the boy missing, but a snowstorm had taken over the area, preventing a thorough search for him. Once the storm subsided, 400 people assisted in the search, but the only clue they discovered was a small footprint in the snow. 

    In July 1989, when A Current Affair aired an episode showing the photograph of the two people gagged in an enclosed space, Michael's parents saw the show and thought the little boy in the photo resembled their son. In fact, his mother stated that she was nearly certain it was Michael in the picture. Cibola National Park, where Michael went missing, is roughly 45 miles from Belen, NM, where Calico vanished. It didn't take long for investigators to see a potential connection in the disappearances.

    Calico's mother and the Henleys went to Port St. Joe, FL, to examine the Polaroid and talk to police. After the meeting, the parents determined that their children were in the picture. However, on June 22, 1990, a rancher found skeletal remains in the Zuni Mountains. Dental records confirmed it was Michael's body, and that the boy had likely succumbed to hypothermia. Investigators did not suspect foul play and concluded Michael was not the boy in the Polaroid. 


  • Calico Went Missing On September 20, 1988, While On A Bike Ride

    On September 28, 1988, 19-year-old Tara Calico was getting ready to go on a bike ride when she noticed her flat tire. She borrowed her mom's pink Huffy bicycle and told her mother to pick her up on the bike route if she didn't return from her ride by noon. Calico wanted to get home in time for an afternoon tennis date she had planned with her boyfriend.

    Calico then embarked on her 17-mile bike ride, which entailed looping around the railroad tracks and a golf course. She left her home at approximately 9:30 am, heading south. 

  • Witnesses Reported Seeing Calico During Her Bike Ride

    Investigators interviewed at least seven individuals who reported seeing Calico on her bike ride; all of them claimed to have seen Calico riding north toward her home. Of the seven witnesses, five recalled seeing an old pickup truck following Calico along the highway.

    They also reported seeing Calico wearing headphones and listening to her Walkman. The search party later discovered Calico's bike tracks, cassette tape, and a piece of her Walkman within a three-mile radius from where the witnesses said they saw her.

  • Her Mother Retraced Calico's Bike Route By Car, But Found No Sign Of The Teen

    When Calico didn't arrive home by noon from her bike ride, Doel left home to search for her daughter. She drove her car through the 17-mile bike route that Calico took but did not see her daughter. Doel then drove the bike route again to see if she could spot Calico - but to no avail.

    Worried, she called the local hospital to see if her daughter was there, then contacted the rescue unit and Valencia County Sheriff's Department to report Calico missing.