This article contains subject matter, including a fictional story, that some may find upsetting. Discretion is advised.

Tara Calico went on a bike ride up a New Mexico highway with her Walkman in tow. Playing Boston on full blast.

Hold up.

Boston? As in, “More Than a Feeling” Boston? I dig this person already. 😀

A stock image of a Sony Walkman with headphones with orange earpieces. On its left is a black casette tape.

Sadly, Tara vanished during her morning ritual. The remnants of her Walkman were found, smashed on the side of a dusty road in Belen, New Mexico.

The Walkman pieces, like Tara herself, blew to the wind and the trail turned cold.

Look at this Photograph…

A few months later, in a backwoods town smack dab in the Florida Panhandle, a polaroid photo was found. A photo radiating with implications so sinister…

A photograph showing two kids with duct tape over their mouths and hands tied behind their backs. They're laying on pillows and sheets in the back of a white cargo van. The kids are looking straight at the camera.

A boy and girl were in the back of a white van, bound and gagged with duct tape. It’s believed the girl is Tara due to their physical similarities.

The boy was briefly thought to be Michael Henley, a missing child also from New Mexico.

Sadly, Henley’s body was later found a couple miles away in the woods where he disappeared. His death was attributed to dehydration.

Internet sleuths have pointed out that the girl and Tara could not be one and the same. They’ve explained how their facial characteristics differed: flat eyebrows vs arched eyebrows, nasions at different levels, etc. Plus the girl looked 15-16, as opposed to 19 (Tara’s age when she vanished). If that isn’t enough, investigators at Valencia County Sheriff’s Office have said they don’t consider the photo authentic.

So we know these two rascals couldn’t be Calico or Henley. They were just two unidentified kidnapping victims in the back of a rickety old van. Their tired, traumatized eyes could only stare back at their captor, callously wielding a Polaroid camera!

Hey, let’s pump the brakes here for a second. I shouldn’t make light of a situation like this. A situation involving a kidnapping, no less. But I wouldn’t be making light of it…if the photo wasn’t a JOKE.

A gamer wearing an army-green shirt that says "Dream Chase" across it. He has a crew-cut and is shrugging to the camera.
Photo by Robert Nagy on

An initial glimpse of the infamous photo may show two kids in captivity, likely being trafficked. If you thought that, I don’t blame you. That’s why I challenge you to study the photo again. And I mean, really study it.

Sun Exposure

First, do kidnapping victims have tanned skin, as both their faces and the girl’s legs show? Kidnapping victims are forced to stay indoors to prevent others from seeing and reporting them to the authorities.

A photograph showing two kids with duct tape over their mouths and hands tied behind their backs. They're laying on pillows and sheets in the back of a white cargo van. The kids are looking straight at the camera.
Tan lines?

Captive/missing children generally look pale and sickly as a result of this. The kids in the photo look anything but. In fact, they seem pretty healthy and the girl even has some muscle definition.

Gags and Bounds

Duct Tape Gags

Apart from their bound arms and defeated eyes, their tape-concealed mouths elicited a collective gasp in 1989.

It gave the Calico family a respite from their grief. It gave them (false) hope that Tara was still alive, albeit in less-than-ideal circumstances.

However, upon further inspection, you’ll find the tape and bounds are a red herring.

Despite the common movie cliche, putting duct tape over someone’s mouth is NOT an effective way of keeping them silent. The tape will gradually lose its adhesiveness when exposed to sweat and skin warmth.

Plus, all you’d have to do is (literally) open your mouth. No, really. Expand your jaw and the tape will give way. Guaranteed.

If this was a legimitate kidnapping with two kids gagged, why didn’t they just do that? Open their mouths?


Both kids have their hands tied behind their back with unseen rope … or do they?

A closer examination shows the girl’s shoulders are too relaxed and her elbow is jutting out in a comfortable position.

A closeup of the photo believed to be of Tara Calico inside a white van.
Look at her shoulders…

If your hands are forcibly tied behind you, your shoulders will probably tighten. You may say, “But Tara grew accustomed to the stress over a period of several months. She became resigned to her plight!”

Okay, that’s fair. Except for the objects near her that are meant for holding with your hands.

On the girl’s right is a paperback novel, My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews. The book enjoyed popularity in the 1980s among teenage girls. It’s reasonable to assume the book belongs to the girl, considering it’s within arm’s length.

A closeup of the Tara Calico van photo. There's a red arrow showing the book, My Sweet Audrina, on her right side.

Under her legs is a used drinking cup. Why would the girl have these objects nearby if she couldn’t grab them to begin with? And why have a drinking cup if you can’t drink it through a gag of duct tape?

