Charleston, SC

Possible sighting of Melissa Highsmith, 51 years after she went missing as a baby

Lavinia Thompson

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is reporting that there has been a potential sighting of Melissa Highsmith, who vanished in 1971.

The NCMEC said they received a tip that Highsmith, who would now be 52-years-old, may have been seen in Charleston, South Carolina. People Magazine reports that the tipster said the woman they saw resembled the age-progression photo of Highsmith on the missing poster, and was on Daniels Island.
Melissa Highsmith, left, as a baby, and the age-progression photo.National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

According to a report by ABC news in May 2022, Highsmith’s case is one of the oldest missing persons cases in the country. On August 23, 1971, Highsmith’s mother, Alta, received a response to her local newspaper ad for a babysitter, a woman who went by the name Ruth Johnson, ABC says.

According to the NCMEC’s Facebook post, Alta was 22-years-old, recently separated, and had just moved to Fort Worth, Texas.

Jeff Highsmith, Melissa’s brother born nine years after she vanished, told People that the woman seemed highly interested in watching the child.

“This lady responded to the ad and said that she was really interested, and had a big house, and watched other kids as well, and had a couple of kids of her own,” Jeff said to People.

However, the woman never showed up for a meeting with Alta at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress, then called the restaurant the next day claiming to have been in a car accident and couldn’t make the meeting, yet still expressed interest in watching Melissa, Jeff explained to People.

Alta hired Johnson, who agreed to pick up Melissa from Alta’s apartment building on East Seminary in Fort Worth, ABC says. Since Alta was at work, Alta’s roommate handed Melissa off to the sitter, ABC says.

The roommate explained to Jeff years later that the sitter showed up with an odd choice of outfit, People says.

“It was really odd, because it was the middle of summer, and the babysitter had long white gloves on, they had a scarf around their neck, and a scarf around their head, and was dressed in all white — like a nurse's uniform,” Jeff said to People.

Upon being given to the sitter, Melissa was never seen again, Jeff explained. Johnson never returned Melissa that night, and despite both the police and FBI being involved when the family reported Melissa missing, no leads were found, ABC says.

At the time, ABC adds, police said there was no evidence Melissa had been harmed.

“I feel like I'm stuck with this. I have to find her,” Jeff added in the People interview.

In 2005, Fort Worth police reopened the case at the family’s request, ABC notes.

The family runs a Facebook page called “Help Find Melissa Highsmith”, with the hopes of reaching women over the age of 50 who may be questioning the identity of their biological parents, ABC says. A few women have undergone DNA testing, ABC adds.

Jeff told ABC back in May that his parents are now 71 and 72-years-old, and they have never lost hope of finding Melissa. Alta went on to have Jeff and his three sisters, but the heartbreak and agony of losing her first-born was a loss she carried with her through the years, Jeff explained to ABC.

“It is our goal to reunite our family before they pass on,” Jeff told ABC.

The NCMEC urges anyone with information to call 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

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Long time true crime lover and blogger who has spent years reading and studying criminal psychology. I also write mystery fiction books, and have a diploma in journalism.


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