On September 20, 1988, Tara left her home at about 9:30 in the morning to go on her customary bike ride. She told her mother, Patty Doel, to come and get her if she was not home by noon. Patty went searching for Tara along her usual bike route, but could not find her and contacted the police. Part of her Sony Walkman and a Boston cassette tapewere discovered along the route and Patty believed that Tara may have left these items in an attempt to mark her trail.
Several people saw Tara riding her bicycle, which has never been found. No one witnessed her presumed abduction, although several witnesses did observe a 1953 or 1954 Ford pickup following her, but it is not known if this vehicle was connected to her disappearance. All efforts to locate the pickup have failed.
Then on June 15, 1989, a Polaroid photo of an unidentified young girl and boy, both bound and gagged, was found in the parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe, Florida. It was theorized that the girl in the photo was Tara and that the boy was Michael Henley, also of New Mexico, who had disappeared in April 1988. The book that is next to the girl in the photo is the gothic horror novel “My Sweet Audrina” by V.C. Andrews, which was published in 1982. According to investigators, the picture had to have been taken after May 1989 because the particular film used in the photograph was not available until then.
Despite much conjecture, the identification of the boy in the photograph as Michael Henleyseems unlikely because his remains were discovered in 1990 in the Zuni Mountains where he had disappeared. (Foul play is not suspected in his death.) The Zuni mountains are about 75 miles from where Tara disappeared. Nonetheless, her mother believed the girl in the photo was indeed her daughter due in part to what appeared to be a scar on the girl’s leg, similar to one Tara received in a car accident. Scotland Yard analysed the photo and concluded that the girl was Tara, but a Los Alamos National Laboratory analysis determined that it was not her. An FBI analysis of the photo was inconclusive.
Two other Polaroid photographs, possibly of Tara, have surfaced over the years, but they have yet to be released to the public.
There were several reported sightings of her in 1988 and 1989, mostly in the southern half of the United States, but none of these sightings could be confirmed.
Twenty years after her disappearance, Rene Rivera, sheriff of Valencia County announced that he knew what happened to Tara Calico. According to Rivera, boys who knew her from school drove up behind her in a truck and some form of accident followed. Tara later died and those responsible covered up the crime. Rivera states he knows the names of those involved, but that, without a body, he cannot make a case. He has not released whatever evidence has led him to this conclusion. No arrests have been made and the case remains open.
Tara’s stepfather, John Doel, said that the sheriff should not have made these comments if he was not willing to arrest anyone and said that strong circumstantial evidence should be enough for a conviction.