The girl in the photo was not Tara Calico. The boy wasn’t Michael Henley, either. And the two kids were not kidnapping victims. If they were, why hasn’t the FBI identified them through their missing children database after thirty years?

It begs the question: Who the hell were they?

Well, being that I style myself a storyteller, I figure my tale-spinning abilities can come in handy. It’s time to solve this mystery, guys. Once and for all.

Sit ’round the ole campfire, y’all. Strum the guitar gently. I got a story for all of youse …

The (Real) Story Behind the Photo

It was June 1989.

In the quaint little town of Port St. Joe, Florida, a family of three was on its way to Panama City for vacation: Clara, the headstrong, bookish daughter. Mitch, the energetic, annoying son. And their wisecracking practical joker of a Dad.

The trio was traveling in the woods inside their Toyota white cargo van.

A photo of a 1980s white Toyota cargo van inside a garage.

Their trip from Jacksonville to Panama City Beach was getting a brief delay after Clara and Mitch were causing a ruckus in the back. The rascals needed to stretch and breathe in some clean air, and they needed it bad.

Like two caged animals, the siblings were grunting in frustration. Roaring for a release from their humid confines.

“All right!” The dad cried, like an agitated zookeeper, “We’ll stop right here, right now! Good lord!”

And so the van chugged to a halt, inside the forest near the Florida coastline. Clara slid the door open to her right and hopped off, stretching her long tanned legs. Mitch jumped out like a rabid toad and ran across the clearing, pretending to be a fighter jet over Grenada.

A photo of a forest with tall pine trees. The sun is shining through the middle.

Dad went up to Clara, and started signing in what resembled hand gestures.

“You two are such rascals,” Dad said, “I oughta hogtie the two of youse to keep ya settled!”

Unbeknownst to first-time observers, Clara and her family are Deaf. They communicate via sign language. Clara and Mitch go to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, a mere hour away from their home in Jacksonville.

Today, Clara was wearing a grey t-shirt with ASL fingerspelling emblazoned across the fabric. The shirt, a fashion staple in the Deaf community, was won in a Homecoming shirt raffle over a year ago.

A closeup of the Tara Calico van photo. It's a closeup of the girl's gray t-shirt. It appears to have sign language fingerspelling across it.

Dad went to the back of the van and opened the rear doors. He pulled out a Polaroid camera from one of the black duffel bags behind Clara’s pillow and sheets.

He also brought out a roll of duct tape, its black glimmering layer dulled under the forest’s evergreen shade.

“You know, this gives me an idea,” Dad said. “What better way to remember this moment than a picture? Remember the moment I had to tie up you two vandals?”

He grinned beneath his thick brown mustache.

Clara stared at her father blankly. She rolled her eyes, “Dad, that’s just stupid. You can count me out.”

Dad signalled for Mitch, near the shady glen and now sufficiently stretched with spent energy. “Hey, Mitch! I want to take a photo of the time I had to lasso you and your sister! What do ya say?!”

Mitch, being the hyper, agreeable son, couldn’t say no to his Dad. No, sir.

Clara had already re-entered the van, reading My Sweet Audrina, a popular psychological horror novel for young women at the time. So twisted and macabre, Clara thought. She propped her feet up comfortably on the back of the passenger’s seat.

Mitch leaped over her legs and landed on the pillow beside her.

“Ow!” Clara cried, “You almost landed on my knees, you freak!”

Mitch stretched out a piece of duct tape and firmly planted it against his lips. He eagerly handed the roll to his sister.

“Dad said we have to,” Mitch said through signs.

Clara turned to see her Dad on her right side, excitedly holding a Polaroid box camera. His eyes beckoned her fun-loving cooperation.

A hand holding a black polaroid camera in front of a yellow background.

“Fine,” Clara groaned. She grabbed the tape roll and tore off a strip. She pressed it against her annoyed, subdued mouth and put the book down to her side. Placing her hands behind her back, Clara looked straight at the camera’s light bulb eye.

Mitch followed suit.


The Polaroid’s flash was momentarily blinding.

It’s bad enough that we’re deaf, Clara thought. Now we gotta be blind, too?

The camera’s line-shaped mouth rolled out a square-shaped photograph, obscured by a brown blur which quickly abated. Dad laughed in glee.

A photograph showing two kids with duct tape over their mouths and hands tied behind their backs. They're laying on pillows and sheets in the back of a white cargo van. The kids are looking straight at the camera.

“I can see the caption when this goes into the vacation photo album!” he said, “Something like … ‘Got the Two Rascals Rounded Up!’ It’s perfect!”

