Melissa Suzanne Highsmith was 21 months old when she went missing from Fort Worth, Texas, but after more than 50 years, she was found alive.
On the evening of Aug. 18, 1971, Melissa’s then-22-year-old mother received a call from a woman who said her name was Ruth Johnson, and she said she was calling about the ad she had placed in the newspaper.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the ad was about a babysitting position. Melissa’s mother needed someone to babysit her daughter while she went to work at a restaurant downtown.
She “seemed real nice… she said she had three kids of her own and a big fenced-in yard with a gym set and swings and everything,” said Melissa’s mother.
“She said Melissa would probably like it over there better.”
After talking over the phone, she arranged to meet Johnson for an interview at her job, but she didn’t show up.
The woman later called her about the position, and she said it “seemed as if she really would like to have the babysitting job,” so she hired her.
Johnson agreed to pick up Melissa around 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 23, 1971, and return her between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. that same day.
When Johnson arrived at the apartment home in the 1300 blocks of East Seminary Drive to pick up Melissa, their roommate answered the door.
Melissa’s mother was at work.
Johnson told her that she was there to “pick up the baby.” That’s when the roommate handed Melissa over to her, “along with a dress, sandals, and some diapers to get through the day,” CHRON reported.
The roommate said the woman “seemed real nice,” and she was dressed to impress, wearing a dress with white gloves.
It was also reported that she told the media that she thought Johnson may have been “a man wearing women’s clothing.”
Melissa’s mother later returned home from work and waited for Johnson and her daughter, but they never showed up, and she didn’t have the woman’s home address.
When Johnson hadn’t arrived by 8 p.m. that night, she contacted the police department and reported Melissa missing.
“I made it clear that I got off work at 3 p.m.,” she said. “And she was to bring the child back between 3 and 4 p.m.”
“I feel sure she has been kidnapped… Maybe the woman was just lonely and wanted a child.”
Detectives said they received leads in the case after they released a composite sketch of the woman, who used a fictitious name when she posed as a babysitter, but none of the leads panned out.
It was reported that more than a week after Melissa went missing, her mother pleaded for her safe return.
She said, “She can’t go through the rest of her life without her mother, and I can’t live without her.”
“Please try to understand what I’m saying and find it in your heart to bring my little girl back. If you want to just leave her somewhere safe, I don’t care. I just want my baby back.”
Relatives created a Facebook page, Help Find Melissa Highsmith, where they share “the details of the case and all those involved very thoroughly.”
In September 2022, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children received an anonymous tip that Melissa was spotted on Daniel Island.
When relatives found out about the tip, they went to the area to pass out flyers, and they also held a vigil at Waterfront Park.
Two months later, they were reunited with Melissa after using a 23 and Me DNA test.
“The joy is palpable amongst all family members,” relatives stated in a Facebook post.