New Mexico’s Top Unsolved Murders & Missing Persons (Part One)

Today we’re going to dive into New Mexico’s top Unsolved Missing Persons & Unsolved Murders. Eventually, the bad guys get caught, right? Maybe not as the years roll on by. The suspects die from old age, suicide, or miraculously stay out of sight by leading the good life. These cases are still under investigation by law enforcement at the State, Local, or Federal levels. I had plans to make this one article but it would be exceptionally long so it is broken down into multiple articles. If you know something, no matter how small, contact the FBI or law enforcement departments listed below. In this Shop Talk article, we explore:

  • Tara Calico,

The Mysterious Disappearance of Tara Calico

Tara Calico missing since 1988.

No other case in New Mexico has captured the hearts and minds of people when you mention the name of Tara Calico. Everyone knows Tara Calico and her mysterious disappearance. The case has taken so many disappointing twists, turns, and developed tons of leads and false narratives, but they have led nowhere. There are times I wonder if the law enforcement officers involved in the initial investigations, knew who the culprits were. It looked like they were getting fed a bunch of false info from people who knew these suspects. The reasons can be obvious. Some people wanted to genuinely help, others looked to be helping in covering up the suspect’s trails thus helping them keep just a few paces ahead of the law. This raises a red flag on who the suspects are and just how close law enforcement is to solving this case.

On September 20, 1988, 0930, nineteen-year-old Tara Calico goes on her routine morning bike ride on Highway 47 in Belen, NM. Sometimes her mother, Patty Doel, would accompany her on these morning rides. On this particular morning, Doel did not accompany Calico on her morning ritual. Before Calico left her home, she gave instructions to Doel to come to pick her up if she was not back by noon. Calico had plans to meet her boyfriend for tennis that afternoon.

The time strikes 1205. Doel drives down Highway 47 when Calico does not arrive home. She drives along Calico’s usual bike route – twice – and finds no signs of her. Doel, in a panic, contacts the local Sheriffs who go searching for Calico. They find no signs of her either. The only things found are broken pieces of a Walkman cassette player and a Boston cassette tape that belong to her. Other pieces of this Walkman are found later near the remote John F. Kennedy campgrounds, which were approximately fifteen miles from Calico’s home in Belen. Everyone searches for days and weeks, but Tara Calico has vanished into thin air.

Basic Map of Tara Calico's Route and Evidence Trail.
Basic map showing the route and evidence trail of Tara Calico

The only other facts that can be added into the mix were the few witnesses available. No one had witnessed Tara’s abduction – if that is what occurred – or saw anything out of the ordinary that morning. Only one witness claimed to have seen Tara Calico riding her bike. This witness said he had seen a light-colored truck with a homemade camper shell following close behind her. The truck is said to be a 1953 to 1956 Ford. If the FBI image sketch shown below is correct, it would be a 1955 Ford. The popular ’55 Fords had the bent V upper grill bar denoting the V8 motor. Tara Calico was riding her bike and wearing earphones the witness stated. Officials speculate she didn’t know the truck was following behind her.

Updated photo and sketch of suspect's 1955 Ford truck that followed Tara Calico.
Description of the light-colored Ford truck (1955) that followed Tara Calico (Photo courtesy of FBI (sketch) and World Wide Vintage Autos (Fair Use – Camper Shell added onto the image))

Days turn to weeks and weeks to months, and no further information could be found. Essentially, the investigation grinds to a halt with…surprise, no new developments. Things get a little strange some months later when a polaroid photograph is found in a Florida gas station parking lot. The FBI, Scotland Yard, and anyone with an expert opinion analyzed and reanalyzed the photograph and came up with mixed reactions. Some said it was Calico, others were coming up as inconclusive. The photograph has been analyzed so many times over the years, but with the advancement of technology, it was ultimately said not to be Tara Calico. Though the mystery as to the identification of the young woman and the boy in the polaroid remains.

Polaroid found in 1989 in Florida.  The image is thought to be of Tara Calico.
Polaroid found in Florida in 1989

Other photographs and some videos have surfaced over the years, most of the sexual bondage-themed variety. People believe they are of Calico. Some people hold the belief that she was kidnapped and flushed into the human trafficking sewer line. Even though this is a regular event that happens with some women, there is no conclusive evidence this was what happened to Calico. Investigators concluded these photos appeared staged or the women were not of her.

