Renewed hope for answers 29 years after disappearance of Tara Calico

 

BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – It is one of New Mexico’s greatest mysteries. A young woman from a small, typically seen as a safe town vanished without a trace.

Rumors and so many questions have been circling for the last 29 years. Now, there is renewed hope that answers may also finally be found regarding the disappearance of Tara Calico.

On a rural highway south of Belen on September 20, 1988, college student Tara Calico, who was 19 at the time, vanished.

Now, 29 years later her family is still searching for answers.

“This isn’t just an urban legend, just a story out there, or a photograph or something people heard about or warned kids about,” Michele, Tara’s sister, said. “This was a person and she deserves it.”

Her sister Michele is not ready to stop looking, and after years of disappointment she is now taking matters into her own hands with the help of a friend.

Melinda Esquibel didn’t have many friends until she bonded with Tara on a band trip in high school.

“She said nope you are hanging with us and took me and hugged me and that is how we became friends,” Esquibel said.

After Tara’s disappearance, Esquibel moved on with life. Then after one Christmas dinner with friends, Tara came up again.

“The response I got from those at the table who were my classmates were ‘Oh Melinda, the whole town knows who did it,'” Melinda said.

It was after that conversation the justice for Tara Calico mission began.

Melinda Esquibel, who is a filmmaker, decided to create a documentary, but when she saw the case file at the sheriff’s office the mission took a new turn.

“They were in shambles… there were files with people’s names on it and there was nothing in there,” Esquibel said. “It was like, okay now what? What do we do now? So we started investigating.”

The investigation took them to places they didn’t expect.

According to Esquibel, people did not want to talk about what happened and says through the course of her investigation, her life and her family’s lives have been threatened.

However, she says progress in the investigation has been made.

According to Esquibel, different areas that were overlooked before are now being searched, unearthing secrets that have been hidden for years.

She also believes that there are too many powerful people involved who do not want the case to be solved.

“People have passed who have strong ties to the community who may have deflected people coming forward from talking and getting involved. I think that has made a difference,” Esquibel said.

Michele and Melinda have shared all the information they’ve gathered with investigators at the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department who remain the lead agency on the case.

The two are also releasing what they’ve learned through a podcast that is now being shared around the country.

Hollywood stars and many others are joining the fight “#JusticeForTara.”

Despite the picture many believed could have been Tara, found in a parking lot in Port St. Joe, Florida months after her disappearance, Michele and Melinda believe the story goes no further than Valencia County.

Much of the information uncovered cannot be released to the public because the FBI and the sheriff’s department are still building a case. A new detective was recently appointed to the case.

Anyone with information, no matter how little, is asked to call the FBI tipline or the sheriff’s office.

You can listen to the podcast, “Vanished: The Tara Calico Investigation,” on iTunes,Stitcher, or Google Play. You can also go directly to audioBoom.

For more information click here. 

Filmmaker hopes documentary, podcast can help solve Tara Calico mystery

Melinda Esquibel, right, with Nancy Grace, a former prosecutor and victim's advocate, at the recent Crime Con convention. Esquibel holds a poster of her podcast "Vanished." 

Nancy Grace.jpg

July 2017 

by Rosalie Rayburn

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s been nearly 30 years since college student Tara Calico vanished near her Belen-area home, and the mystery remains unsolved.

One high school classmate is determined to tell the story in a way that will bring the truth to light.

Melinda Esquibel has spent the past seven years researching the case and filming a documentary that is currently being edited. In the meantime, she has embarked on a new project hoping to bring the fruits of her investigation to a wide audience as soon as possible.

In early June, she presented a preview of her podcast “Vanished: The Tara Calico Investigation” at the CrimeCon Convention, an annual event that draws true crime fans. Esquibel said the first episode of the podcast series is available on iTunes, AudioBoom, Google Plan and Stitcher Radio. Podcasts are digital audio files that can be downloaded free to a computer or mobile device.

