Melissa Highsmith, kidnapped as as baby in 1971, found alive



On many of his long-abducted sister’s birthdays, Jeff Highsmith held a vigil to remember her.

His family gathered this month in Fort Worth, where Melissa Highsmith had disappeared 51 years ago. They sang “Happy Birthday” and released white balloons as a sign of their continued devotion.

That same day, the family made a stunning discovery: Melissa could be alive – and reachable.

“When we saw her picture — oh my god,” said her sister, Sharon Highsmith.

“It was incredible,” added another sister, Rebecca Del Bosque. “It was like looking at yourself.”

Melissa, 53, last week reunited with her parents and two of her siblings for the first time in more than five decades thanks to a home DNA test, a marriage certificate and the help of an amateur genealogist, the family said in an announcement Sunday : Previously reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

After living most of her life as “Melanie”, Melissa awaits the results of a lab DNA test to confirm her identity. The Fort Worth Police Department said Monday they would provide a public update upon receiving the results, but were “overjoyed” that the family had found the missing member.

The Highsmiths are convinced they’ve found the right person. Besides a DNA kit from 23andMe that linked Melissa’s dad, Jeffrie Highsmith, to one of her kids, there’s all the little things that make it feel right: A mole on Melissa’s back that matches one she had as a baby. had. The way she puts jalapeños on her nachos reflects her siblings’ love of spicy food. The fact that she has a dog named Charlie, just like one of her sisters.

A swirl of questions surrounding Melissa’s disappearance persists. The family doesn’t know if the woman who raised her was the kidnapper or how she became her guardian. The Fort Worth Police Department said that while the statute of limitations on criminal charges has long passed, they would continue the investigation.

Melissa was 21 months old in August 1971, when her newly divorced mother, Alta Apantenco, placed an ad in a newspaper seeking a babysitter. A woman responded and said she could meet Apantenco, a waitress, at the restaurant where she worked. But she never came.

Later, the future nanny called. She had a large backyard and also took care of other children, she told Apantenco. Could she keep an eye on Melissa there?

Desperate for childcare so she could keep her job, Apantenco agreed. While at work, the woman went to her apartment and picked up Melissa from Apantenco’s roommate.

The woman, who according to the housemate wore white gloves, never returned the child.

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The family searched for decades. They did podcast and newspaper interviews to keep Melissa in the spotlight. They commented on a Websleuths discussion forum set up for the case. They rushed to other states when they thought they had an edge.

In September, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received an anonymous tip that someone had been spotted in South Carolina who looked like an aging photograph of Melissa. That instruction also failed. But the near-breakthrough gave the family new impetus, which once again devoted themselves to finding Melissa.

Then, on November 6, Jeffrie Highsmith’s 23andMe results came back. He had matched with a granddaughter he didn’t know he had. Then Del Bosque looked at her account on the genealogy site and saw that the granddaughter shared a last name with two boys who may have been her cousins.

“We realized what that meant it was a sibling match,” Sharon Highsmith said. “Those are the children of a sibling.”

The sisters forwarded the DNA results to Lisa Jo Schiele, an amateur genealogist who used charts showing the amount of shared DNA between different types of relatives to confirm that the three children belonged to one of the woman’s siblings.

“I came in and tried to see if there were any other possibilities besides this being such a close match with Melissa,” Schiele said. “And it didn’t take me long to realize — I mean, I knew right away it wasn’t.”

Schiele made contact with the children’s adoptive father, who remembered the first name Melissa used, as well as her ex-husband’s full name. That was enough information for the sisters to find a marriage certificate, which led them to Melissa’s Facebook page. They messaged her.

Melissa didn’t believe the Highsmiths were her family at first. Then they mentioned the birthmark on Melissa’s back and she agreed to take a DNA test.

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So after more than five decades, Jeffrie Highsmith and Apantenco met their daughter again Saturday during an emotional lab reunion in Fort Worth, the region where Melissa had lived most of her life. After taking the DNA tests they hope will confirm their connection, they went to lunch.

“There’s no doubt in our minds,” Del Bosque said, about Melissa’s identity. “We’re just waiting for the legal confirmation.”

Melissa’s life without her family of origin was not easy. Her sisters said she had a strained relationship with the woman who raised her and left home at the age of 15. When confronted recently, the woman confirmed she knew Melissa was the kidnapping victim, Sharon Highsmith said.

Now Melissa is adjusting to having two parents, four siblings, and countless cousins ​​who were desperate to find her.

“She thought she didn’t have much family, and she just found out that she has a huge family that loves her and is always looking for her,” Del Bosque said.

Despite living most of her life as “Melanie,” Melissa now wants to use her original first name, her sisters said. She wants to spend more time with their mother, with whom she felt an immediate connection.

And she wants to redo her marriage to her current husband, her sisters said, so her father can escort her down the aisle.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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