DNA confirms woman kidnapped over 50 years ago is Melissa Highsmith

A woman from Texas, who was abducted more than half a century ago, has had her identity confirmed through DNA testing, reuniting her with her family last year.

At a mere 22 months of age, Melissa Highsmith, who was abducted by her caregiver 51 years ago, had her identity confirmed by the Fort Worth Police Department.

Last week, Melissa received confirmation that she was able to locate her biological siblings and parents through a DNA test from 23andMe, after months of being reunited with them.

Police continue to seek assistance from the public in locating the kidnapper, despite the fact that the time limit for potential criminal charges against the babysitter has already elapsed.

Alta Apantenco, Melissa’s biological mother, relocated the infant to Fort Worth following her separation from her partner, Jeffrie Highsmith, prior to her vanishing in 1971.

Ruth Johnson was employed as a caretaker to look after Melissa when the young single mother, who was 21 at the time, started her job as a waitress and published an ad in the nearby newspaper.

On Johnson’s initial day at work, she brought Melissa along — and never came back.

Melissa Highsmith
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

A limited number of possible leads emerged. Apantenco had been diligently searching for her daughter over the years and contacted the authorities when she wasn’t returned.

The tip turned out to be false, but the Highsmith family from Texas traveled to Charleston, SC in October to investigate. Melissa, the tipster, claimed to have recognized Charleston in September 2022.

Melissa convinced her children to gather around and persuaded Jeffrie from Apantenco to join them. She quickly brought up her Facebook page and connected with him, then decided to take a DNA test from 23AndMe to determine their biological relationship.

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Highsmith family
Melissa reunited with her birth parents for the first time in 51 years this past fall.
Courtesy of the family
Melisas and her father
The family had an emotional reunion around Thanksgiving.
Courtesy of the family

Melissa informed CBS News about the gathering that took place last year, expressing, ‘It’s overpowering, yet simultaneously, it’s the most marvelous sensation in the universe.’

Her dad exclaimed, “I began weeping.

“After 51 years, it’s very sentimental.”

Melissa Highsmith
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
Melissa Highsmith as a baby
Highsmith disappeared from her mother’s Fort Worth, Texas home on Aug. 23, 1971, when she was just 21 months old.
Courtesy of the family

Her mother exclaimed to WFAA, “I’m absolutely thrilled, I can’t put into words how happy I am.

“I’m extremely delighted to reunite with my daughter, whom I believed I would never have the chance to 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 in a household characterized by “oppressive” behavior, expressed that she did not experience love as a child. She revealed that she had no knowledge of her abduction, as she was raised under the name Melanie by Walden, as she stated.

Highsmith family
Melissa ended up growing up about 20 minutes away from where her parents lived.
Courtesy of the family

She exclaimed, “I hustled on the streets … To survive, I did whatever was necessary. I resorted to the streets, I fled at the age of 15.”

Melissa mentioned that she initially had doubts but eventually, Jeff, her current brother, managed to convince her to undergo a DNA test.

She exclaimed, “however, I genuinely did not believe that I was that particular woman,'” I informed him, “I will undergo the examination,” and he responded, “I will cover the expenses for the genetic examination,” ‘Don’t you desire to possess absolute certainty?’ He inquired.

Last year, she said that Melissa planned to legally change her name and remarry her father, so she can walk down the aisle with her whole family in attendance.

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