Albuquerque Journal from Albuquerque, New Mexico on November 3, 1996 · Page 10
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Albuquerque Journal from Albuquerque, New Mexico · Page 10

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Albuquerque, New Mexico
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Sunday, November 3, 1996
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Page 10
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BEST AVAILABIE COPY A 10 Albuquerque Journal Sunday, November 3, 196 , t 4 9 Tara Calico ? neres A Belen couple 's nightmare began eight years ago when their daughter vanished on a bike ride. Balancing hope and heartache, they pray they'll someday find the answer. 'Id wm JPAGE A1 along l&A 47 a cassette tape Tara had been listening to during her bike ride, and then a piece of her tape player, and then, off the road's shoulder in the soft sand, fresh bike tracks that indicated someflue had swerved suddenly. Then nothing more. Ever. Thoughts "Sincl988, three bodies found out tMre never were identified." PAT OEL Z arger in size than Rhode Z Island, but inhabited by only 45,000 people, Valen- ' cia County has plenty of emptyOand. To the west of Interstate 25 and east from the Rio Grange to the Manzanos stretch mile after mile of vacant plains. "Shallow grave" and "body was dumpgd" are phrases that appear frequently in newspaper crime stories about these plains. Though her body was never found, some believe Debra Lansdell, a 29-year-old njjrse and the subject in 1985 of another well-known missing persons case in Belen, wound up on thai barren mesa. In 1288, the year Tara Calico disappeared, violent crime soared in Valencia County. Shootings, stran-glingsand slashings, typically drug-fiHven, seemed to take place weekjjin the county, so often that therewas a 300-percent increase in homicides from the year before. ThCJiolence and the location wherEflara disappeared led many to believe she lay in a shallow grave out toward the Manzanos. Peopla looked there: crews in helicopter, trackers with bloodhounds, Air Force enlistees, National Guard troops, State Police? Search and Rescue personnel, all manner of townsfolk. Notljing. Many believed Tara's body was Jumped, as one might do with a roll of scrap linoleum on a weekend (JUting to the landfill. Dumped in theriver. Dumped in the bosque. Dumped on the mesa whersiiobody would find it. ButSgain, nothing. ThrDoels have tried not to think aboufshallow graves and dumping grounds, but they can't help it. The mesaihat reaches for the moun-tainsj&egins just a couple of blocks fronrtheir red-trimmed ranch hous "Since 1988, three bodies found out thgre never were identified," Pat Doel says as she stands in her backward and points to the open fragments with two bullet holesere discovered on the mesa that year. Down by the river, lawmen turned up a bone, a femur. Noffiing. Searchers used backhoes to look for Tara. An anonymous tipster called the sheriff's department and said to scoop a field south of BeleC'We've dug there," a deputy argued,. "Dig deeper," the tipster said. NotEing. ThL'$heriff 's department hired a watepvitch. The fellow was put up in Belen motel and paid $150 to pus! a stick along the ground. He cS2cluded Tara was in the river. "We've dragged it," a deputy complained. "Drag it again," the witcher said. , . Nothing. A Special Kfd "You ought to think about carrying Mace out there." PAT DO EL "Doni be silly, Mom" TARA- Fat Doel, 54, and her hus-"band, two years older, met Tat the Sante Fe Railway "-yards in Albuquerque. Divorced with children when they started dating, they've been married 21 years. It's a good partnership, with Pat's attractive intensity balanced by John's easy-going rock-solidness. There's a downhome warmth to the pair. Pat says "durn" a lot and John will utter things like "the snow was ass deep to a tall giraffe." The Doels also share this: When they check their watches these days, they almost always think of Tara, who was everything a parent would want. To John, Tara was like one of his own two daughters. Just before sn i ....v. 3. ,-. . 7 ft I', AWAITING HER RETURN: Though this photo of the Doels In Tara's bedroom was taken five years ago, little In It was, but every year they leave a Christmas present for her on her bed. 7 t r. " a. f L ) "."""3 ' 4 ' '1 I . 1 t THE ASSOCIATED PRESS A CHILLING PICTURE: Pat Doel Is still sure that the young woman In this photo discovered In Florida In 1989 Is her daughter. The youth at right was once thought to be a boy from Grants who also disappeared. she vanished, Tara gifted her stepfather with a Rottweiler puppy. To Pat, Tara was someone very special. Tara was a difficult pregnancy for Pat, already the mother of two boys. Doctors told her not to buy baby stuff, but Pat held on; she wanted a girl more than anything. Because Pat had just finished rereading "Gone With the Wind," the baby became Tara Leigh, after the fictional plantation and the Hollywood actress who played the woman who lived there. She grew up an obedient, thoughtful, smart, kind-to-animals kid. She spoke French, played the violin, was good at tennis. A superb student, she was taking college courses at the University of New Mexico's Valencia campus her senior year at Belen High. Maybe I'll be a psychologist, Tara told friends. She cared: Tara had a close Black friend when Blacks were few in Belen. She worked: Tara sold homemade paperweights door-to-door when she was 5. Later, she bagged groceries, wait-ressed, ran errands for a bank. And she looked after her health: Tall and pretty, Tara went on that bike ride 17 miles down NM 47, 17 back almost every morning f 4 tHaft-Mu in decent weather. A few times, her mother took the ride, too, but after one trip Pat said she felt she had been stalked by a motorist on the road and so didn't go back. "You ought to think about carrying Mace out there," Pat advised Tara. "Don't be silly, Mom," said Tara, who trusted everyone. High-Profile Case "Give