You would think that with the case gathering national interest on television shows like Oprah Winfrey, Current Affairs, and Unsolved Mysteries, something would have come to light in terms of new information. The opposite was the case. All it produced was a deafening roar of silence that has echoed across several decades.

Years have come and gone now. The sad reality is that there are people out there at this moment in time who know exactly what happened to Tara Calico. Some of the suspects could be dead by now, but surely they had to have bragged about it to someone. Those people will not come forward to admit, confess, or at the least explain what happened. Since three decades plus have come and gone, it is an easy assumption to conclude that Calico was murdered. The bigger question is where are Tara Calico’s remains?

Another twist in the case rolled around in 2013. A man by the name of Henry Brown gave police a deathbed confession claiming he knew what had happened to Calico. The twist is he knew who the suspects were and what events had transpired. He claimed Calico was abducted, raped, and dumped into a pond. Her pink Huffy bike was tossed in a junkyard. The name he dropped into the investigator’s lap was Lawrence Romero Junior. He was Brown’s neighbor around the time Calico first disappeared. Romero bragged to him that he and a couple of friends were responsible for the Calico disappearance. Brown even claimed to have seen a blue tarp that Romero said contained the remains of Calico. The twenty-two-page police report can be read here. It has bombshell potential because Romero’s father was the Valencia County Sheriff at the time Calico disappeared.

The thing I note after reading through this twenty-two-page report is that multiple names come floating to the surface. I question their motives as to why they went to law enforcement with these statements. It appears they had ulterior motives. It read like they were trying to gauge how close law enforcement was to solving this case and who they were eye-balling as suspects.

Even if Brown’s admission is truthful, and there are red flags in his statement, there is little that can be done to Romero Junior if he was involved in the Calico mystery. To add another chapter in this saga, it is alleged he committed suicide several years after Calico’s disappearance, but even his death is under suspicious circumstances. Found in the archives of The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper dated July 21 of 1991, there is an article where former Valencia County Sherriff Romero Senior was calling into question his son’s death by suicide. He maintained his son was murdered after a heated argument with another man. Romero Senior passed away May 1, 2017, without any answers to the mysterious death of his son.

An additional note to mention is the hearsay of a confession letter Romero Junior wrote admitting guilt in Calico’s disappearance and murder. He allegedly wrote a full confession before extinguishing his own life. This letter, if it even existed, mysteriously disappeared soon after his death.

Newspaper clipping from the Santa Fe New Mexican dated July 21, 1991. Former Valencia County Sheriff Lawrence Romero Sr. questioning his sons death.
The Santa Fe New Mexican dated July 21, 1991

As the years roll by, the people involved in the Tara Calico disappearance are passing away, retiring, or moving out of state.

Patty Doel, 64, passed away May 11, 2006, from complications from a series of strokes in Port Charlotte, Fla. She and her husband John Doel had moved away from Belen, New Mexico several years prior. Even though they were looking for a fresh beginning in life, the shadows of her daughter were ever-present until the very end.

Conclusion: I believe Tara may have known her assailants. Belen was a small town back in 1988 and everybody knew everyone. Even though it has grown over the years, the small-town attitude remains and people still know just about everyone including all the dirty laundry in their personal lives.

I suspect there were two, possibly three men involved in the initial attack. The suspects live or lived in the Belen/Los Lunas area. It is possible they moved away from the area soon after the crime. I believe there was criminal intent when they spotted Calico riding her bike. After the culprits were done, these same culprits murdered Tara Calico to keep it quiet. I believe relatives and close friends of these suspects could be involved. They helped hide her body and the pink Huffy bike together out on one of the suspect’s properties. Despite all the massive searches done over the years, nothing new has come to light. Many people still believe she is buried in a remote area outside Belen, NM.

I believe there is no evidence that there was a massive cover-up by law enforcement early into the Calico investigation. The case was too high-profile from the very beginning and any cover-up would have been discovered early on. There may have been a few missteps, but I’m tossing out the cover-up theory.

Despite all the false leads and rabbit trails, I believe that the case will eventually be solved. I feel they are close given all the reports. A new team of determined investigators within the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, have opened up the case. There is a sealed outstanding warrant issued for an unknown person as of 2021.