“What has kept me going is the hope of finding Tara and finding out what happened to her. Her disappearance has rocked the community and shaped us all in one form or another. It’s changed us and because of it we will never be the same. The only thing we can hope for is some healing when it’s all said and done,” Esquibel said.

Esquibel grew up in Belen and went to Belen High School with Calico. They were in marching band together and attended the same University of New Mexico branch campus. But Esquibel left that all behind to pursue the dream of a film career in California.

In the following years, she studied film production, worked at Fox Family Productions and helped produce documentaries such as “Pais: The Life and Death of Frank Pais,” a Cuban revolutionary.

Tara Calico was last seen riding her bicycle on NM 47 south of Rio Communities on Sept. 20, 1988. The mystery of what happened to her has never been solved. (JOURNAL FILE)

Unsolved mystery

The eerie horror of her schoolmate’s fate came flooding back in 2008 when Esquibel’s mother sent her a Valencia County News Bulletin article commemorating the 20th anniversary of Calico’s disappearance.

“I opened the envelope and looked at it and I just started crying,” said Esquibel. “I thought, oh my God! It really did happen all those years ago. I had forgotten about it. It almost felt like it was a dream.”

On Sept. 20, 1988, Calico, then 19, set out on a routine bike ride from her home in the Rio Communities east of Belen. She was planning to play tennis later that day but she never returned. Witnesses said they’d seen a pickup truck following her but neither her body, nor the pink Huffy bicycle were ever found. The next year, a Polaroid photograph surfaced in Florida of a young woman bound, with tape over her mouth. Some experts said details were consistent with Calico’s face. However, the FBI analysis was inconclusive.

Calico’s parents, Patty and John Doel, told their story on “Oprah,” “America’s Most Wanted,” “Unsolved Mysteries” and mailed out thousands of fliers hoping for news of their daughter.

Leads emerged, but nothing led to an arrest.

‘Who did it’

In 2008, former Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera, who had followed the case since 1989, told the News Bulletin he knew what had happened. He said he’d been told a truck had accidentally hit her. Rivera believed local boys were in the truck and that they had help hiding her body and concealing the truth. But he said it was hard to make a case stick without a body.

Esquibel returned to Belen at Christmas that year and showed the article to former high school classmates at a dinner. She was excited that finally someone knew who harmed Calico. The response, she said, was, “Oh Melinda, the whole town knows who did it,” followed by what she called “a lot of rumor and speculation.”

Esquibel said that prompted her to start her own investigation, determined to find out what really happened.

It’s been a long and, at times, unnerving struggle. She talked at length with John Doel (Patty Doel died in 2006). She interviewed Rivera and other law enforcement officers involved with the case. She traveled to the remote spot on NM 47 where Calico was last seen. She spent months visiting the sheriff’s office to pore through the case files.  At times, she said, her persistent questioning of people in the tight-knit Belen community provoked a hostile reaction.

Esquibel said she received threats saying “someone would get hurt” if she didn’t stop pursuing the investigation.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t want this case solved,” she said in a recent interview with the Journal.

She returned to Los Angeles, but continued working on the project.

“All the things that have happened to me only justified in my mind that I needed to keep going and that her story needed to be told. It just pushed me harder,” said Esquibel.

Similar case

Progress has been slow. In 2014, Esquibel told the Journal that she expected the film to be released soon. However, based on feedback from networks she changed the scope of the project into a documentary series instead of a single film. A Dubai-based contact is now involved in the editing.

Meanwhile, Esquibel learned of a podcast called “Up and Vanished” produced by filmmaker Payne Lindsey. It focused on the case of Tara Grinstead, a teacher and former beauty queen who went missing in Georgia in 2005.

Melinda Esquibel talks to Payne Lindsey about his podcast “Up and Vanished” about Tara Grinstead a girl who disappeared in Georgia in 2005. (COURTESY OF MELINDA ESQUIBEL)

In June, Esquibel attended the CrimeCon convention in Indiana where she met and gained advice from Laura Richards, a criminal behavioral analyst formerly employed by Scotland Yard who examined the case of murdered child beauty pageant queen JonBonét Ramsey and created a TV show about it. She also talked with Lindsey about his investigation of the Grinstead mystery.