Dad handed the photo to Clara, “Put it with all the other photos so we don’t lose it, okay?” Clara gave him the sign for “okay” in response.

“So we’re almost at Port St. Joe,” Dad said. “I’ll go to the first gas station I find. Do you kids want anything when we get there? Bathroom, maybe?”

Clara and Mitch shook their heads, “We’re good.”

Dad went back up front to the driver’s seat and the trio took off, on their way to Panama City to enjoy the salty breeze and sandy splendor.

All the trio had was each other. Their wife and mother passed on from cancer over a year ago. And all they had was each other…

A beach with the sand on the left side and the sea on the right side. Above the sea is an orange sunset.

The hearing world was like the populace of a different country living on their turf. They lived across their street in Jacksonville and next-door, too. They were everywhere. The hearing world couldn’t possibly understand the goofy things they did as a family. No, no.

If there was some nationwide controversy involving these three, they’d be better off hiding underground, and not caring to explain themselves or offer their version of events. No, no.

What would people think of us? What would they think of all us Deaf folks?

Sometimes it’s best to just stay quiet … and enjoy life.

Yes, sir.

The End

I hope you enjoyed the story, folks. Hit “Like” on this post and follow ToomStone through email! Take care!

34 thoughts on “Tara Calico: The REAL Story Behind the Photo

  1. do you think its fun you fucker.wht will youu tell when this happens with your children or dont write these kind of stupid things…may not someone curse you because of this….


    1. You should be ashamed of yourself, you pig. Let’s just say perhaps you are accurate… Why the fuck would you do this to her family? PS, leave the real reporting to the police, inspector Jackwagon Gadget.


    2. Oh by the way you sick fuck that wrote this, come forward with your IP, I will happily come forward with mine because unlike you, I believe in what I say, you predator. I challenge your fucked up Royal Heinous to reveal him or herself!!!


      1. I wrote this speculative fiction piece because I wanted to provide a possible explanation for the photo. I also believe we should dispel any false notion that the girl was Tara. We owe that to ourselves. And speaking of the police, the lead investigator of the case admitted the photo doesn’t show a kidnapping.

        Now, I’m planning on overhauling my website and deleting the blog (and this article). I’m sure this is a tremendous weight off your shoulders, Asmin.

        By the way, what would my IP do for you? My name is literally in the site address. My photo is all over the place. My name and face are right in front of you.

        Next time you want to be an internet tough guy, try not to act like an idiot first.


  2. For you to come up with such a casual story that MAKES NO SENSE is such a mockery of this awful tragedy. The poor families that actually believe this is their daughter and that was their son will most likely stumble upon your link since I’m sure they spend every waking moment trying to find ANYTHING that will give them just even a little clue as to what happened to their children and for them to read your asinine story and perspective is just cruel. I really feel that out of respect you should be a decent human being and take that story down.


    1. It makes sense to me. I’m a deaf man myself and understand Deaf culture pretty well. It might explain why these people haven’t come forward. I offered a story because the evidence strongly suggests the photo isn’t of a kidnapping AND the girl isn’t Tara (as I explained thoroughly in this piece). Even the lead investigator went on record saying it has no relevance to the case.

      But the black clouds are parting over your head today, Victoria! Because after an overhaul of my website, this article will no longer poison the internet with its foul, speculative fiction! Good job! And always remember to fight the good fight! 😀


  3. This is really pretty ignorant….how do you know anything about this? You don’t. Kidnappers, murderers, etc. like to show off their victims, and this is a pretty effective way to do that. Yeah, duct tape might not be a super permanent solution, but it’s scary, and that’s what they want. I’d be willing to bet that the perpetrator left that photo behind on purpose. You can’t define someone for sure through a polaroid, meaning you can’t say who they aren’t either.
    Take this down. It’s shitty. Let the families grieve in peace.


    1. If the evidence strongly points to the photo being a joke (as I explained in this piece), then the families deserve to be free from false hope. But I’m sure your life got a lot brighter today because the story will soon be deleted. I’m overhauling my website and terminating my blog. Have a good one.


  4. What a dumb fucking story- and the fact that you’re labeling this as the “true” story is fucking bullshit! If you’re here spinning some ridiculous make-believe then at least have the courtesy to label it as such. This dribble is dumb as hell, poorly written, and more annoying than the internet’s worst clickbait.


    1. To be fair, I said it was a story right before the story section. There’s no “true” story because no one knows what happened. This was speculative fiction which offered a possible explanation for the photo. If you pay attention to the visual details, it’s clear this isn’t a kidnapping. I wrote this because I enjoy writing in my spare time and offering possible answers to questions.

