What happened to Melissa Lee Brannen?
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: December 3, 1989 from Lorton, Virginia
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date of Birth: April 13, 1984
Age: 5 years old
Height and Weight: 3′0; 38 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Light brown hair; blue eyes. Brannen has a burn scar on her right forearm.
NCIC Number: M-395923188
Details of Disappearance:
Brannen was last seen at a holiday party in the Woodside Apartment Clubhouse on December 3, 1989 in Lorton, Virginia. Her family resided in the apartment complex at the time. Brannen was wearing a navy blue sweater with a yellow applique of the Sesame Street character Big Bird on it, a blue and red plaid skirt, red tights, black patent leather shoes with gold bows and a pink hooded jacket when she disappeared.
Caleb Daniel Hughes emerged as a suspect in Brannen’s case almost immediately. Hughes was employed as a groundskeeper at Woodside Apartments at the time of Brannen’s disappearance. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) examined blood and fiber evidence from Hughes’ vehicle in the weeks following Brannen’s disappearance. He was convicted of abducting Brannen with the intent to defile in 1991. Two other men were convicted of attempting to extort ransom money from Brannen’s mother shortly after her daughter’s disappearance. The individuals were not connected to her actual abduction. Brannen has never been located. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department 703-246-7800 or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 202-324-3000 .
A post I located on Facebook via Google search:
Whatever Happened to Melissa Brannen?
A young mother asks that question every moment of her life, most times subconsciously, sometimes sobbing in prayer.
Many people recall more about a day than Alexis remembers of her entire childhood. “I try hard to remember all the time. I try to so hard to remember what I looked like, but I can‘t.”
Alexis watched the account of Melissa Lee Brannon’s December 3, 1989, kidnapping from a Christmas Party in Virginia on the show “The FBI Files” (New Dominion Pictures) when it aired several months ago, and likely would have watched it again January 16 when it was scheduled to air, according to information available on January 11 at http://www.wetv.com/the-fbi-files/episodes/melissa-brannen-missing. However, by January 14, the alert included on the page stating the show would air January 16 at 6 p.m. cst had been removed. According to http://tvlistings.zap2it.com/tvlistings/ZCProgram.do?pgmId=EP002773600124, another episode is scheduled to appear instead. “I was planning on watching it; I wonder why they changed it,” she said.
“I thought they were crazy for years, but now I just want to know because I’m so tired of wondering. Sometimes I just lie there awake at night and wonder who I am.”
Alexis’ earliest memory is being afraid in a cabin of some sort. “We were in the woods somewhere in this cabin, and I was so scared. I was crouched underneath a table, or bed, or something, and my mom was leaving and walking my little brother somewhere. I don’t know if it was to the bus stop, or to the end of the road or what? I just remember being so scared because I was alone.”
“We moved all the time,” she said. “It seemed like we moved every six months, and she never forwarded her addresses or anything, then we wound up here,” she said, speaking of the town in the upper United States in which she has lived since she was a teenager. “She tried to be the best mother she could, but she’s always had a lot of problems,” Alexis said with obvious sadness in her voice, tallying on her hands the number of times her mother had been admitted to hospitals for mental conditions during such situations as suicide attempts.
“I can’t remember anything before I was about eight.. I think I remember stuff, but I don’t know if it’s my mind playing games with me or not, so I‘m scared to say I remember it. Like, the Christmas party. I remember being at a Christmas party, but I just always figured it was my mom that took me. I remember I was supposed to do something, like tell someone bye or something, and I don‘t know if I‘ve dreamed it because I‘ve worried so long, but it seems like I can remember going with him willingly. That I went because I had made friends with him on a playground or something just before that.” Laughing a little, she added, “I don’t know why, but I can’t even remember having a brother back then. I remember him when I was a teenager. Caleb is very close to my mom. My life is just a daze. I just wish I could remember.”
By the time Alexis was ten years old, she was drinking alcohol. By the time she was 13, she had experimented with drugs. At age 15, she was a mother. It was about this time, she said, the FBI visited the apartment complex where she, her mother and brother lived. “She went downstairs and talked to them, and came back bawling and crying, and she kept begging me ‘Please don’t go with them! Please don’t go with them!’