Esquibel was struck by the similarity of the case in Lindsey’s podcast to the disappearance of Tara Calico. She learned that a few months after his podcast aired in August 2016 someone called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation with a tip that led to a couple of arrests. That gave her hope.

“It’s possible that people who hear my podcast may know more information and can contribute to help solve the Tara Calico case,” Esquibel said.

THE POLAROID MYSTERY: WHERE IS TARA CALICO? IT’S BEEN 28 YEARS SINCE SHE DISAPPEARED by Crimefeed.com

September 20, 2016 by Leigh Egan

On September 20, 1988, 19-year-old Tara Calico was in a great, even expansive mood as she pedaled away from home on a pink Huffy mountain bike, while listening to a cassette tape of Boston on her Sony Walkman. It was 9:30 A.M., and the fall weather made it a perfect morning to get some fresh air and exercise. She was out on a 17-mile cycling trek, planning to circle railroad tracks and the Rio Communities golf course before returning to her parent’s home in Belen, New Mexico. She had a tennis date at noon with her boyfriend, yet it would be the last time her family would see Tara.

Tara talked to her mother, Patty Doel, before leaving, and playfully said, “If you don’t hear from me by noon, come look for me.” When noon passed and Tara failed to return home, Patty felt a bit anxious, but hoped her daughter was simply running a bit behind schedule.

To ease her worries, Patty drove around the area. She headed south on N.M. 47, and circled around Rio Communities, but saw no sign of Tara. Feeling a twinge of panic, Patty slowed down her car down to a creep, and edged toward the ditches. A lump rose in her throat when she saw a Boston cassette tape lying on the shoulder of the rugged street.

Patty immediately called the police, and so began an exhaustive search for Tara, a successful college student at University of New Mexico at Valencia (UM). According to family and friends, there was no reason that Tara would simply vanish without telling anyone. Patty suspected foul play, and thought her daughter dropped the Boston tape purposely, to leave a clue.

The problem, however, was that Tara was an adult, and despite her family and friends telling authorities she wouldn’t run away, police said there’s nothing they could do. That all changed when they spotted fragments of a broken Sony Walkman on the side of the road, and a pink Huffy bike thrown into a ditch, close to a secluded campground around 20 miles from Tara’s home.

New Mexico detectives tirelessly worked on the case, and tried to piece together clues and leads that could lead them to Tara. Witnesses said they saw her riding the bike around two miles from her home, while a 1953 F-150 Ford truck with an attached camper on its bed followed her closely. They weren’t sure if it was someone she knew or someone with bad intentions. It’s likely Tara may not have even noticed the truck if her headphones were blaring.

The Polaroid Picture Mystery

Months went by without any closure, and police were no closer to finding Tara than they were the day she went missing. In June 1989, on a hot summer day in Port St. Joe, Florida, around 1,600 miles away, a lady shopping at a local grocery store spotted a lone Polaroid picture lying in the parking lot.

Curious, she picked the picture up and studied it. Two people, a teen girl and a young boy, stared at the camera with their hands tied behind their backs and duct tape covering their mouths. They’re both lying on a bed, which appears to be in the back of a van or bus, but the darkened background made it difficult for police to identify exactly where it was taken.

Witnesses said that a white Toyota cargo van had been parked in the area where the picture was found, but the driver was never located. He’s described as a white male with a mustache, who appeared to be in his 30s.

The teen girl in the photo looked so much like Tara that Patty was convinced it was her daughter. The hair, eyes, and skin complexion matched, and the girl in the photo had a skin discoloration on her right leg in the exact spot that Tara had a scar. There was a copy of the V.C. Andrew’s book My Sweet Audrina lying on the bed next to the girl. According to Patty, Andrews was Tara’s favorite author.

According to Joel Nugent, the Gulf County sheriff who worked the Florida case, both kids appeared to be terrified. Although singer Marilyn Manson once said he used to drop similar photos in public areas in Florida as a prank, Nugent felt that this particular picture was indeed real.