      I’m restructuring my website and will toss this blog (and article) by the end of the month. Have a nice life, Irtitated.


  5. You look exactly how I thought you would! You are a fucking idiot and I hope you get attacked by a random brown bear tomorrow and survive. I hope your parents feel the pain you’ve, without a doubt, caused anyone that ever even heard of these babies and their “possible” last photo.

    You are a disgrace to journalists, writers, free-lance artists everywhere.

    You have zero facts. You use google but for conspiracy theories.

    You assume more than anyone should.
    And you are stealing oxygen!

    Hope you are as terrified as all of the lost/stolen/murdered children out there and someone videos and photos your last living breathing moments….and then laughs and says…..

    HOLD UP.


    Nope. Hooefully he is hiding out for the rest of his life.


    1. Wow. I hope you got that out of your system, Emily.

      This was speculative fiction. I offered an explanation for the photo, because even the lead investigator admitted it’s not relevant to the case.

      Anyway, I’m restructuring my website and this post will go down in the next week or so. I hope you find peace.


  6. There’s multiple situations in which minors can be abducted and for a variety of “purposes” so assuming that because they don’t match one standard of trafficking means they weren’t abducted is extremely short sighted. And even then, the whole tan line things doesn’t mean jack if they were just abducted. The physical signs for the type of trafficking you’re referring to, where they’re literally kept out of daylight, doesn’t happen immediately. It takes time for natural and environmental complexion to fade, for the long term effects of vitamin D deficiency, where they would’ve had to have been captive for a while. Sadly, there’s multiple types of monsters who will take others, for multiple purposes, and they have vast and varied MO’s and honestly, those “tan lines” look like odd lighting from the photo more than anything.
    I’m also curious how much you’ve been around children because being physically able to do something doesn’t mean you will if an adult said not to, especially if said is in an inherent position of power over you or is actively threatening you with harm. That they may hypothetically have been able to open their mouth through the tape or have had access to a cup or book doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means. We don’t know what’s already happened to them, when the picture was taken or in their lifetime, where they are and if there’s any safety in sight, what condition they were in if they’ve had food and water limited until this point, if they’ve even been drugged. Sometimes people keep trash like old plastic cups in their car, doesn’t mean everyone in the car has just been well hydrated and fed. And that you think that is a comfortable position for her to be in in the photo is beyond me. She looks like she’s being as brave with her expression and body language as she can be given the circumstances.
    I agree it’s extremely unlikely that these are Tara and Michael, for the physical differences alone, but they are both someones yet to be identified. Unless some people want to come forward with their junk photoshoot and something about being Deaf means they didn’t realize their lost polaroid was circulating around the internet (Do you actually have proof that that’s ASL on the T-shirt?) then there’s little reason to assume it’s a hoax. And if it is, either give those kids an Oscar or investigate the parent who took this picture because that is a level of fear and apprehension that very few, especially children, have the ability to fake.


    1. It’s not just “extremely unlikely” that it’s Michael, it’s been definitively proven to NOT be him. And the film used in this picture wasn’t even made until nearly a year after Tara’s disappearance so I’m sure her tan would have had plenty of time to fade.


  7. It is funny how nobody even wants to consider that the photo could have been a joke. Kids take joke photos all the time: pretending to punch each other, pretending to be dead, pretending to be kidnapped, etc. The “tan lines” aspect doesn’t hold water, but the fact that she’s got a book implies that she’s been reading it. It’s not impossible that it was a gag photo (no pun intended) and that Tara’s parents, in their desperation for a lead, convinced themselves that it was their daughter.


  8. You should be ashamed of yourself for ever writing this. The fact it is still up despite your many comments to the contrary just show you are an unfeeling and callous person. Truly pathetic and I hope no one personally involved in these respective cases has the opportunity to read it. Just absolutely sad.


    1. Frankly not only is the piece itself abhorrent but the fact that even after all these years and the backlash against you, you are still using this piece to generate clicks from peoples’ desire for peace and closure. As a journalist, if you can even be called that, you are truly scraping the bottom of the barrel. Ultimately?

      Fuck you.


  9. Wow, a lot of vitriol coming your way. These people need to take their meds.

    It’s obviously not Tara. It was found almost a year later, over a 1000 miles away from where she vanished. Has a passing resemblance AT BEST. Her relatives clung to the idea it was her out of desperation, like a lot of families of missing persons do. The same way Michael Henley’s family though the boy in the photo was their son, only to be proved wrong.

    It appears to be an immature prank. Something the pranksters probably didn’t fancy explaining to the police. That’s why they’ve kept schtum all these years.


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