“I didn’t know what was wrong with her. I told her I wasn’t going with them and went downstairs to talk to them. It was two agents, a man and a woman, and they were nice to me. They said three people had seen my face on a milk carton. They asked if I remembered when I was a baby, or when I was four or five, and I said no. They asked me if I thought I could be Melissa Brannen, and I told them something like “No, that’s crazy.” According to Alexis, the agents gave her a contact card and left, but she never called them. “I didn’t think I was some kidnapped kid. I just never thought anything about it.” As the agents were leaving that day, a friend of Alexis and her mother drove up. “He asked what that was about and we told him.”
Over the next few years, Alexis continued drinking and doing drugs, and stayed in trouble, racking up assault charges, and losing custody of her baby. “One time I had gotten in trouble, and I was at a hospital, and they had a guard to stand there and watch me. It was an older man, and he asked me who I was and who my family was. “He said ‘You aren’t who you think you are,’ and I didn’t understand what he meant by that, but he wouldn’t say anything else. He just stood there looking at me.”
The family friend who had arrived at the apartments the day she was allegedly questioned by the FBI had taken care of Alexis and her brother and helped the family out, checking on them, etc…during periods when their mother was hospitalized or having problems. The man approached the state’s court on Alexis’ behalf. “He told them I’d had a rough time and it wasn’t my fault,” she said, “and they put me in a drug court program. They didn‘t want me to live in my mom‘s home though, so they gave him guardianship over me.”
Alexis was almost 17, she thinks, when she discovered that her foster dad had been checking into the details of the Brannen kidnapping. “I was so mad he hadn’t told me he thought I might be her,“ she said, “And I didn’t believe it anyways. I told him to tell me what was going on. He can’t promise me I’m not her, either. He said he tried for two years and hadn’t gotten anywhere with it. He has very strong opinions about it. I was just so mad he didn’t tell me... I called Ms. Tammy twice, and left messages, but she never called back so I just didn’t try anymore. Then I called Melissa’s dad, too, and he said he was at a ball game and would call me back, but he never did.” I called a bunch of places, like The Center for Missing and Exploited Children and America’s Most Wanted. They all asked me about a million questions and said they would report it to the police, but no one ever called me back, so I just gave up.”
What’s most confusing to her? The odd things her mother has allegedly been heard saying over the years… “She told me that she had to change my name. I don’t know how long ago she told me that, she was just talking one day and said it when I was younger.
“When my foster dad questioned her about the burn scar on my right forearm, she said, ‘I don’t know how she got that. It was there when she came to me.’
“There’s just so much that doesn’t make sense, all the time,” she said.
Alexis’ father, who is estranged from the family aside from holidays, visited during the recent Christmas season. “I asked him if he thought something could have happened, and he said he didn’t know, that she was gone for a long time and he wouldn’t have had any idea.”
Along with the burn scar on her right forearm, Alexis also says she has something else in common with Melissa Brannen, she‘s been told…an eye condition. “You can look at my pictures and see it,” she said. Alexis has also always wondered about a mark that faded from her breast when she was 13. “It had always been there, and when I hit puberty and grew, it faded completely. It looked exactly like a little tattoo of a perfect four-leaf clover. It was pink. When I asked my mom about it after I started wondering if I was kidnapped, she said I was born with it…that God had put it there because she used to pick four leaf clovers. But it didn’t look anything like a birthmark. It looked like a tattoo of a pink clover….with a perfect little stem and everything.”
According to Alexis, her mother has been heard by several people making odd remarks in the past ….remarks that cause people to ask her, and even makes her wonder, if she really WAS kidnapped…if she could possibly be Melissa Brannen? Or some other missing child? A troubled youth besides, paranoia and anxiety was drilled into her head, for years, from people staring at the photographs and saying “I think you’re her”…suspicious ones warning “it’s a conspiracy….they won’t help you”…and a constant lack of assurance from the woman who she knows as her biological mother, the only mother she’s ever known.
“I just can’t go on not knowing. If I’m her or anyone other than I’m aware of, I love my mom. I don’t want her to get in trouble. She’s sick. I’ve gone through enough in my life, and I don’t think I could bear something happening to her. I’ll never say my mother kidnapped me. It must be just a lot of coincidences, and fear from the unknown...from tales of conspiracy theories, from a bad childhood, or something. People have told me to be scared, and I listened to them. But I can’t go on like this. I just need to find out. It’s been long enough.