me proof that Tara 's gone and then I can have some closure." PAT DOEL There were suspects early, bunches of them. Even John Doel was interrogated. He understood: "They had them a job to do." Tara was last seen about 11:30 a.m., coasting north on 47, maybe half mile from home. Farther south, three guys had been drinking beer and sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck parked close by the highway. But they were drinking the wrong kind of beer, detectives decided. Empty Old Milwau- THE LAST SIGN OF TARA CALICO i Albuquerque LosLunas , Qw) - " II Dma'p " area Belen 5 miles CAROL COOPERRIDER OURNAL kee cans were found near the tracks made by Tara's bike. These guys were Bud men. Deer hunters who had traveled NM 47 were stopped and questioned. Area ranch hands were quizzed and so was a rowdy group staying in what was then the Rio Communities Motel on the highway. One man who said he saw Tara followed down 47 by a white pickup with a camper shell, underwent hypnosis twice. A composite drawing was released. Nothing. Tips arrived and the Sheriff's Department chased them down, though not always to the Doels satisfaction. At least three potential suspects, according to Pat Doel, killed themselves before the law could get to them. Early on, the Doels took that law into their hands, so to speak. By 1991, they had become authorized deputies, licensed to carry handguns. They pursued leads and they used sheriff's department letterhead, with permission. With community support, five months after Tara disappeared the Doels had mailed out 80,000 fliers: to cops from California to the Carolinas, to mounties in Canada, to Interpol, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard. Nothing. "Oprah," "48 Hours," "A Current Affair," "Unsolved Mysteries," "America's Most Wanted" did pieces on Tara through the late '80s and early '90s. "That girl on the bicycle," the nation came to call the case. The publicity generated suspects everywhere: A man in Connecticut, who had tried to snatch a young girl off a bike, was accused, even though he'd been in prison at the time of Tara's disappearance. Anyone with a white pickup and a camper shell became k4 II Last seen Rio Communities V, riding in this area 5 miles 1 r the room has changed. The family members continue to keep the room as i .x-.f... i ..iii ' . - - "l v, JOURNAL RLE PHOTO HUNDREDS LOOKED FOR TARA: For weeks after she disappeared, Tara Calico was the subject of an Intense search Involving hundreds of people In Valencia and Bernalillo counties. a target. Photos popped up that bore remarkable likenesses to Tara. One picture, found in Florida in 1989, was a frightening shot of a young woman gagged and bound in the back of a van. That's definitely Tara, Pat Doel gasped. She's been forced to travel back and forth across the country, Pat announced; she's been brain- N washed. Though the photograph proved inconclusive, it helped the Doels hang on to the notion that Tara was alive. And that surely was better than the alternative. Besides, if Tara were dead, Pat reasoned, why couldn't anyone find her body? Donations by area residents pushed the reward for information to nearly $40,000. Why hadn't an accomplice or an informant piped up? "Give me proof," Pat pleaded. "Give me proof that Tara's gone and then I can have some closure." And why couldn't.anyone find her bicycle? Nothing. Changing Relationships "I know the Doels' pain, 1 really do. At least, I got to bury my child." LAWRENCE ROMERO R. Lawrence Romero Sr. headed the Valencia County Sheriff's Department at the start of the case and he shakes his head now when asked about the investigation. "I don't think I left a stone unturned," says Romero. "In 29 years of law enforcement, I h. , ... . $ ... t i ( ' JOURNAL FILE PHOTO haven't seen anything more frus? trating." .-':' Romero and the Doels had an uneasy relationship in the begin ning, particularly when Tara's parents thought Romero's department hadn't done enough. Pat Doel -' would hound the local law, just as she hounded the FBI and other crime-fighting organizations. Battling manpower problems and , ' . administration changes, the sheriff's office did what it could. A . .: deputy flew to Tupelo, Okla., to check out a runaway teen who lived there and looked a lot like Tara. Another deputy drove to Madrid, N.M., to check out an . , abandoned mineshaft. Detectives telephoned the Doels with theories: that maybe Tara was a courier hired to take drugs to Mexico. That maybe Tara was peddled to a black market in the. Near East. That maybe Tara had been captured and tortured by ; satanic cultists. That maybe Tara had been hit by a drunken driver who then carted her off. That -. maybe Tara took off because she didn't like her mother. Gritting their teeth at that last, theory, the Doels worked harder. Then, three years after Tara K, vanished, everything changed , ,, between the sheriff and the Doel family. One night, as he sat in the kitchen of a mobile home west,of Belen, Romero's only son, t, Lawrence Jr., 21, a former schoolmate of Tara's, fell over dead. The victim of a gunshot to the head, his death was ruled a suicide, though questions remain. "I know the Doels' pain, I really do," says Romero. "At least, I got to bury my child." jri , ir.1 Psychics V To Tipsters l7t "l can understand Mrs. Doel wanting to believe everythingshe hears about Tara, but these 'N 'circus ' elements make my work so much harder." r 7 f t JAY EtCHENBERO Three years ago, the Valeria County District Attorney's Office, knowing of; the sheriff department's lack of resources, began to look' ; over the thick stack of files on Tara Calico. Since then, the case, has been handled primarily -0 through the District Attorney'? Office, by a rangy contract investigator who wears cowboy boot and speaks bluntly. y, Jay Eschenberg has had his ups and downs with the Doels, too.,"I love them dearly," he says, "buj I See PARENTS on PAGE A1 1 J;

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