Long before the infamous kidnappings of Elizabeth Smart or Laci Peterson, the bizarre disappearance of Tara Calico rocked the southwestern United States. 19-year-old Calico, from Belen, New Mexico, disappeared on September 20, 1988, while on a bicycle ride. Despite being all over the news and subsequent television shows, the case was never solved, though it remains open and under federal investigation.
However, it wasn't Calico's actual disappearance that shook citizens so much as a photograph discovered in a Florida parking lot 1,600 miles away from where Calico disappeared. The photo featured a young boy and a young woman, and many still believe the woman to be the missing teen, Tara Calico. Although the people in the photograph appear distressed, it is unclear whether that is the case, or it was just some kids acting on a sinister prank. There have been many infamous crime scene photos released that shocked the public, and this particular picture can be seen as just as appalling due to the uncertainty of whether the people shown in the picture were victims of murder.
The disappearance of Tara Calico and the eerie Polaroid are both unsolved mysteries which for almost 30 years have left investigators, family, and citizens mourning for a young woman's tragic disappearance, and questioning everything.
A Disturbing Photograph Was Found In A Parking Lot In Florida
A Port St. Joe, FL resident was preparing to go into a grocery store on June 15, 1989, when she noted a Toyota cargo van parked beside her in the parking lot, as well as a mustached man who appeared to be in his thirties sitting inside the vehicle. After leaving the Junior Food Store, she spotted a Polaroid photo lying face down in the space where the Toyota van had been parked minutes earlier. The woman walked over to the picture, picking it up and stared at an image which appeared to have been taken inside a vehicle. It featured a young boy and a young woman, both of whom were lying on their backs with duct tape over their mouths.
The woman promptly took the picture to the police department, giving them a description of the vehicle parked beside her as well as the man who was driving the van, on the chance that he was involved with the distressing photograph. The police set up roadblocks in the area, hoping to question the man who was driving the Toyota, but he was not seen again.
Some Believed The Polaroid Showed Tara Calico Who Went Missing 1,600 Miles Away
In July 1989, the Polaroid photo was shown on an episode of A Current Affair. Friends of Patty Doel who watched the program contacted Doel, whose daughter went missing in September 1988, because they thought the young woman in the photograph resembled Doel's daughter, Tara Calico, despite the photograph being found 1,600 miles away from where Calico went missing.
Once Doel saw the picture, she too felt that the young lady looked like her daughter, and for several reasons. Doel believed the woman had similar features to her daughter and she noted a scar on the woman's leg looked just like a scar Calico had on her leg, which she got after being involved in a car accident. Another reason she thought it could be her daughter was the book which is shown in the Polaroid next to the girl, a paperback copy of My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews. Doel explained that it had been one of her daughter's favorite books.
The Boy In The Photo Was Initially Believed To Be Michael Henley
On April 21, 1988, several months before Calico went missing, nine-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, the boy disappeared. Henley's father reported the boy missing immediately, but a snowstorm had taken over the area and prevented a thorough search for the boy from happening. Once the storm was over, 400 people assisted in the search for Henley but the only clue discovered was a small footprint in the snow.
When A Current Affair aired an episode showing the photograph of the two children gagged in the back of a van in July 1989, Henley's parents saw the show and thought the little boy in the photo resembled their son. In fact, his mother stated that she was "almost certain" it was Michael in the picture. Cibola National Park, where Henley was last seen, is 45 miles from Belen, NM, where Calico vanished, and it didn't take long for investigators to see a potential connection in the disappearances.
Calico's mother and the parents of Henley went to Port St. Joe, FL to see the Polaroid in person and talk to police about it. After the meeting, the parents were sure that their children were in the picture. However, on June 22, 1990, a rancher found skeletal remains in the Zuni mountains which dental records confirmed was the body of Henley, who likely died from hypothermia — no foul play was suspected. With the discovery of Henley's body on the mountain, it became likely he was not the boy in the mysterious photo.
The question remains... who is that boy?
Calico Went Missing On September 20, 1988, While On A Bike Ride
On September 28th, 1988, 19-year-old Tara Calico was getting ready to go on a bike ride and noticed she had a flat tire. She borrowed her mom's neon pink Huffy bicycle and told her mother if she wasn't back by noon to look for her on the bike route and pick her up. Calico wanted to make sure she would be back in time for the 12:30 pm tennis date she had planned with her boyfriend. Calico then set out for her 34-mile bike ride. Calico's favorite bike route was 17 miles to the railroad tracks and 17 miles back home. She left her home at approximately 9:30 am, heading south. It would be the last time her family would ever see her.