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?

Man, I dig this person already. 😀

Sadly, Tara vanished during her daily morning ritual.

The remnants of her Walkman were found, smashed on the side of the dusty road in New Mexico.

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

The Walkman pieces, like Tara herself, blew to the wind and its trail quickly 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 picture 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 girl and boy were in the back of a white van, bound and gagged with duct tape. It’s been believed the girl in the photo is Tara due to their physical similarities. The boy was briefly thought to be Michael Henley, a missing child who happened to also be from New Mexico.

Unfortunately, Henley’s body was later found a couple miles away in the woods where he disappeared. The cause of death was attributed to dehydration.

Several sleuths have pointed out that the girl and Tara could not be one and the same since 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.

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!

Wow, 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 Pexels.com

An initial glimpse of the 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 off, do kidnapping victims ever have tan on their skin, as both of their faces and the girl’s legs show?

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.

Kidnapping victims are forced to stay indoors to prevent others from seeing and reporting them to the authorities.

Captive/missing children are generally pale and sickly-looking because of this. The kids in the photo above are anything but.

In fact, they look pretty healthy and the girl even has some muscle definition.

Gags and Bounds

Duct Tape Gags

Apart from their defeated eyes, the tape over their mouths and arms tied behind their backs elicited a collective gasp as it hit the airwaves in 1989.

It gave the Calico family a brief 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 that the tape and bounds are a red herring.

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

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

If this was a legimitate kidnapping with two kids duct tape-gagged, so they wouldn’t scream for help, why didn’t they do just that?

Bounds

Both kids have their hands tied behind their back with an 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 your back, your shoulders will probably tighten. You may say, “but Tara grew accustomed to the stress over a period of several months, and 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 novel 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.

Under her legs is a used plastic drinking cup.

Why would she have these objects nearby if she couldn’t grab them to begin with? Why have a drinking cup if you can’t drink it through a piece of duct tape?

The girl in the photo was not Tara Calico. The boy was not Michael Henley, either.

And the two kids were not kidnapping victims. If they were, why hasn’t the FBI been able to identify them through their missing children database, after 30 years?

It begs the question: Who the hell were they?

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

So, sit around the ole campfire. Strum the guitar gently. I got a story for all of youse…

The (Real) Story Behind the Photo

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 the wisecracking practical joker of a Dad.

They were 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. They needed to stretch and breathe in some clean air and they need it bad.

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

“All right!” The dad cried, like a zookeeper with a sympathetic heart, “We’ll stop right here, right now! Good lord!”

And so the van chugged slowly 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 little 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 cotton 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 silvery layer dulled under the forest’s evergreen shade.

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

He grinned beneath his thick brown mustache.

Clara 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.

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

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

Mitch followed suit.

PUTCCCHHHH!

The Polaroid’s flash was momentarily blinding.

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

The camera’s line-shaped mouth rolled out a square-shaped photograph, obscured by a brown blur that 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 I put this 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.” Clara gave him the sign for “okay.”

“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?”

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.

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

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

The hearing world was like the population of a different country that lived on their turf. They lived across their street in Jacksonville and they lived 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 of us Deaf folks?

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

Yes, sir.

Have a Comment? Let's Discuss!