Fort Worth, TX

Parents Reunited With Daughter Who Was Abducted as a Baby 51 Years Ago

Fatim Hemraj
Jeff and Alta with their daughter, MelissaPhoto byThe Vanished Podcast

Jeff and Alta Highsmith lived in Fort Worth, Texas with their baby daughter, Melissa. The couple divorced in 1971. Alta moved into an apartment with her best friend, Carol, and she found a job waitressing at a restaurant. Jeff and Alta shared custody of 21-month-old Melissa.

One summer afternoon, Alta placed an ad in the newspaper looking for a babysitter to watch Melissa while she worked. The 22-year-old immediately received a call from a woman who said her name was Ruth Johnson. Ruth agreed to come by the restaurant for a job interview but she stood Alta up.

The next day, Ruth called Alta and apologized, claiming something had come up. She begged for another chance and told Ruth that she had three children of her own, a big yard with lots of toys, and even a swing set.

Alta thought Ruth was a kind woman and had no reason to doubt her, so she hired her over the phone. Alta asked Ruth to pick Melissa up from her roommate Carol the next morning while she was at work. Tragically, the young mother wouldn’t see her firstborn again for the next 51 years.

Photo byThe Vanished Podcast

On the morning of August 23, 1971, Ruth went to Spanish Gate Apartments where the women lived, and picked Melissa up. Carol later told the authorities that the gray-haired woman was wearing white gloves, sunglasses, and a bonnet despite the blistering summer heat.

Alta was alarmed when Ruth failed to return Melissa to her later that evening. She attempted to contact Ruth several times, to no avail. The panicked mother would ultimately call the police to report her baby daughter missing, only to learn that “Ruth Johnson” never existed.

An investigation determined that Melissa had been taken by either a lonely woman who desperately wanted a child or a man with ill intentions who disguised himself as a woman. Alta pleaded for her daughter’s safe return on the news and several tips came in but none ever led to Melissa.

Despite an intensive investigation, FBI agents were unable to determine who took Melissa, or what happened to her. The case quickly turned cold.

Over the next five decades, three different women went to the police claiming they were Melissa only for DNA tests to rule them all out.

Grieving over the shared loss of their daughter, Alta and Jeff re-married in 1973 and had three more children; two girls and a boy. Eventually, the couple sat them down and told them about the sister they never had a chance to meet. The children, now all adults, continued to search for their long-lost sister well into adulthood via missing flyers and social media.

In a 2006 interview, Jeff stated, “I’ve never really given up hope. I feel like someone took this kid and raised her as their own child. She’s probably got kids of her own, and she doesn’t even know her real name. She’s probably content and happy, thinking the person who raised her is her parent.”

16 years later, Jeff would discover that he was right all along.

In November 2022, Jeff uploaded his DNA on 23andMe as a last-ditch effort to find Melissa, and to his surprise, it worked. After 51 excruciating years of searching, Jeff and Alta were reunited with their firstborn, who was living just 17 minutes away all along with her husband, John, and their children.
Alta and Jeff Highsmith with their long-lost daughter, Melissa/MelaniePhoto byFacebook

Melissa has been living as Melanie Walden. No information has been released regarding her abductor and/or the person who raised her.

After five decades, Melanie found a mother, a father, and three siblings that she never even knew she had. Her story gives hope to many other grieving parents out there who continue to search for their missing children.

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30-something writer who lives in North America with her hubby & two fur babies


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