Tara Calico’s name popped up again on my calendar this week, my annual reminder that on Sept. 20 her family and those who love and remember her marked another year without her, another year not knowing what happened to her that morning in 1988 when she went for her daily two-hour bike ride from her Rio Communities home and never returned.
Thirty-three years now.
People still remember at least parts of the story, the details that stick and rattle around in their memory, her disappearance among the state’s most notorious and perplexing unsolved mysteries.
They remember her mother’s neon pink 12-speed Huffy with the yellow control cables and sidewalls that she borrowed for her ride that morning. The Boston cassette tape playing in the yellow Walkman she was listening to. The light-colored truck witnesses say was following her on N.M. 47. The mysterious photo of a young woman and a boy, bound and gagged in a van in Florida, their identities never known with 100% certainty. How she was 19, a sophomore at the Valencia County branch of the University of New Mexico. How pretty she was, always smiling. How hard her parents, Patty and John Doel, worked to find her and to keep her case in the headlines and on the minds of the public and law enforcement.
Patty died in 2006 in Port Charlotte, Florida. They moved into their dream home there in 2003 to escape their nightmare, but it hadn’t worked. Patty, her mind muddled by strokes, never stopped looking out her window, waiting for Tara to ride home.
John is back in New Mexico now, living with daughter Michele, who carries on her parents’ vow to never stop looking for answers.
Thirty-three years now and there is still hope those answers are just a few clues away.
“She is certainly not and never has been forgotten, and we have always continued to follow leads and work on solving the case,” Valencia County sheriff’s Lt. Joseph Rowland said.
He has news in the case, of a sort.
Last April, a search warrant was executed at a home in Valencia County in connection with Calico’s disappearance, Rowland said. A judge sealed the warrant, however, so Rowland cannot divulge any information on what was discovered or what leads are being followed as a result.
But it appears leads are being followed.
What Rowland can say is that Calico is not believed to be connected to the suspect in at least three long-unsolved homicides that occurred in Albuquerque around the same time as Calico’s disappearance.
Last month, Paul Apodaca was charged in the 1988 murder of Althea Oakeley, another UNM student. Albuquerque police say he also confessed to at least two more homicides, including the 1989 shooting death of 18-year-old Kaitlyn Arquette, whose case has also been one of the most enduring unsolved mysteries in New Mexico.
“We are not aware of any potential connection between Paul Apodaca and the disappearance of Tara Calico,” Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos confirmed.
Hopes have risen and fallen over the years, so it is hard to place much hope on whatever this search warrant may lead to.
And still we hope.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been obsessed this month with the disappearance of another young woman, her case going viral across social media.
Gabby Petito, 22, had been missing for days from her Instagram-documented, cross-country, van-life trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie before her family filed a missing persons report Sept. 11 after learning that Laundrie and the van had quietly returned home to North Port, Florida, more than a week before without her – and he wasn’t talking.
Petito’s remains were located Sunday in a remote site in the vast Grand Tetons National Park, this needle-in-a-haystack find aided in part by tips from the public.
Calico’s case was also widely publicized, albeit in an era before social media, YouTube and blogging. Today, her case has a Facebook page and a podcast, though activity on both has been somewhat sparse of late.
Women disappear more often than most of us know, their trail cold and, worse, rarely followed to the answers. Few receive the same public attention as Calico or Petito.
This Tuesday, for example, marked the 36th year since Debra Lansdell, 29, of Belen disappeared, her Porsche found five months later in the 1500 block of Gold SE in Albuquerque. Like Calico and Petito, Lansdell was young, white and pretty. But I bet you’ve never heard of her.
Hundreds more women, many who are minorities, go missing, their stories largely unheard by the public. As of 2016, the National Crime Information Center has reported more than 5,700 missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. They are among the MMIW – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and if nothing else, the Petito case has shown they deserve attention, too.
And I hope, as I have for 33 years, that this time, this year Tara Calico gets the attention her case needs to bring those answers home.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, email@example.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.