Family Is Still Searching for Girl Kidnapped in 1971

They're investigating a new tip about Melissa Highsmith, who would now be 52
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 25, 2022 6:28 PM CDT
Family Is Still Searching for Girl Kidnapped in 1971
An age-progressed image of Melissa Highsmith, who would now be 52.   (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children)

Melissa Highsmith was 21 months old when she was kidnapped in Fort Worth, Texas, more than 50 years ago, but family members have never given up hope of seeing her again—or, for younger brother Jeff Highsmith, meeting her for the first time. Jeff Highsmith and his father have traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, after receiving a tip that Melissa, who would now be 52 years old, could be living in the Daniel Island area, Fox reports. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says Melissa was kidnapped on August 23, 1971, by a woman who answered a newspaper ad for a babysitter. The tipster is believed to have seen an age-progressed photo of Melissa, who has a birthmark on her upper back.

On a GoFundMe page, Jeff Highsmith said the NCMEC received the anonymous tip last month and traced it "back to an IP address to a federal building in Charleston." He said a retired homicide detective at the center told him he "believed that the person that left the anonymous tip was a person of interest that actually knew more than they were letting on." Jeff, 42, has three other older sisters, who were all born after Melissa was kidnapped. Jeff and his wife, Rachel, have stepped up the search in recent years, hiring a private investigator and raising funds for the search.

Volunteers helped the Highsmiths hand out flyers and go door-to-door on Daniel Island this week. "We’re getting a group together to pray that she’s finally returned to her family reunited and that her parents, who are now in her 70s, can get some peace knowing that she’s safe and sound," volunteer Melissa Engdahl told ABC4. When the tip was first reported earlier this month, Jeff Highsmith told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said there have been numerous tips that went cold over the years, but he's not going to quit the search. "I have to try," he said.

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(Read more missing person stories.)

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