In September, an anonymous tipster reported a potential Charleston, South Carolina, sighting of a woman who may have gone missing as a baby from her home in Texas 51 years ago.
Now, the family of missing Melissa Highsmith has renewed hope that she may be alive and well today — but they need to keep her name out there in case there are any more possible sightings.
“We feel like we’re stepping in the right direction,” Jeff Highsmith, Melissa’s 42-year-old brother, told Fox News Digital of the search for his sister more than five decades after she vanished. “We’re moving closer to finding out where she is and what’s going on.”
Melissa disappeared from Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 23, 1971, when she was just 21 months old, according to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which has been working with the Highsmith family to find Melissa and keep her face — a digitally age-progressed face — in the news.
On Nov, 6, for what would have been Melissa’s 53rd birthday, the Highsmith family hosted a “celebration of life” for Melissa at the local police station not far from where she was kidnaped all those years ago.
The Highsmith family also traveled from the Texas to Charleston in October to talk to locals about the case themselves and spread awareness.
“We feel that the trip to Charleston was a good success. We did get to network with some great people that live in the area,” Jeff said. “Two of the ladies that we did meet when we were down there are continuing to try to raise awareness for her in that area.”
The case has garnered media attention from local outlets in both Texas and South Carolina.
“People that live in the area are pretty familiar with the case now. Since we’ve been back, we’ve had four different leads that we have somebody following up on,” Jeff said of the South Carolina trip.
Jeff and Melissa’s mother, Alta, who was recently separated in when she moved to Fort Worth and worked as a waitress in the 1970s, had placed an advertisement in the local newspaper for a babysitter to watch over Melissa — her firstborn — at the time. A woman responded to the ad and agreed to meet Alta at the restaurant where the young mother worked but never showed up.
Later on, the prospective babysitter called Alta and expressed her interest in the job, saying she had a big yard and cared for other children.
Alta hired the babysitter, who picked up the 21-month-old toddler when she was in the care of Alta’s roommate while the young mother was waitressing.
The roommate told authorities that the woman who picked Melissa up was wearing white gloves, sunglasses and a bonnet around her head in the middle of August in Texas, Jeff explained.
“These things just don’t make sense to me,” he said, adding that his mother’s roommate has not responded to the family’s questions since they got together to discuss the case over coffee in 2019.
Highsmith hadn’t been seen since her mother called law enforcement the day she disappeared in 1971. Jeff has his own theories as to what happened and believes she may have been kidnaped and sold to an adoptive family, though authorities have not confirmed that narrative.
NCMEC is asking anyone with information to contact 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).