If you have any information, the family and friends of Tara Calico would appreciate it. Someone out there may know a small detail that could lead to bigger things. The family deserves some closure on the matter. Click on the images below for your information.

FBI Link
Valencia County Sherriff’s Office

The Wells Fargo Armored Highway 6 Murder

Highway 6 in New Mexico.
Highway 6

Hidden within the mists of time, there is that one unsolved murder that gets lost in the hustle of everyday life. Every town, road, and city has those deep-rooted dark secrets, and NM Highway 6 is not exempt. I have traveled NM Highway 6 more times than I care to count over the last few decades. I am reminded of a single murder/robbery mystery that is yet to be solved every time I drive that road. It is incredible to note the number of housing subdivisions and large business complexes that are springing up along the highway. Back in 1994 though, it was a vast, open, and desolate landscape where it was easy to commit a crime and get away with it.

From a personal standpoint, I remember this one all too well. I began my employment as a driver/messenger guard for Wells Fargo Armored shortly after the following incident occurred. Everyone had their own opinions on the robbery/murder that had just occurred, and everyone eyed their fellow co-workers with suspicion. There was always that sense of looming threat from everywhere it seemed.

To begin this story, Wells Fargo had this bad habit of using rental vans and sedans to haul money around. It was standard protocol to rent these vehicles if any of the armored trucks in the fleet broke down. The standard armored truck had bullet-resistant windows, gun ports, iron plating, and storage bins and racks to keep the money from flying around during transit. The rental vans and cars lacked all of these protective measures.

Standard Wells Fargo Armored Ford Econoline van.
A standard Wells Fargo Armored transit van. Note gun ports and bullet-resistant glass.
Standard Ford cargo van
A standard Ford van similar to the Budget Rental. These had no protection measures or upgrades.

On August 25th, 1994, it started as a routine morning. Twenty-eight-year-old Jeff Oelcher was driving the rental van. Fifty-year-old Chuck Mills was the messenger guard riding in the passenger seat. They made the rounds in Los Lunas before heading out on New Mexico Highway 6. The van was carrying an estimated one hundred grand in cash, coin, and receipts.

They were making the routine run to Grants, New Mexico some eighty miles away to make additional cash drops and pickups for businesses and banks located there. Highway 6 is a thirty-four-mile long lonely stretch of road running northwest from Los Lunas I-25 exit 203 to exit 126 on I-40.

Map of New Mexico Highway 6 in red
NM Highway 6 in red (Photo courtesy of Google Map)

Just past 1030 am, near the halfway point to I-40, they approached a pickup truck with a camper shell parked on the side of the road. The back camper door was in the raised position facing the oncoming van. A barrage of gunfire broke out from inside the camper. A single bullet penetrated the rental van windshield and fatally struck Oelcher. Oelcher managed to hit the brakes and slid to a stop before perishing. Mills engaged the two suspects with his company-issued .38 revolver having to reload a couple of times before the two suspects broke contact and fled. Mills, despite being injured from a grazing shot, had thwarted the half-assed robbery attempt.

FBI Photo of crime scene where a botched robbery attempt also murdered Jeff Oelcher.
At the ambush site where Oelcher was shot and murdered. He managed to hit the brakes and slid to a stop before dying. This 1994 photo shows the crime scene investigation in progress. (COURTESY FBI)

By the time the firefight was over, Oelcher was dead. With more than forty shots exchanged, twenty-eight of those hitting the rental van. The two suspects must have realized Mills was not going to go down without a fight. They broke contact and sped away northwest towards I-40. In the aftermath of the shootout, all that was left was an unsolved murder that is forgotten to time.

Why the suspects broke off the robbery attempt is a mystery. The reasons could be numerous. Perhaps they only had a certain amount of ammunition with them and they used everything they had. Maybe the rifle jammed during the brief, intense shootout. Or the suspects, being amateurs, feared that a witness was driving up the highway.