“It obviously is two kids with terror written all over them. It’s kind of a bad time when you have to look at something like that…. No one knows for sure if it [the picture] was a set up. Some people think it was a staged photograph, but it was a real look of fear to me,” said Nugent.

On September 20, 1989, a year after her disappearance, Unsolved Mysteries aired an episode about Tara. It was preceded by a July 1989 episode about her disappearance on A Current Affair. The case was also featured on America’s Most Wanted and 48 Hours, and although the shows brought in an influx of tips and leads, the case was never solved.

Meanwhile, Valencia County, New Mexico, Sheriff Renee Rivera indicated in 2008 that he knew exactly what happened to Tara. The problem, however, is that her body has never been found, which makes bringing in the people involved, or who he perceived as responsible, difficult.

“The individuals who did the harm to Tara, knew who she was. They knew who she was, and they’re all local individuals. And I believe that the parents [of the attackers] were some of the people that helped the individuals with hiding the truth or hiding the body or trying to escape prosecution,” said Rivera.

Although he never gave the suspects’s names, Rivera said that two local men, teens at the time, were involved in Tara’s disappearance, and several of their family members and friends helped cover up the crime. “You know it’s very frustrating, being that there’s a lot of people that know what happened,” he said. “They know the whereabouts of the body or the remains… I believe the body is nearby.”

The people in the photograph still remain a mystery. Even though investigators with the Scotland Yard Police Department (London) analyzed it and determined the teen in the picture was indeed Tara, Valencia County detectives also analyzed it and disagreed. They stated they couldn’t absolutely confirm the identity of either person in the picture.

Coupled with that was the fact that numerous informants told Rivera that Tara never got far from home before the boys, now men, accidentally hit her with their truck. Instead of going to authorities, Rivera believes they buried her body, with the help of friends and family.

“She was a real pretty girl. She was very athletic, and a lot of guys wanted to talk to her, they wanted to meet her, they wanted to go out with her. And while she was riding the bike, they went up to try to talk to her, try to grab her, whatever, while she was on the bike,” said Rivera.

Sadly, Patty Doel passed away in 2006, without ever knowing what happened to her daughter. Tara’s father had passed away in 2002. Her living relatives, however, have not given up hope. Thanks to the internet, thousands of people across the nation are also involved in the fight to find Tara. Numerous sites and social-media groups are currently active, and its members are all invested in finding not only Tara, but the identity of the boy in the photo as well.

The Boy in the Polaroid 

The young boy in the picture appeared to be anywhere from 9 to 11 years old, give or take a few years. He had short brown hair, a summer tan, and wore a light blue shirt. For many years, investigators felt it might be Michael Henley, a nine-year-old boy who went missing in April 1988, after he wandered off from his family’s campground in Zunis Mountain, New Mexico.

But in 1990, detectives found Michael’s remains a few miles from the area where the family camped out when he went missing. They indicated that he likely passed away after prolonged exposure without food and water. No foul play was suspected.

The second photo of the boy [Port St. Joe Police Department]

The boy’s identity still remains a mystery. In 2009, Port St. Joe police received a letter with a picture of a young boy attached, with black markings drawn over his mouth. The boy in the new photo greatly resembled the boy in the 1989 Polaroid photo. A few months later, someone mailed police the original picture of the kid, but yet, detectives were still unable to determine who he was, or who sent the photos. The envelopes were postmarked from Albuquerque. Yet, with no return address and no additional clues, authorities were stumped.

The case still remains open for Tara, as well as the unidentified boy. Anyone with any information that could possibly help detectives should contact the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office at (505) 866-3343 or the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department at (505) 468-7225.

Read more:

TaraCalico.com

Eugene Register-Guard

Fox News

Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Journal (2)

Main photo: The found Polaroid [Port St. Joe Police Department]

 

Task Force on Tara Calico Closes

November 2015

Sadly, it has come to my attention that the Task Force for Tara Calico has come to a close.  The Task Force which consisted of Albuquerque Police Department (APD), Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department (BCSO), Valencia County Sheriff's Department (VCSO) and lead by Homeland Security was abruptly closed and the case file will be returned to the Valencia County Sheriff's office. 

