DNA confirms woman kidnapped more than 50 years ago is Melissa Highsmith

·2-min read

Police in Texas have confirmed the identity of a woman through DNA testing who was reunited with her family more than 50 years she was abducted by a babysitter.

Melissa Highsmith vanished from her Fort Worth home in 1971 at the age of 21 months, in what would become the longest-running missing person case in the United States.

In late 2022, Ms Highsmith’s family tracked her down after hiring an amateur genealogist and through the public DNA site 23andMe.

She had been living in the Fort Worth area under the name Melanie Brown unaware of her true identity.

Ms Highsmith was then reunited with her parents and two surviving siblings days before Thanksgiving last year.

On Thursday, the Fort Worth Police Station said in a statement they had completed DNA testing that confirmed Ms Highsmith’s identity.

“It is our hope that this test result will offer additional closure for the Highsmith family,” police said in a release.

“Although the criminal statute of limitations expired 20 years after Melissa’s 18th birthday, the Fort Worth Police Department Major Case Unit continues to ask for the public’s assistance with any additional information concerning Melissa’s abduction that occurred over 51 years ago,” they added.

Melissa Highsmith was kidnapped in 1971 as a toddler by a babysitter and later sold to a family for $500. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Screengrab)
Melissa Highsmith was kidnapped in 1971 as a toddler by a babysitter and later sold to a family for $500. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Screengrab)

Victoria Highsmith, Melissa’s sister, criticised the police department’s efforts to locate her sister in a post on the public “We Found Melissa” Facebook page on Friday.

“Shaking my head shame on you Fort Worth police for not solving my sister’s crime,” Victoria Highsmith wrote.

She said that the police had ignored several leads and the family had done their job for them.

A rally was held in the Texas city last Saturday to demand more resources for the police department’s cold case unit, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

The unit has more than 1,000 unsolved cold cases, and only one officer assigned to investigate them, the news site said.

Last November, Melissa Highsmith’s mother Alta Apantenco told WFAA she was “elated” to have found her daughter.

Ms Apantenco told how she needed a babysitter to look after her daughter and hired a woman named Ruth Johnson over the phone to collect the youngster at the family’s home.

She had left her infant daughter with a roommate to hand over to the babysitter, who was later described as being well-dressed and wearing white gloves.

The babysitter never returned, sparking a 50 year search by the family that only ended after the 23andMe DNA analysis reunited.

Melissa Highsmith told WFAA last year that she had grown up in an abusive home and runaway as a teenager.

The woman who raised her reportedly later confessed that she bought her for $500 on the street in 1972, the news site reported.