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.