DNA testing has confirmed the identity of a Texas woman who was abducted more than half a century ago before being reunited with her family last year.
The Fort Worth Police Department says testing verified the identity of Melissa Highsmith, who was kidnapped by her babysitter 51 years ago when she was just 22 months old.
Last week’s confirmation comes months after Melissa was reunited with her biological parents and siblings — who were able to locate her through a 23andMe DNA test.
While the statue of limitations on possible criminal charges against the sitter has long expired, police are still asking the public to help them track down the kidnapper.
Before Melissa’s disappearance in 1971, her birth mother, Alta Apantenco, had separated from her partner, Jeffrie Highsmith, and moved with the baby to Fort Worth.
The then-21-year-old single mother placed an advertisement in the local newspaper for a babysitter to watch Melissa as she began working as a waitress and hired Ruth Johnson.
On Johnson’s first day on the job, she took Melissa out — and never returned.
Here is an old age-progression hand-out showing Melissa Highsmith when she was kidnapped and what she might have then looked like as an adult.. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
Apantenco called the authorities when her daughter wasn’t brought home and had been searching for her through the years. Few potential leads surfaced.
In September 2022, a tipster claimed to have recognized Melissa in Charleston, SC, and the Highsmith family traveled from Texas to Charleston in October to investigate, but the tip turned out to be bogus.
Melissa’s father then decided to take a 23AndMe DNA test, which connected him to Melissa’s own children. A quick Internet search soon brought up her Facebook page, and Jeffrie and Apantenco’s other children reached out and persuaded Melissa to meet them around Thanksgiving.
Melissa reunited with her birth parents for the first time in 51 years this past fall. Courtesy of the family
The family had an emotional reunion around Thanksgiving. Courtesy of the family
“It’s overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world,” Melissa told CBS News of the reunion last year.
Her father said, “I started crying.
“After 51 years, it’s so emotional.”
Melissa says she wants to hold another marriage ceremony with her husband so her father can walk her down the aisle.Facebook / Positive Vibes with John and Melissa
Her mother added to WFAA, “I’m just elated, I can’t describe my feelings.
“I’m so happy to see my daughter that I didn’t think I would ever see again.”
The family learned that Melissa was raised fewer than 20 minutes away and lived in Fort Worth for most of her life.
Melissa, who grew up with the name Melanie Walden, said she had no idea she was kidnapped but “didn’t feel loved as a child,” saying she grew up in an “abusive” household.
Melissa ended up growing up about 20 minutes away from where her parents lived. Courtesy of the family
“I ran away at 15 years old. I went to the streets. I did what I had to do to get by … I worked the streets,” she said.
Melissa said she was unsure at first but was eventually persuaded to take a DNA test by her now-brother, Jeff.
“He said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to be 100% sure?’ He said, ‘I’ll pay for the DNA test,’ and I told him, ‘I’ll take the test,’ but I really didn’t think I was that girl,’” she said.
She said last year that she planned to legally change her name back to Melissa and re-marry her husband so that her father can walk her down the aisle with her whole family in attendance.