A Mom Hired A Babysitter Who Took Her Baby & Never Returned — 51 Years Later She's Reunited With Her Daughter

Her parents were overjoyed when a DNA match proved she was their missing daughter.

Melissa Highsmith, Jeffrie Highsmith, Alta Apatenco Facebook

A woman who was kidnapped at 22 months old was reunited with her biological family after 51 years apart.

Melissa Highsmith, 53, was abducted from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, in August 1971, by a woman posing as a babysitter. Melissa’s mother, Alta Apatenco, had placed an ad in the local newspaper, seeking childcare. At the time, Alta was a single mother, working in a restaurant. 

She reported that the kidnapper told her, “‘You know, I really love kids and I've got this huge backyard and the kids love to play out there,’ and I was desperate, I needed a babysitter because I was supporting myself.”


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Melissa Highsmith was reunited with her family in November 2022, after 51 years of separation. 

Melissa’s sister, Sharon Highsmith, stated, “My mom did the best she could with the limited resources she had. She couldn't risk getting fired. So, she trusted the person who said they'd care for her child. For 50 years, my mom has lived with the guilt of losing Melissa. She's also lived with community and nationwide accusations that she hurt or killed her own baby.”

“I'm so glad we have Melissa back,” Sharon continued. “I'm also grateful we have vindication for my mom.”


Melissa was raised under the fake name “Melanie,” by the same woman who kidnapped her. She reported, “I thought she was my real mom but I thought she regretted having me. There was no closeness… no love. She told me all my life I was brain damaged… my mother was emotionally abusive and my stepfather was sexually abusive.”

The criminal statute of limitations expired when Melissa turned 18. Yet she isn’t seeking retribution for her kidnapping, stating “I don't want her to go to jail I just want her to be held accountable and to say, 'I'm sorry.'”

Melissa also reported that although she’s estranged from the woman who raised her, when confronted, the woman admitted to knowing that she was the kidnapped child the police were searching for.


“That just made it real,” she explained. 

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The Highsmith family made a joyous Facebook post on November 27, 2022, exclaiming, “We are beyond thrilled to announce that WE FOUND MELISSA!”

“We followed a 23 & Me family DNA match that led us to her. Our finding Melissa was purely because of DNA, not because of any police [or] FBI involvement, podcast involvement, or even our family’s own private investigations or speculations. DNA WINS THIS SEARCH!” The family announced via a Facebook post.

The Facebook post continued, detailing the Highsmith’s family reunion with their long-lost daughter and sibling. “Mom and Dad met Mel for the first time yesterday after 51 years and did further official and legal DNA testing, although in the moment we saw her pictures, found out about her birthmark, and realized her ‘birthday’ is so close to our Melissa, WE KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was OUR GIRL.”


The family offered their gratitude to “our genealogist enthusiast and advocate, Lisa Jo Schiele, for her guidance in helping us understand the DNA results and for leading us down the path that brought us to discovering our very own Melissa Suzanne Highsmith, who has been living in Fort Worth for most of her life!”

“The joy is palpable amongst all family members, and we invite you to celebrate and rejoice with us,” the Facebook post ended. As for Melissa, she reported that “I am still angry but I am going to focus on the happiness that is to come, not the pain that I left.”

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers celebrity gossip, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.