Genetic Testing Company Locates Woman Abducted Half A Century Ago, Reuniting Her With Family

Published: Oct 02, 2023

These days, we have many different tools to find out information about any individual. Ancestry sites have become extremely popular and important, not only to uncover ancestral history but even to find those who have gone missing.

In August 1971, Melissa Highsmith was only 22 months old when a babysitter kidnapped her from her parent’s apartment in Fort Worth, Texas. For 51 years, they had no idea where she was (until recently) with the help of the genetic testing service 23andMe.

The Day Melissa Went Missing

Working as a waitress, Alta Apantenco (Melissa’s mom), was searching for child care. She put an ad in the local paper that said she was in need of a babysitter. A woman responded and was supposed to meet Alta at a restaurant for an interview, but she didn’t ever show up. It’s alleged that this woman kidnapped Melissa and didn’t come back.


Source: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Apparently, the woman contacted Apantenco later on and said she was still interested in the babysitting job. She even claimed that she had a huge yard and was a caretaker for other children. So, Apantenco hired her and let her pick up Melissa from Apantenco’s roommate while she was working.


It’s A Match

Melissa’s disappearance sparked a search that went on for five decades. Her parents and the rest of her family never gave up searching and even turned to Facebook by creating a “Finding Melissa” page.


Source: Sharon Rose Highsmith/ Facebook

A genealogist recommended that the family look into home DNA testing kits. They tried out Ancestry and 23andMe to try and find their missing daughter. Thankfully, 23andMe churned out an accurate match. Victoria Highsmith, Melissa’s sister, had DNA samples that matched that of Melissa’s children. The parents subsequently supplied their own DNA samples.

The Highsmiths Were Beyond Relieved

After three weeks, the Highsmith family was finally reunited with Melissa after 51 years of not knowing where she had been. Victoria Highsmith shared with NBC Dallas-Fort Worth, “It was like, ‘Boom, boom, boom,’ we found her.”


Source: 4

Victoria was overcome with such relief and emotion. She continued, “I couldn’t stop crying. I was overjoyed and I’m still walking around in a fog trying to comprehend that my sister is right in front of me and that we found her. It’s a Christmas miracle!”

Alta Reflects On That Devastating Time

Alta was only 21 years old at the time Melissa was kidnapped. She said that she went “through a lot of depression” during that period.


Source: WE FOUND MELISSA!!!/ Sharon Rose Highsmith/ Facebook

Melissa revealed to her mom that the woman who raised her never showed her love, which deeply hurt Alta. Melissa also shared that her homelife with her kidnapper was “abusive” and that she ran away at “15 years old.” Her horrific teenage years resulted in her working the streets to get by and make a living.

Sharing The News With The World

On the fateful day of November 27, 2022, the Highsmith family happily shared a post on Facebook about the wonderful reunion with their daughter. The page’s name was since changed to “We Found Melissa” and photos were uploaded showing Melissa and her parents reunited.

Source: WE FOUND MELISSA!!!/ Sharon Rose Highsmith/ Facebook

In the post, the Highsmiths jubilantly rejoiced in seeing their daughter after five decades. The family said, “Our finding Melissa was purely because of DNA, not because of any police/FBI involvement, podcast involvement, or even our family’s own private investigations or speculations.” They continued with: “DNA WINS THIS SEARCH!”


Melissa Was Closer Than Her Parents Thought

It turns out that, according to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth, Melissa grew up thinking that her name was Melanie. She also lived out much of her life in Fort Worth and had no clue that she was kidnapped and that this woman wasn’t even her real mother.

Source: Jeffrie Highsmith/ Facebook

A 23andMe spokesperson shared that the story is unlike anything they’ve ever heard about. The spokesperson said, “There are really no words to describe how incredible this story is. We are so grateful Melissa and her family were able to reunite after such a long period of time, and we wish them all the best in getting to know one another.”


The Family Never Stopped Searching

Determined to find their daughter, the Highsmith family didn’t stop their search for over fifty years. After an anonymous tip, they even flew to Charleston, NC where somebody claimed they saw her. That was, however, a dead end.

Source: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Seeing Melissa’s photos of her as a baby and a noticing very distinct birthmark was the cherry on top for the family. They had no doubt in their minds that they had found their daughter. Melissa revealed, “Once I saw the baby picture, and I put my baby picture against it – it’s like my twin.”


Tying Up Loose Ends

To ensure all bases are covered, the Fort Worth Police Department conducted official DNA testing to verify Melissa’s identity. They also reportedly said they would provide an official update once the verified results came in.

Source: WE FOUND MELISSA!!!/ Facebook

The statement said that because the criminal statute of limitations expired 20 years after Melissa’s 18th birthday, that arrests couldn’t be made. Regardless, investigators on the case continue to look into gathering more information about the kidnapping.


The Future Of Using DNA Testing To Solve Kidnappings

Melissa Highsmith’s journey – and her parents finding her after five decades – is nothing short of a miracle. The duration of the search lasted a half-century, making it the oldest missing person cases in the United States to be solved. And, all the credit is given to the wonders of DNA testing.

Source: Issaro Prakalung/ EyeEm/ Getty Images

Using genetic testing sites like 23andMe can unlock so many possibilities for solving other kidnappings. Melissa’s parents’ hope never faltered and it goes to show how much they believed that they would find her.