I was not really able to get answers out of Homeland Security other than people had been reassigned to other jobs or positions, but when I prompted VCSO they stated to me a culmination of things had happened.  First being that Sheriff Dan Houston from BCSO who had worked with Sheriff Louis Burkhard at VCSO to form the task force was no longer in office and the new Sheriff was no longer interested in allocating resources and money to keep the task force going (which they had done for the last two years thanks to Dan Houston).  Secondly, the Director at Homeland Security in charge of the task force had been reassigned and the new Director had no interest in Tara's case.  

SIDE NOTE:  I keep getting asked about the State Police involvement in the task force.  

Early on there were individuals that were interviewed anonymously and somehow that information was getting back to the individuals from the community who are close to the people who committed this crime against Tara.  Threats were made to people who had come forward, and the task force investigated how this information was getting back into the community &  found out who the leaker was.  Turns out officers who work for New Mexico State Police are connected to people who are involved in this crime and the agency was FIRED and/or DISMISSED from the task force.  There was a vetting process to make sure the rest of the task force didn't have any ties to these families in Valencia County, that none of them were from Valencia County themselves or had relatives or friends in Valencia County.  The Homeland Security investigation continued with no other incident.  

Melinda

Authorities reopen Tara Calico cold case

Updated: 7:30 AM MDT Oct 3, 2013

Anna Velasquez

General Assignment Reporter

VALENCIA COUNTY, N.M. —

Officials announced Wednesday that they will reopen the Tara Calico missing persons case from 25 years ago. 

Calico was just 19 years old when she vanished 25 years ago.

Her disappearance is still a mystery, but her younger sister told KOAT Action 7 News from Florida that the family is excited to know Valencia County Sheriff's Office is teaming up with the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office and other agencies to reopen the cold case.

"When you have a new perspective of things happening," said Michele Doel. "You have to feel inspired that there's going to be that outside look that's going to put those pieces together."

Calico left for a 34-mile bike ride around 9 a.m., Sept. 20, 1988. She never returned.

The following summer, a picture of a duct-taped woman and boy was found in a parking lot in Florida. The family believes the woman is Tara.

But if it is, what happened to her and where is she now?

"You have one picture that's identical to her, that you're sure in your heart your soul, that that's her," said Doel. "And then you have the other stories that are a little bit more believable because it's local."

The local story is a theory that Calico was attacked by two young men who followed her home.

"It's very difficult to separate the two because one of them makes sense, and the other one, is her to us," she said.

On Wednesday, the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office announced a new task force, made up of other law enforcement agencies, which would be dedicated to cold cases.

Calico's has just been reopened.

Just recently, The Valencia County News Bulletin received an email from a former Georgia sheriff’s deputy, who said a young woman’s body matching Calico’s description was found on the side of an interstate in Georgia.

That woman is buried in an unmarked grave there. Her DNA was sent to a lab in Atlanta, but the body was never confirmed to be Calico’s.

Police reopen Tara Calico disappearance

By Nicole Perez / Journal Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 at 7:25pm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Twenty five years after 19-year-old Tara Calico disappeared on a hot pink Huffy bike down N.M. 47 in Belen, local and federal agents are re-opening the well-known case.

The case had previously been handled by Valencia County sheriff’s deputies, but now a six-person task force that includes agents from federal Homeland Security Investigations, the New Mexico State Police Department, the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office will re-investigate Calico’s disappearance.

“We have tried to make it clear to the families that are involved in our cold cases that we continued to have resolve to bring justice to their loved ones for the crimes that they’ve suffered in their families,” Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston said during a Wednesday news conference.

Houston said he started talking to Valencia County Sheriff Louis Burkhard about re-opening it one year ago.

Houston said his interest was sparked when he bumped into Calico’s stepsister Michele Doel while jogging during lunch Downtown. They had never met before, but struck up a conversation, and soon started talking about the case. From there, Houston worked with Burkhard to create the force.

