The Biggest Tara Calico Theories: What Really Happened?

At approximately 9:30 a.m. on September 20, 1988, 19-year-old Tara Calico left for her daily bike ride along Highway 47 in Valencia County, New Mexico. Although she was expected to return home by noon, she vanished somewhere along the 36-mile route and was never seen again.

As reported by True Crime Times, Patty Doel often joined her daughter for her daily ride. However, she decided to stay home that day, as a motorist nearly ran her off the road during their last trip. Doel said the person was driving aggressively and seemed to be targeting her and her daughter. In addition to driving dangerously close to the pair, the motorist passed them multiple times along the route.

Although Doel expressed her concerns to her daughter, Calico thought her mother was overreacting. As her bike had a flat tire, she borrowed her mother's neon pink Huffy mountain bike that day. 

True Crime Times reports Doel asked Calico to take a bottle of pepper spray, in case she ran into any trouble. However, the teen said it was not necessary. As she left the house, she joked with her mother to send help if she had not returned by noon.

The Charley Project reports Calico planned to be back by noon, so she could play tennis with her boyfriend at 12:30 p.m. She also planned to attend a class at the University of New Mexico at Valencia at 4:00 p.m.

Tara Calico and the bike she was riding were never found

When Tara Calico had not returned home by noon, her mother immediately drove to Highway 47 to look for her daughter. As reported by The Charley Project, Tara Calico took the same route every day. Patty Doel said she drove along the entire route and did not find any sign of her daughter or the bicycle she was riding that day. She contacted authorities immediately.

The following day, Doel returned to the route and found a cassette tape by the band Boston, which she recognized as belonging to her daughter. She noted that the tape was on the side of the road that Calico would have been on as she rode away from her home. There were also obvious bike tire tracks near the cassette tape, which looked like "a scuffle or skid," which, as reported by Thought Catalog, may indicate there was a struggle.

The Charley Project reports Calico's Sony Walkman cassette player was later found near the John F. Kennedy campground, which is approximately 19 miles east of Highway 47. Doel believes her daughter dropped the items to leave clues as to her whereabouts.

Several witnesses came forward in the days following Calico's disappearance, stating that they saw a 1953 F-150 Ford truck pulling a shell camper, following the teen. As reported by, Calico may not have realized the truck was following her because she had her headphones on while she was riding.

A photo found 1,500 miles away may be an important clue

Despite conducting an exhaustive search of the region, no trace of Tara Calico, or her mother's bike, were ever found.

Initially, authorities questioned whether Calico would have left town voluntarily. However, as reported by The Charley Project, she left her personal belongings, including her purse, at home while she was on the ride. She was also a student in good standing at the University of New Mexico and had goals of becoming a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Nine months after Calico vanished, authorities were made aware of a disturbing clue that was eventually linked to the missing teen.

On June 15, 1989, a woman was waiting for a parking spot, which was occupied by a white Toyota van that did not have any windows. When the driver of the van, who was described as "a man in his thirties with a mustache," pulled out of the spot, the woman pulled in and parked her car.

As reported by True Crime Times, the woman found a Polaroid picture on the ground when she stepped out of the car. The photo was of a young boy and a teenage girl, who are both bound and gagged with duct tape. They are lying in the cargo area of what appeared to be a white van, on top of some blankets and pillows. The boy and girl both seem to be in distress.

Who is the girl in the mysterious photo?

Although it can not be confirmed, True Crime Times reports the van in the photo seems to be the same van the woman saw in the parking lot.

As the boy and girl in the photo appeared to be in danger, the woman immediately took it to authorities. Although they set up roadblocks and conducted an extensive search, neither the van nor its driver were ever found. True Crime Times reports the photo gained national attention when it was featured on "America's Most Wanted" and "A Current Affair." People instantly started noting similarities between the girl in the photo and Tara Calico.

As reported by True Crime Times, Patty Doel did not initially believe the girl in the photo was her daughter. However, a mark on the girl's thigh matched a scar Calico had from an injury she sustained in a car accident. The V.C. Andrews novel "My Sweet Audrina" was also visible in the photo, and Doel confirmed Andrews was one of Calico's favorite authors.

Although Doel became convinced the girl in the photo was Calico, authorities were not as sure. The photograph was sent to the FBI, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and New Scotland Yard in the UK, for further inspection. Although the FBI and the Los Alamos National Laboratory were unable to confirm the identity of the girl in the photo, True Crime Times reports New Scotland Yard confirmed it was Tara Calico.

Valencia County sheriff claims he knows who killed Tara Calico

The boy in the photo was believed to be Michael Henley, who was reported missing from New Mexico in April 1988. However, as reported by True Crime Times, Henley's remains were found in 1990, only seven miles from where he vanished, and he died of exposure long before the Polaroid was taken.

In 2008, Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera said he believes two men were driving down Highway 47 on September 20, 1988, when they accidentally struck and seriously injured Tara Calico. As reported by Thought Catalog, Rivera believes the men panicked, placed Calico in the truck, and drove away.

According to Rivera, the men were later assisted by two other men, who helped them kill Calico and dispose of her body. Although he admitted there was little or no evidence linking the four men to Calico's disappearance, Rivera said the Valencia County Sheriff's department has "a case put together, but [they] want to make sure that this case is a concrete case. "

During a 2009 interview with Investigation Discovery, Rivera revealed that he thought the two men in the truck were actually teenagers and their parents may have helped cover up the crime. He also said he believes Calico is "likely buried somewhere in Valencia County."

As reported by True Crime Times, Calico's family was disturbed by Rivera's assertions because he would not name the suspects and did not have enough evidence to make an arrest.

A deathbed confession reveals new suspects

In April 2010, a man named Henry Brown made a deathbed confession that he had knowledge about Tara Calico's disappearance. As reported by True Crime Times, Brown said Leroy Chavez, Lawrence Romero Jr., and Dave Silva told him they hit Calico with a truck while she was riding her bike. They then drove her to a gravel pit, where they took turns raping her. When she threatened to go to authorities, Chavez and Silva reportedly held her down while Lawrence Romero, Jr. stabbed her to death.

Henry also said Lawrence Romero Jr.'s father, Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera, helped cover up the crime by destroying his son's written confession.

Sheriff Rene Rivera resigned in 2011 and has never been considered a person of interest or a suspect in Calico's disappearance. However, he was arrested and charged with domestic violence in 2017.

In 2013, True Crime Times reports agents from several local and federal agencies formed a task force to take a closer look at Calico's disappearance. However, no arrests were made as a result of their investigation.

In 2018, the FBI and Valencia County Sheriff's department issued a joint statement that they had evidence suggesting Calico was attacked and ultimately killed by two teen boys in a pickup truck. They also said their "parents may have helped them cover up the crime." However, their suspects were not named and no arrests have been made in the case.