On June 15, 1989, a woman in Port St. Joe, Florida pulled off Route 98 into the parking lot of a Junior Food Store. She found what appeared to be a polaroid photo lying face down on the asphalt. When she picked polaroid and turned it over, the picture she saw was harrowing.
In the photo, a young woman and a younger boy lie on their backs on a rumpled pile of mismatched sheets and pillows. Both look directly at the camera with expressions of tense resignation. Their mouths are covered with duct tape, and their postures suggest that their wrists are bound behind them. The space they occupy is cramped and poorly lit. The only source of light seems to come from behind the photographer. The photo could well have been taken in the back of a windowless van with its side door pulled open.
The woman who discovered the photo immediately notified local police. Roadblocks were hurriedly set up, but they failed to snare the van or the mustached man who had been in its driver’s seat.
In the beginning, the boy was thought to be Michael Henley, but the case took an abrupt and decisive turn in 1990 when remains of Michael Henley were found – police concluded he was not the boy on the Polaroid and no foul play was involved. Michael got lost in the forest and died from prolonged exposure to the outback.
The identity of the young woman it became problematic, missing girls parents were certain it was their child, but the girl in the Polaroid looked younger than a woman of 20, and her face was narrower than the most recent photos of the missing girl. The mark on the girl’s right calf was far from distinct as a scar.
At the time she disappeared, 19-year-old Tara Calico was a sophomore at the Valencia campus of the University of New Mexico, a 15-minute commute from her family’s home in Belen, New Mexico. On the morning of September 20, 1988, Tara set out from home for a bike ride along Highway 47. The plan was to ride south 17 level miles to the railroad crossing and back again. Tara had a tennis date after lunch, so she told her mother to come looking for her if she wasn’t back by noon. She set out on her mother’s pink Huffy mountain bike (her own bike had a flat). She was listening to a Boston cassette on her Sony Walkman.
The missing Tara Calico might be the young woman in a Polaroid photo seemed a long shot at best. The photo was found 1,600 miles away from where Tara was last seen and some nine months later – but there were a few significant parallels. The young woman in the photo had the right hair color and complexion. A discolored patch on the young woman’s right calf corresponded to a scar Tara had received in a car accident. A tattered mass-market paperback lay on the rumpled bedding next to the girl. It was My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews, one of Tara’s favorite authors. The girl’s face looked more drawn and narrow than the most recent photos of Tara – the pictures on all the flyers and posters – but long months had passed, and she might have endured them under austere conditions.
The identities of both children remain unknown. It’s extremely sad and powerful photo, you can sense little boy has that look of extreme fear, but the girl on the left is more relaxed.
Some people suspect the photo is fake. Marilyn Manson had said in his autobiography that when living in Florida in 1989, the same time the polaroid was found, he used to take polaroids of fake murder and torture scenes with his girlfriend, and would leave the pictures on public places.