“I believe Caleb Hughes is Melissa Brannen’s kidnapper. But what if he is and I’m her, and he paroles out? I’m so scared if I’m her and don’t know it, he could find me.
“If I’m Melissa or anyone else besides me, I don’t want anything from anyone. I just want to know, so that if I’m not I can find out who I really am, because I really, honestly don’t know what happened to me. I just want to know who I am. The last thing I want to do is hurt her family…they‘ve hurt so much already. I‘ve been so scared to do much else because what if I’m not her? I don’t want to upset them. They don’t deserve that. ”
Alexis has three photos of infants, but she doesn’t believe any of them are her. She also has a poor-quality picture of a little girl sitting in a chair, but that’s about it for photos before she was approximately 10 years old. Alexis did find a picture of other people, adults sitting around talking. She doesn’t know if one of the men in the picture is Caleb Hughes, but people who’ve seen the picture claim it favors him.
“I tried to ask her about the picture but she just got hysterical. She doesn’t handle me asking her about my past at all. She gets so upset, agitated, and she won’t tell me anything that makes sense.
“I tell myself every day that I can’t possibly be Melissa, but there’s so many questions unanswered. I worry all the time. I just want to be able to tell my children one day who we are, where we came from, and be sure of it. I’m not a perfect person at all, but I love God and I believe everything happens for a reason. I pray every day God gives me a sign to tell me whether I‘m her or not. I don’t care what happened to me or why it happened to me. I don't want to get anything from this but closure. I don't want to be famous. I'm a private person in most ways. I don’t have hardly any friends at all. I talk to God all the time. I learned a long time ago that's the only friend I'll ever need. I know there is a reason for everything. I’m not bitter about my childhood. From the time I was 10 until I was 18, my life was really bad, but I got off drugs, graduated drug court, started doing good things, and got my baby back. I know God will take care of me. I’m just so tired of hurting.”
Alexis did a search in August of Melissa’s case. She found a link to a forum where people were commenting on the case. It was this particular coincidence that members of Melissa’s distant relatives had found the site that day, too. Unbeknownst to Alexis, Melissa’s cousins had seen her photos and wondered who this person was. After a week of showing the pictures to dozens of people who all seemed to also see similarities, they tracked Alexis down. “The phone rang, and this lady said ‘Alexis, this is the lady on the forum, Melissa’s distant cousin. We need you to be honest with us and tell us why you were on that forum? Do you think you’re Melissa, Baby?’ I just stood there, holding the phone, terrified. ‘We looked at your pictures, Alexis.You need to tell us why you were on that forum.’ I just started crying.”
"They said they know how difficult and scarey this has been for them in just four months, and they sympathize with me for worrying about this for close to a decade now. They said I'm just a kid who doesn't deserve to live like this."
The family questioned Alexis heavily, and remained quite skeptical, but not for long. They have since remained in contact with each other and are friends. “They don’t know if I’m her or not, but they care about me anyways. They find it as hard to believe I could be Melissa as I do. But they want to help me. They’re my friends no matter who I am.” Alexis has also gained a few more friends, courtesy of myspace. There is a small but growing network of supporters who want Alexis to finally find the answers and closure she needs.
The extended family members first contacted Tammy Brannen and notified her of Alexis. “They emailed me and said they had sent Ms. Tammy a message and asked her to look at my pictures and this is what they sent me:
‘I get contacted fairly regularly by people who think they may be Melissa or know who she is. I had to stop listening to it and send all inquiries to the Fairfax County police or the National Center for Missing and Exploited children. If you want to send the information to them, I encourage you to, but I don't look at it anymore. You can see just this weekend someone on ********* tried to contact me. I referred them as well. I know you mean well, but after nearly 20 years I have had to come up with my own coping mechanisms. I believe God has given me peace on this issue.’”
Alexis was soon notified by the family members again. “They did what they were told, the same thing we’ve done. They made two phone calls to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but they haven’t heard anything, so they called their state FBI office who referred them to the Fairfax Sheriff’s Department. They left a few phone messages, and missed one callback. They didn’t hear anything else when they tried to call them back. Then, around Christmas, they started again, and around the first of January, they got in touch with a detective. They said he seemed eager to look at my pictures and was very helpful. The pictures were emailed to him, and a few phones calls back and forth, and at last word earlier this month, he said another detective would determine the validity of the tip.”