“We felt that we should take a good close look at all of the evidence that’s been gathered over the years, and hopefully we’ll come up with something that will assist us,” Burkhard said. “I don’t think there’s anything that’s come about just recently in regards to this case, but we’re going to take a look at everything that is there. We don’t know if she’s alive, but that’s certainly a possibility.”

The task force, which includes a criminal research assistant from Homeland Security Investigations, will use the federal facility at Mesa del Sol to look at old evidence — some of which has already been transported to the facility — with new tools.

“Technology has changed a lot in the past 25 years, and we’re going to be able to do a lot of things now that we weren’t capable of doing at that time, and that’s true of all our cases, but especially this one,” Houston said.

Very few leads have surfaced in the Calico case in 25 years. Multiple witnesses said they saw a light-colored pickup truck following Calico on her bike on N.M. 47. Officials at the news conference and in a flier being distributed about the case said the incident happened on old Highway 6, which they said is the same road.

Witnesses said Calico was listening to a cassette and didn’t appear to notice anyone following her. The bike was never found, but searchers did find the bike tracks, the “Boston” cassette and pieces of the cassette player.

A Polaroid photo of an unidentified female found in a Port St. Joe, Fla., convenience store parking lot in 1989 gave Calico’s mother, Patty Doel, new hope, but the FBI couldn’t confirm it was Calico.

“I think the issue with this particular case is that, as old as it is, we have absolutely no clue as to what happened to Tara,” Houston said.

BCSO Chief Deputy Greg Rees said Valencia County doesn’t have a cold case unit, and despite their best efforts, more detectives could help solve it.

“That’s why it’s a group effort,” Rees said. “We’re keeping our personnel on track with our cases, but this is dedicating one of our detectives to this effort.”

And Houston said collaboration is the key to solving the case.

“We know that when we work together, the losers are the criminals,” he said.

Tips can be reported at (855) 542-0952 and coldcasetaskforce.com.

Link: https://www.abqjournal.com/273917/police-reopen-tara-calico-disappearance.html

    Bernallio County Sheriff’s office adding Tara Calico to their Cold Case Site

    Dated: 2013

    Bernallio County Sheriff’s Department is putting TARA CALICO's file onto their Cold Case list on their website and will be distributing decks of cards into the New Mexico prision system with the faces and info of the people listed on their cold case pages incase anyone in the prision system has information on any of these cold cases. Tara’s face and information will be in these decks of cards. They are hoping that by distributing these cards it could jog the memory of someone with information. #Justice4TaraCalico See the link below.

    http://www.bernalillocountysheriff.com/88-920.html

    Court ruling adds time to prosecute Calico case

    Thanks to a very BRAVE Los Lunas woman for coming forward in the Nicholas Morales rape case, and pursuing this issue all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court; the fifteen year statute of limitations has been lifted on all first degree felonies dating back to 1982.  When I was contacted in May by this young woman, I was thrilled beyond belief and in such admiration of what she did and how she stood up for herself.  She said to me, “I knew how important this case was and I knew what it would mean for Tara."  She was right….what many people don’t know is that even IF they found Tara’s abductors or killers for that matter, and even IF they were convicted and found guilty.  They may not have served a day in jail for it because the statute of limitations had run out!  However, thanks to a very brave individual, that statute has been lifted!!!  I don’t know if she would want me to mention her name, so I won’t, but I just want her to know that this is monumental and because of her, justice will come to be served in many cases that have been swept under the rug because of the statute.  I am so proud and honored to have gotten this opportunity to reconnect with her.  God bless and may justice be served! To see the article, read below or click on the link: http://www.news-bulletin.com/news/court-ruling-adds-time-to-prosecute-calico-case/article_b3574d1c-4c5f-5513-98bb-bf74fa3732f5.html

    • Staff
      • Sep 18, 2010

    Tara Calico and Deborah Lansdell, two Valencia County women who disappeared without a trace in the 1980s, now have something else in common.

