The Fort Worth Police Department has completed official DNA testing, confirming the identity of a woman who was kidnapped as a child 51 years ago and was found by her family in late 2022, police announced in an update Thursday.
“It is our hope that this test result will offer additional closure for the Highsmith family,” police said in a news release.
Melissa Highsmith was 21 months old when she was kidnapped by a babysitter in 1971. She lived in Fort Worth for most of her life and did not know she was missing or that her biological family was looking for her.
Her family hired an amateur genealogist and had a DNA test done through 23andMe — a website customers can use to find relatives and create a family tree — that led them to a Fort Worth woman who went by Melanie Brown.
Highsmith’s family took to Facebook in November 2022 to announce they located their missing daughter on a page called “WE FOUND MELISSA!!!”
The 23andMe database found a match to three grandchildren of Melissa’s father, Jeffrie Highsmith, who are the children of Melanie Brown and her husband, John Brown. A DNA test of Melanie Brown — who also went by Melanie Walden — was done to confirm she is Melissa Highsmith, Jeffrie wrote on the Facebook page.
Melissa reunited with her parents and two of her four siblings for the first time on the weekend after Thanksgiving 2022.
The Fort Worth Police Department said in November that they would be conducting official DNA testing to confirm Melissa’s identity, and the department would provide an update once the official results came back in.
“Although the criminal statute of limitations expired 20 years after Melissa’s 18th birthday, the Fort Worth Police Department Major Case Unit continues to ask for the public’s assistance with any additional information concerning Melissa’s abduction that occurred over 51 years ago,” police said in the update Thursday.
Generally, under Texas state law the statute of limitations on a kidnapping charge is five years. The statute of limitations that expires 20 years after a victim’s 18th birthday is for a charge of aggravated kidnapping.
A rally was held in downtown Fort Worth on Saturday as a call for the Fort Worth Police Department to provide more resources to the department’s Cold Case Unit.
The unit has over 1,000 unsolved cold cases, according to the rally’s event organizers, Kelli Arnold and DiAnne Kuykendall.
There is only one detective assigned to the Fort Worth Cold Case Unit on a full-time basis, according to the police department.
Melissa Highsmith attended the rally among many other family members of victims of cold cases. They all marched from the Tarrant County Courthouse to the Cold Case Unit.
“There’s so many that are just unsolved and sitting on the shelf. They need to be able to reopen these cases, but they don’t have enough people to investigate these cases and not enough funding,” Melissa told the Star-Telegram at Saturday’s rally.
Many of the attendees at the rally believe that funding is an issue that plays a role in the unsolved cold cases in Fort Worth.
“We’re working in conjunction with our fabulous law enforcement, the heroes in the city of Fort Worth to raise funds, raise awareness, but primarily to raise funds to help cold case officers to do the forensic testing that is now at hand that will allow us to solve unsolvable murders in the past. We have new technology that’s a game changer,” said Jim Walker, who began the walk and prayed for the families at the rally.
Jim is the brother of Carla Walker, who was murdered in 1974. Cold case detectives arrested Carla’s killer decades later and he pleaded guilty during his trial in 2021.
Information on solved and unsolved Fort Worth cold cases can be accessed at the Fort Worth Police Department website.
The Fort Worth Police Department’s Major Case Unit can be reached by calling 817-392-4439.