One of US' Oldest Kidnapping Cases Has a Surprise Ending

Melissa Highsmith, abducted as a baby in 1971, meets parents, siblings for first time
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2022 9:10 AM CST

Last month, Jeff Highsmith vowed to not give up looking for his sister, Melissa Highsmith, who was kidnapped as a baby in Fort Worth, Texas, more than 50 years ago. "I have to try," he said of his recently ramped-up efforts to find his older sibling, spurred by a tip that possibly traced Melissa Highsmith to a South Carolina island. His persistence paid off in what WFAA deems one of the oldest missing-persons cases in the US, as an online message over the weekend revealed. "God answered my prayers," he posted Sunday on the newly renamed "We Found Melissa!!!" Facebook page, which also showed his long-lost sister reuniting with her parents, mom Atla Apantencl and dad Jeffrie Highsmith, and other relatives.

Melissa, who'd been living by the name Melanie Walden, was abducted in August 1971, when she was just under 2 years old, after a newly separated Apantencl had placed an ad in the paper seeking a babysitter so she could work her waitressing shifts, per 9News. The woman Apantencl hired picked the baby up from Apantencl's roommate while Apantencl was at work and vanished with her. The Highsmith family never stopped looking for Melissa, following various leads over the decades that always came up as dead ends. Then, in September, a tip came in from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that said Melissa had possibly been located on Daniel Island in South Carolina, a tip that turned out to be yet another dead end, per CBS News.

But the search made headlines, and a DNA test from 23andMe around the same time linked Melissa's own children to her birth family. A birthmark also helped confirm her identity. Melissa, now 53, says she hadn't known she was kidnapped, but that when she asked the woman who'd raised her, "Is there anything you need to tell me?," the person, who hasn't yet been identified, acknowledged that Melissa, who'd spent most of her life in the Fort Worth area, was indeed the missing toddler. "The joy is palpable," the family's Facebook post reads at finding Melissa, who reunited with her brother and parents on Thanksgiving. Apantencl calls it the best day of her life, while Jeff Highsmith says it was a "dream come true." "I'm just really, really happy," Melissa says, adding that she plans on changing back to her birth name. So far, there's been no additional info on her kidnapper. (Read more missing baby stories.)

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