The mysterious Polaroid photo that circulated in 1989.
The mysterious Polaroid photo that circulated in 1989.

Tara Calico mystery: Is the girl in the photo really her?

IT'S a photo that gave a family hope.

It's hope they're still clinging to 31 years later after Tara Calico mysteriously disappeared.

The 19-year-old had borrowed her mum's neon pink Huffy bicycle to go for a ride on September 20, 1988, but never returned to her New Mexico home.

The mysterious photo of two children bound with their mouths taped shut in the back of a van was discovered in a convenience store car park in Florida in August 1989 about a year after Tara's disappearance and still has detectives stumped.

When friends and family saw it they suggested it could be Tara, giving her mother Patty Doel renewed hope she was alive.

The book in the photograph, My Sweet Audrina by VC Andrews, was Tara's favourite, according to Ms Doel.

The only lead police had was a windowless white van that was seen where the photo was found.

Tara's mum noted the scar on the leg of the girl in the photo was identical to her daughter's.

Scotland Yard analysed the photo and concluded that the woman was Calico, but a second analysis by the Los Alamos National Laboratory disagreed.

An FBI analysis of the photo was inconclusive.


As for the boy in the photo, his identity has never been revealed either.

The family of Michael Henley initially believed it was him, but that theory was debunked when police found his remains in New Mexico where they believe he died after becoming lost.

Michele Doel, Calico's stepsister, said it didn't make sense that the photo would be her but he still believed it was.

"When people ask me, 'Is that her?' If I had to say yes or no definitively: Yes, that is her," she told People magazine last year.

"I still look at it and it looks exactly like her - exactly like her. But it doesn't make sense."

The FBI is offering a reward for information that leads to Tara’s whereabouts.
The FBI is offering a reward for information that leads to Tara’s whereabouts.


This is what the now 49-year-old could look like. Picture: FBI
This is what the now 49-year-old could look like. Picture: FBI

Ms Doel died in 2006 of complications from a series of strokes.

She and her husband kept a bedroom for Tara where they left Christmas and birthday gifts.

The ongoing investigation took a toll on Ms Doel, who kept getting shown dismembered bodies by police to see if they were her daughter.

"Mum really did not want to believe she was dead, period," Tara's older brother Chris told People.

"And if a photographic evidence of a young woman alive - even though she's in extremis - is something to latch on to."

Michele does her own detective work on the case, along with Tara's high school friend Melinda Esquibel, who hosts the podcast Vanished: The Tara Calico Investigation.

The FBI is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information that leads to the whereabouts of Tara.

"Tara had her entire future ahead of her when she vanished," Special Agent in Charge James Langenberg of the Albuquerque FBI Division said this week.

"Law enforcement has never given up the search for this young lady, checking out numerous tips and conducting countless interviews over the course of more than 30 years.

"But it's time for someone to come forward and help us finally bring Tara home."

Tara was last seen wearing a white T-shirt with '1st National Bank of Belen' on it, white shorts with green stripes, white ankle socks, and white and turquoise Avia tennis shoes.

She was also wearing a gold butterfly ring with a diamond insert, a gold amethyst ring, and half-inch gold hoop earrings.

Tara left her home on Brugg Street in Belen to go on a ride at 9.30am and was last seen riding along Highway 47 in Valencia County about 11.45am.

She rode the route daily.