But Fort Worth’s Jeff Highsmith isn’t ready to give up.
“We don’t call it a failure,” Highsmith said Friday in a phone interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It opened other doors trying to find her. Across the country they know we’re looking for her and we still care.
That’s why the Highsmith family is having a birthday party for Melissa Highsmith at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the Fort Worth Police Station, 505 W. Felix St. She turns 53 on Sunday.
“We always want people to remember her,” said Jeff Highsmith. “Hold your children and kiss them.”
Melissa Highsmith, 21 months old, has disappeared on August 23, 1971, after a babysitter came to pick her up and never returned.
In September, officials from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children passed along a tip to the Fort Worth police from South Carolina resident who said he may have seen Melissa Highsmith. In missing children flyers, Melissa’s photo had evolved based on age to what she might look like today at 52.
The Center for Missing and Exploited Children received the anonymous tip in early September. The tipster reported the possible sighting in the Charleston, SC area.
Jeff Highsmith, Melissa’s brother – who was not born when Melissa disappeared – and Melissa’s father traveled to South Carolina on October 22 and stayed until October 24, winning support from Charleston residents as they paid for Highsmith’s flight, rented him a car, and gave his family a house to stay in while they were searched.
Melissa’s brother also noted that a $20,000 reward was offered and 100 Fort Worth Missing Child flyers were created.
The HIGHsmiths traveled to South Carolina to try to speak to the tipster who provided a lead to authorities.
“The people of Charleston were so nice to us and helped us in every way they could,” said Jeff Highsmith. “It turned out that we were unlucky.”
For years, Jeff Highsmith and his wife, Rachel, worked to try to find Melissa Highsmith, hiring a private investigator, creating a special Facebook page and setting up a fund.
Melissa Highsmith’s mother still lives in Fort Worth.
“No parent should have to go through this,” Rachel Highsmith said in a September interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I love this family and will do everything I can to help find them.”
Officials at the Center for Missing Children provided these details about the case:
Melissa’s mother was 22 and worked as a waitress in Fort Worth. The child’s mother had just separated and had just moved to Fort Worth. She placed an ad in a newspaper looking for someone to take care of her child. Melissa was born on November 6, 1969.
A woman responded to the ad and agreed to meet Melissa’s mother at the restaurant where she worked, but she never showed up. The babysitter called the mother later, saying she really wanted the job, had a nice big yard, and was taking care of other kids as well.
The mother hired her and the babysitter picked up Melissa at their apartment when the mother was at work. Melissa was then in the care of her mother’s roommate.
The roommate said the woman who picked up Melissa seemed nice and was dressed to impress, wearing white gloves.
Melissa was not returned to her mother, who called Fort Worth police. At that time, Melissa had brown eyes and hair, was about 2 feet 8 inches tall, and weighed about 27 pounds.
Melissa’s mother never saw her again.
If you have any information, call NCMEC at 800-843-5678.
This report contains information from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram archives.