    As a result of a recent New Mexico Supreme Court decision, if the two women were victims of a first-degree felony, then those responsible for the felonies can be prosecuted, even though a 15-year statute of limitations was in existence at the time of the women's disappearances.

    The court made the decision after considering the appeal of Nicholas Morales, who in 2005 was charged in Socorro County with raping a child between 1978 and 1985.

    Morales argued that he could not be charged because the 15-year statute of limitations, which had been enacted by the Legislature in 1979, had expired.

    In 1997, the Legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for all first-degree felonies.

    According to the court's decision, July 1, 1982, was established as the date that the Legislature intended for the elimination of the statute of limitations for first-degree felonies.

    "With this decision, we have 15 more years of the application of no statute of limitations (for first-degree felonies)," said District Attorney Lemuel Martinez. "The court applied it to 1982."

    And thus, anyone linked to the disappearance of the two women can be prosecuted.

    "The Legislature intended in the 1997 amendment that the most serious crimes do not escape prosecution based on a mere lapse of time from the commission of the offense and the commencement of prosecution," Martinez said of the Supreme Court's decision. "It looks like we have a little bit of retroactivity (in the court's decision)."

    "I think that it's awesome," said Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera, who has actively investigated the Calico case for more than a decade. "I feel that these are cases that will be solved one day, and now we'll be able to prosecute."

    Monday, Sept. 20, will be the 22nd anniversary of the disappearance of Calico, who as 19-years old when she left her home in Rio Communities in 1988 to take a routine bicycle ride along N.M. 47 and never returned.

    The case received national attention when the story appeared on "Unsolved Mysteries" in 1989, and "America's Most Wanted" in 1993. A picture surfaced in a Florida parking lot in 1989 showing two people, both bound and gagged in a van. Calico's mother, Patty Doel, was convinced that the girl in the picture was Tara, giving Doel hope her daughter was still alive.

    The girl in the picture was later determined by federal authorities not to be Calico.

    In a case that received less attention, Lansdell, 29, a Peralta native, vanished on Sept. 21, 1985. She was living and working in Albuquerque at the time, and was first discovered missing by her boyfriend, who was going to help her move into a new apartment.

    An inspection of her old apartment revealed that it appeared to have been broken into. Lansdell's car was subsequently found in an Albuquerque apartment complex parking lot.

    There are four other Valencia County cold cases that are not subject to the Supreme Court decision because they were committed after 1997, and as such, were never exposed to the statute of limitations.

    Eddie Verdugo and his girlfriend, Joyleen Chavez, were shot to death in Los Chavez in April 2004. Three members of a drug gang, who have been sentenced in other murders, were suspects in the murders of Verdugo and Chavez as well as the shooting death of Elizabeth Gonzales, of Belen, in December 2004. No one has been charged in these murders.

    In April 2005, Gail Kaneshiro, a 47-year-old Belen woman, died of smoke inhalation in a fire that engulfed her mobile home. The fire was determined to have been intentionally set, but no one has been charged in setting the fire.

    Two men were seen leaving an area near Garcia Street in Belen where James Garcia was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds in January 2006. No arrests in this murder have been made.

    All of these cases would be subject to the death penalty if any of the necessary seven aggravating circumstances was determined to exist, Martinez said.

    Contact Curt Gustafson

    Searching for answers

    • Staff
    • Apr 10, 2010

    For nearly 22 years, family, friends and the community have wondered what happened to Tara Calico. Her disappearance in September 1988 has now led one of her former classmates to look into the case and produce a documentary about the teenager who went missing during her daily bike ride on N.M. 47 south of Rio Communities.

    Melinda Esquibel, owner of Mundo Maravilla Productions, first met Calico in junior high school. Both girls were in band, and Esquibel was quickly taken aback by the girl who she says looked after her during a band trip to Arizona.

    "I was alone during the trip, and I remember she took me under her wing," Esquibel said of Calico, who was a year ahead of her in school. "I thought it was so nice of her. After that, we became better friends."

