Abducted Child-Home At Last: After 51 Years


Montana Poe, Sports Editor

Melissa Highsmith was a 22-month-old baby when she was abducted in August of 1971. Her mother, Alta Apatenco, hired a babysitter through an ad in a local newspaper.  She was not home when the babysitter picked up her toddler, who brought her to her own home. For many years, Melissa’s mother, Alta Apantenco, was accused by police of possibly killing her daughter and hiding the crime. When she reported her daughter missing, the police found it very suspicious because there was little evidence there was a kidnapper the police stated. They spent more than five decades looking for their daughter before they finally got a DNA match.

The family has been reunited with their daughter in Fort Worth, Texas. Her family said, “Our finding Melissa was purely because of DNA match, not because of any police/FBI involvement, podcast involvement, or even our family’s own private investigations or speculations.” Alta over and over again stated that she never gave up on finding her daughter no matter what anyone said about her and or the kidnapping of Melissa. A breakthrough in the case finally came on 6 November, when a DNA test on ancestry website 23AndMe connected Mrs. Highsmith’s children with the family, with the help of an amateur genealogist that helped them understand the results.

They hoped for the best for Melissa for so many years but Melissa told her family that she did not have a good life. She ran away from home at 15. “Me and my mom were never close,” Melissa, 53, tells PEOPLE.  “And the whole time I was there, it was a bad childhood.  I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play, or she always sheltered me,” she says. “And she said the reason she sheltered me was because I was born at home and that I had brain damage.”

When Melissa confronted the woman who had raised her, she replied, “I’ve been wanting to tell you something for many, many years,” Melissa explains. “She told me that somebody sold her me for $500 on the street.”  She went on to tell People, “In my heart, I don’t believe she bought me,” she says. “I think she was the one that answered the ad and abducted me.”

Fort Worth police did not provide details about the case but said they were “overjoyed to hear about how the Highsmith’s use of 23andme led them to Melissa.” Police feel guilty for the amount of grief they gave Alta Apantenco in the past. Now the family can spend as much time as they can with their long-lost daughter and sister because it’s long overdue.