Texas resident Alta Highsmith married early and became a mother at age 22. However, life with her husband did not work out from the very beginning, and the young woman, picking up her newborn daughter Melissa, moved in with a friend. Immediately the issue of money became acute. The friend offered Alta to go to a restaurant as a waitress, a day shift paid 20 dollars. And the desperate mother immediately agreed. But the question remained — what to do with the baby?
It was 1971. Option to find a helper was the only one — to give an ad in the newspaper. The same day she got a call from a woman who introduced herself as Ruth Johnson. The woman had a pleasant, friendly voice and, she said, a lot of experience working with children. She said that she had worked as a nanny for over 10 years, plus she had raised her own children. Ruth promised to pick up the baby herself at 7:30 a.m. and take her to her home.
Alta said that she would be gone by that time, and that a friend would give her daughter to the nanny. She would prepare a bag with diapers, a change of clothes, and formula in advance. So it happened. A pretty, gray-haired woman in sunglasses and a hat picked up Melissa at 7:30 sharp in the morning. She looked like a typical housewife. As the neighbor would later tell the police, the woman did not arouse any suspicions. On the contrary, she was wearing white gloves, which indicated a certain intellectuality of the kidnapper.
Ruth Johnson’s sketch.
Was the single mother reckless? Perhaps, but that’s what everyone did. No one could have imagined that the child might be stolen.
Realizing she had no contact with the kidnapper, Highsmith rushed to the police, but they immediately suspected Alta herself of what had happened. Given the conditions and circumstances of life waitress, it turned out that it was profitable for her to get rid of her daughter. For example, to kill her. However, Highsmith had an ironclad alibi, having spent the entire day in front of a huge number of people in the restaurant.
The police put up posters, checked phone calls, and did door-to-door searches, but nothing came of it. But the bitter incident brought Alta and her ex-husband closer together. The loss of her daughter was a great grief for the couple. A year went by, two, three — the Highsmiths gave birth to a daughter, then another son and a daughter again, but all the while they never stopped searching for their firstborn. The family celebrated Melissa’s birthday every year and prayed for her health.
Over the next five decades, three different women went to the police claiming to be Melissa, but DNA tests ruled them all out. And each time, a mother’s heart was torn.
In a 2006 interview, Jeff confessed:
«I’ve never given up hope. I feel like someone took my daughter and raised her as their own child. Maybe she already has children of her own, and she doesn’t even know her real name.»
Meanwhile, Melissa was living in the same town, but under a different name.
What was the name of the woman who kidnapped Melissa, history will never know. But after a few days, she offered to ransom the girl to the woman for $500. She said it was her relative’s daughter, who didn’t want the child, so she was looking for a foster family. The buyer Sophia Walden already had a son growing up, but she always dreamed of a daughter, so she agreed to the deal. She named her daughter Melanie.
Many years later, Melanie would talk about her family. Her new mother was a woman with great mental problems. She forbade her to play with other children, beat her, abused her, forgot to feed her, and didn’t care where her daughter spent her time.
Tired of domestic violence, Melanie Walden ran away from home at age 15 and never returned. It’s fair to say here that the teenager probably wasn’t a gift either. At 17, she was arrested several times for prostitution, worked at a gas station, then as a janitor. She was married three times and became a mother three times. All of her children were taken from her by the guardianship and placed in foster care, and Melanie herself was deprived of her parental rights. But all the children knew their birth mother and even visited her from time to time.
And meanwhile, in 2006, the real parents of Melissa finally separated, but did not abandon attempts to find their abducted daughter. They even turned to a psychic, who told them that the girl was alive, healthy, started her own family, but had permanent problems with the law. Which in the end turned out to be true. And it is not known whether the Highsmiths were ever able to find their daughter in the end, were it not for modern technology.
Alta’s husband Jeffrey took the 23andMe DNA test, which uploads personal data to a common database and shows users with whom a person has a genetic match. And that one showed that the man has a native granddaughter. Highsmith Sr. found the girl’s account on a genealogy portal and was surprised to find that the granddaughter had two more brothers. It turned out that there were three of his grandchildren living somewhere.
Unbelieving their good fortune, the Highsmiths found everyone. They told them that their birth mother’s name was Melanie. Jeffrey found her social networking page and wrote a letter, but Melanie thought Jeffrey was a fraud. She was sure her real mother was the one she ran away from when she was 15. She replied to the stranger that he shouldn’t joke around and that she would pray for him. Then Jeffrey sent her baby pictures of Melissa and told her that his missing daughter had a large birthmark on her back. The reading stunned Melanie, and she immediately had a DNA test done.
On November 26, 2022, Melissa’s parents reunited with their abducted daughter. Fifty-one years had passed since her disappearance. Melanie sobbed, hugging her father and mother, choking up, telling them that she had long ago become a parent herself, though a failed mother. The father brought the brothers and sisters of his missing daughter to the meeting. Everyone could not hold back tears.
The reunion with her real family was good for Melissa-Melanie. She decided to reclaim her former name and remarry her third husband, only this time it was her real father who led her down the aisle.