    Tara Leigh Calico was 19-years old when she disappeared. She was a sophomore at UNM-VC, worked at a local bank and had plans to become a psychologist.

    Calico left her Rio Communities house at about 9:30 a.m. to go on her regularly scheduled bike ride. She took her mother's pink Huffy bicycle because her bike had developed a flat a day or two before. When she failed to return home, her mother, Patty, went out looking for her, thinking that she would find her walking home with a disabled bike.

    Patty, who died in May 2006, never found her daughter — no one has.

    Esquibel, who lives and works in Los Angeles, says she had always wondered what happened to her friend, but when she read an article about the 20-year anniversary of Calico's disappearance, she decided to ask questions and make the documentary, which she's titled "Tara Calico: Gone Without a Trace."

    "I read the article, and it was the first time I had ever heard that they (the police) knew what happened to Tara," she said. "I came to New Mexico on a visit, and I was talking to a friend about what happened. My friend said, 'The whole town knows what happened to her.'"

    Esquibel said the more people she talked to, the more she heard the same story over and over again. It was at that point that she realized that the whole situation was unjust, and she wanted to do something — anything really that could possibly make a difference.

    "People are still very emotional and sensitive about this, I didn't want to be disrespectful to her family, and I wanted to make sure that it was welcomed," Esquibel said. "It wasn't until a year later that I decided to do it — after I got permission from her stepfather, John Doel."

    The main purpose of the documentary, Esquibel said, is to bring awareness of who Tara was to the world and, hopefully, to find some answers. For the past few months, Esquibel has interviewed several people, including newspaper reporters and police investigators.

    "I'm hoping in the process of releasing this documentary, it will spark enough emotion in the people who still know where her body is buried to come forward so we can locate her and put her to rest," Esquibel said. "I think it's important to share Tara's story because she's touched so many people all over the world."

    When she started filming the documentary earlier this year, Esquibel also created a Web site, www.taracalico.com, and a Facebook fan page, Tara Calico: Gone Without a Trace, which has more than 600 fans.

    During her research and talking with friends, Esquibel has obtained lost footage of Calico during the Junior Miss competition at Belen High School. Parts of the video and still photographs have been posted on both sites.

    While Esquibel continues to research the case and film the documentary, she's also been able to contact several of her friends from high school.

    Some are willing to talk, but others won't.

    "I think some of the reasons are because people don't like to be in front of the cameras and a lot of them are shy," she said. "Also, I think it's because they live in this town and it could negatively affect them. I just want them to know that it's been more than 20 years, and we can't tell a story if they don't help us tell that story.

    "I know what an incredible person she was, but they know details about her that others wouldn't know and they need to share that because so many people want to know."

    Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera is one of those who has been interviewed for the documentary, and he says he hopes that it will help with the investigation.

    "I think it will be able to touch more people outside Valencia County, and even New Mexico," said Rivera, who has been working on the case since 1996. "I'm hoping that someone may see this and have the information we need."

    Rivera said local and federal investigators believe they know what happened to Tara that fateful day, but haven't had the evidence to prosecute the case. The sheriff said while he has enough evidence for an arrest warrant, he doesn't have enough to prosecute the case.

    "I believe I know who did this," he said," but without that evidence — the bike or her body — we won't be able to prosecute," he said.

    Rivera says while others have tried to investigate the Calico case on their own, he's willing to work with anyone to finally solve the case.

    "I'm willing to do anything to try to get the evidence to prosecute," Rivera said. "And if that means working with anyone who's doing a documentary, or who has an interest in the case, I welcome them."

    Both of Tara's parents have passed away, but her stepfather and siblings still want and need answers, Esquibel said.

    "This community changed the day she disappeared, and everyone wants to know who took her and what happened that day," she said. "Her family has a right to mourn, and we all need closure."

    Esquibel said she will be "shopping the documentary around" at several film festivals, and has received interest from at least one news organization.

    Anyone who might have information about the case or who knew Tara and would like to participate in the documentary can call Melinda Esquibel at (505) 400-7927.

    Contact Clara Garcia