Tara was nineteen years old and enjoyed riding bikes with her mother every morning. At least, it went on that way for a while.
At some point, her mother, Patty Doel, became nervous about riding. Patty claimed that she believed that a motorist was stalking her.
She shared her concerns with her daughter, but Tara, on the brink of her twenties, believed that her mother was being paranoid. Patty stopped riding with her daughter and encouraged Tara to carry mace.
Tara, once again, thought her mother was being a little extra about the whole thing and refused to carry the mace.
One day, Tara left for a bike ride and never came home.
The Same Old Routine
Most women are told that whether they run, walk, or bike, they should never maintain the same routine.
The truth is that the world is full of shady people. Murderers. Kidnappers. Human traffickers. Rapists.
If those people are looking for their next victim, they want someone who can make it easy.
Riding a bike along the same route at the same time tells people exactly where you are — which means they know how to find you if they want to make you disappear without a trace. We don’t know if that is what happened here because Tara was never found, but it is strongly believed that this is what led to her disappearance.
Someone saw her routine, then waited for her.
Tara is Missing
When Tara went out for her morning bike ride on September 20th, she did so with a timer in mind. This timer is pretty important because this wasn’t a casual bike ride. Tara routinely covered 36 miles on her usual trail.
She knew that she had plans with her boyfriend and instructed her mother to come to pick her up by lunch if she wasn’t home yet.
Remember, this was the eighties, so it isn’t as if Tara could just shoot her mom a text. When Tara didn’t return, her mother went through with their plan and went to grab her, driving along her usual route.
But, Tara wasn’t there.
Her mother looked and looked, but her daughter was nowhere to be seen.
So, Patty called the police to report Tara missing.
Who Saw Tara?
When police began their search, they talked to people in the local area. A few people had seen Tara along the road, and most of them said that she seemed fine — but, a few witnesses reported something pretty concerning.
Several people saw Tara with a vehicle following closely behind. This was considered a red flag for obvious reasons.
They believed that it was possible that the vehicle might have been following her specifically — and some others expressed concern that she could have been hit.
Obviously, this was cause for concern.
Was it possible that this vehicle had the stalkers that Patty was so worried about while riding?
Police followed Tara’s route looking for clues, but they only found one thing — a Sony Walkman.
The cassette inside implied that it was Tara’s Walkman that they found, and police don’t think that this was an accident. They actually believe that Tara intentionally dropped her belongings to create some sort of trail to alert police that she had been there.
Unfortunately, the Walkman didn’t have a map to tell them where to go.
It just told them that Tara was there — and then she wasn’t.
The bike was never recovered.
A Disturbing Photo
One year would pass without any additional evidence — and then something startling was given to police.
Now, at the time, the person who submitted this evidence had no idea who it pertained to — just that it was very disturbing. The piece of evidence was a Polaroid of a young woman and a young boy bound in a truck with tape over their mouths.
The photo was found in a parking spot of a local store. She said that a windowless van had been parked in that spot, driven by a man in his thirties with a mustache.
Since this was the late 80s and we hadn’t publicly shamed most people out of standalone mustaches yet, this was not a really helpful detail — but police were very concerned about the photo.
They tried to set up a perimeter to find that van, but their efforts proved fruitless. The van was never found.
Police took the photos to the public instead, hoping to identify the two young people in the image. The image was shown on tv, and eventually, word got back to Tara’s family.
Though there were some differences, certain features, like recognizable scars, suggested that it was Tara.
And, there was another clue — or possibly a threat — in the photo.
Next to the young woman was a copy of My Sweet Audrina, a book that touches on both rape and post-traumatic stress disorder through the lens of an isolated young woman. The book happened to be Tara’s favorite book, but, its grim focus is certainly something else to consider.
It is unclear why the photo was taken or what the kidnappers planned to do with it.
What we do know is that police believed the image was fairly new based on the material the Polaroid was printed on, which was a good sign. Different law enforcement groups came to different conclusions regarding whether or not it was Tara, but her mother believed it was her.
But, what about the boy in the photo?
Well, we don’t know who the boy was.
One family believed it was their lost child, but when that child’s body was discovered at a later time, it was decided that this wasn’t the case. To add to the confusion, twenty years later, a detective received more images of the boy in question.
There wasn’t any information — at least none that was made public. It almost seemed like someone was taunting police, reminding them that the case was never solved.
To make matters worse, these weren’t the only photos that surfaced.
There are two other images that police speculated might be Tara, but her family only believes that one is her. The image seemed to show the woman in a similar background and was likely taken a few years after Tara’s disappearance.
Like the original photo, this one was found on the ground.
Were these criminals just really careless, or did they want the images to be found?
The Possible Conclusions
As of today, Tara is still missing.
Given the different images and evidence, police don’t really believe that she is dead, though it seems likely.
A few theories have popped up, with some suggesting that Tara was human trafficked and others saying that someone accidentally struck her on the road and then hid her body.
The second theory is based on the idea that the photos aren’t actually of Tara.
But, disturbingly, that theory was shared by a sheriff who said he knew who did it…then proceeded to not arrest anyone.
For a while, police believed that Tara just ran away — something we know is common with cases like this.
But, what is interesting is that all these years later, police are still working on the case. A few years back, they went to the public again asking for any information about Tara.
Police have hinted that they know more or might be closer to solving her case, but no further details have been released to the public.
For all we know, Tara might still show up.