The most disturbing Unsolved Mysteries segment I remember watching

It’s strange to me just how the mind and memory work. Both are extremely fallible. As I spent three days scouring my apartment for car keys, it occured to me that my memory of things longterm is often much better than my memory of things in the immediate past. I have no clue what I may have done with my keys, but I can recall names and faces pretty darn well. Even batting averages and the birthplaces of ballplayers (for some reason whenever I think of Nebraska, I think Wade Boggs).

Still, time does have a way of warping memories. I’m not sure if it is in the initial moment of processing information or if weeks, months and years can insert new features or redact old information on any event.

For some reason this morning, which already has escaped my memory, I attempted again to find information on an Unsolved Mysteries episode I watched nearly 20 years ago when I was in the fourth grade that scared the living daylights out of me and in many ways bothered me for many years to come whenever I remembered it.

Because I only remembered a few specific details of the episode I had trouble locating information on it. Had I accurately recalled a few details about the abductions of two kids, I may have not had so much trouble finding information on the case. The search terms I’d entered over the years in the Google search engine were mostly accurate I suppose but certainly didn’t bring me any closer to finding information that was probably pretty readily available online. Finally today, on a whim I found more information than I thought existed on the 1988 disappearance of Tara Calico, a 19-year-old college student from New Mexico and Michael Henley, a 10-year-old boy also from New Mexico.

At the time of the broadcast it was believed by some investigators that a photograph linked Henley’s April 1988 disappearance and Calico’s vanishing, which occurred  five months later.  Because of the circumstances of the cases, Unsolved Mysteries broadcast a story on the missing persons and the discovery of a Polaroid in Port St. Joe, Florida that was believed in the fall of 1989 to possibly be of Calico and Henley bound and gagged, laying next to each other with looks of noticeable fright upon their faces.

It was the photograph that really upset me when I watched the episode as a nine-year-old.  Though the specifics of the case receded from my memory – for some reason I thought the boy had disappeared in Tennessee on the same day as Calico – the image of the two frightened people in the picture stuck in my mind. Today, the picture seemed to look the same as when I first saw it on TV 20 years ago and I was a bit chilled by it.  I recall that for several weeks after I watched the program, I slept directly underneath my bedroom window, so as to be out of sight of anyone who may look in to my room to try and snatch me.

Without getting into too many specifics – for that there is plenty on the Internet – it appears that the photograph doesn’t link the two cases as Henley’s body was found several months after the Unsolved Mysteries broadcast and investigators had determined he had died of exposure after wandering off on a camping trip with his father and uncle in the New Mexico wilderness. The brand of Polaroid film the picture was developed on was not on the market until after he first went missing. Investigations into the photograph have lead to different conclusions on the young woman, with no clear consensus on weather it was Calico.

Sadly, Calico’s mother, who maintained it was indeed her daughter in the photo, passed away three years ago. Last September, on the 20th anniversary of her death, there still was no conclusion and not one arrest made. The Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera, who took over the Calico case years after her disappearance apparently believe he knows who was responsible, but understandably without a body has not been able to make any arrests. W ithout disclosing names, he believes rather than being whisked away in some elaborate kidnapping, Calico, who vanished during a daily bike ride, was killed along State Route 47 by teenagers who may have been trying to harass her and perhaps went too far. Rivera says he believes her body could be buried somewhere in the New Mexico desert not far from her hometown Belen.

Seeing the photo that disturbed me as a kid was still a bit unsettling, but getting the chance to read about it for a while – even the erroneous chatter of people on the Net – was interesting and a little comforting. It turns out that Calico’s younger sister has been able to make a decent life for herself and though her mother passed away with dementia, the woman had and her husband had also tried to get on with their lives, relocating to Florida of all places.

As for the most chilling feature of the case, whether it was fraudulent, or the frightened young lady in the photo was Tara Calico, or the subjects are two other people who were abducted,  it  is a mystery and it’s unlikely anyone  will ever know. That’s sad and disturbing to me as I am sure it is to most people. Certainly there are plenty of cases out there that will never have closure, and attached to them are real people who may never get to see justice carried out.


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