The suspects were driving a dark-colored pickup with a light-colored camper. Word around the campfire at the Wells Fargo house was that the pickup was either a Ford or Chevy, depending on who you talked to. The two male suspects are described as Hispanic or Native American. The shooter was wearing camouflage. It was said the rifle used was a .223. Make, brand, and type are unknown. I suspect the FBI was able to ascertain the kind of rifle via ballistics from recovered bullets and casings. There was also a rumor floating around that there were some 7.62×39 casings (possible AK-47 or SKS rifle) recovered from the scene. This would indicate that suspect number two was doing some trigger-pulling also. No one was sure on that aspect and the FBI wasn’t too giving on the info.

Headlines from the Albuquerque Journal Friday August 26,1994
Albuquerque Journal Friday, August 26, 1994

In the aftermath of the shooting, Wells Fargo was under scrutiny for using the rental van. There was plenty of criticism from the media, employees, and the general public. Wells Fargo suspended the use of renting non-armored vans…at least until the following year when the dust settled a bit.

FBI investigators interviewed all the employees soon after this incident. No new information came to light. There were plenty of grumblings of discontent and a ton of questions. The primary questions that hovered over everyone like a thick black cloud:

  • How did the suspects even know that the van was coming down that road at that point and time?
  • Did they even know it was going to be a rental van? It was strange that the opening shots had killed Oelcher like the suspects knew it was a rental van and not the normal armored one.
  • Did someone within the ranks tell the suspects route details for a cut of the money? Or did someone at Budget rentals tip off the suspects?
  • Did the suspects follow Oelcher and Mills during the days and weeks leading up to the robbery attempt to establish their routine? According to various reports, there was a red sedan that passed Oelcher and Mills several minutes prior to the shootout. Was it possible this was a third suspect?

To add another note to this saga, the employees resorted to carrying personal firearms after the robbery attempt. Who could blame them? They were gunslingers from the era of the old west going up against a modern world filled with AR15s or AK47s. Wells Fargo frowned on this practice of carrying your personal sidearm but turned a blind eye to it. They had no plans to upgrade their weapons or ballistic vest systems. Several years later they merged with Loomis and became Loomis Fargo & Company. Eventually, it faded into history. But the stain of the murder mystery remains.

Conclusions: After the suspects fled the scene, they disappeared onto the nearby Laguna/Acoma Reservation thus evading local and state law enforcement officials who have no jurisdiction over those Sovereign Nations.

The mystery of what kind of pickup truck the suspects were using will probably remain unknown. At least until new information comes to the surface. I believe the two suspects are still alive today. They have managed to skirt the law this far. They are living in plain sight somewhere and that is a disturbing fact. Even if the robbery suspects got away with no money, they did rob Jeff Oelcher of his life.

There were many personal theories on who the suspects were. One co-worker believed the suspects lived around the area or further west toward Grants. The suspects disappeared too quickly which led him to believe they lived around nearby Laguna, Cubero, or Budville.

He believed the suspects used the back roads and avoided the main highways. State of New Mexico police and multiple counties had set up roadblocks all across the area. Only local residents would know these back dirt roads that criss-crossed over reservation lands. He believed the suspects worked at a car lot, salvage yard, mechanic shop, or towing company. The fate of the truck was obvious in his mind. While this is an interesting viewpoint, there is nothing to support this theory.

Satellite view of a junk pit outside Casa Blanca/ Budville.
Satellite view of a junk pit outside Casa Blanca/ Budville where it is apparent they bury scrap tires, junk, and vehicles. Is it possible the suspect’s pickup truck suffered the same fate? (Google Maps)

There are just too many questions that never have enough answers. On the question of was the robbery an inside job? For me, it is debatable. I am leaning toward the fact that it is a possibility that someone, somewhere passed off some info. Whether it was intentional or accidental remains unanswered.

November 17, 2012, KRQE News 13

I don’t like the idea of the tentacles of time covering up a murder mystery. Someone out there knows something, they know a small detail, remember something that one of the suspects said in the weeks or years following the aftermath. I’m sure there is someone out there who remembers the day the two suspects left their homes or job in the truck and returned without it. Maybe those relatives or friends were asking the suspects what happened to their truck? Why did they come home without it? I am positive someone remembers. No one keeps this kind of thing quiet for years without making some kind of admission to someone. If anyone has information, hit the link below.

Valencia County Sherriffs
FBI Link

4 thoughts on “New Mexico’s Top Unsolved Murders & Missing Persons (Part One)

Add yours

  1. Excellent reading. You may want to write something on the west side murders as that remains unsolved.

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