Left and Center: Melissa circa, 1989
Right: Age Progressed to age 21
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: December 3, 1989
Missing From: Lorton, Fairfax County, Virginia
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: April 13, 1984
Age: 5 years old
Height and Weight: 3’0″ and 38 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Brown hair, Blue eyes, Melissa has a burn scar on her right forearm
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A pink hooded jacket, a navy blue sweater with a yellow Big Bird appliqué, a blue/red plaid skirt, red tights, and black patent leather shoes with gold bows
NCMEC Number: 732677
Details of Disappearance
Melissa Brannen was last seen in Lorton, Virginia on December 3rd 1989. She was last seen at a holiday party being held in the Woodside Apartment Clubhouse at approximately 10:00 pm. She lived in the apartment complex with her family and there were around 80 guests attending the party at the time. Melissa and her mother were about to leave but Melissa asked to get some more potato chips.
Melissa never returned to her mother and was never seen or heard from again afterwards. Investigators immediately determined that it was likely Melissa has been abducted by someone who attended the party.
Soon after her disappearance, her mother received a ransom call from two men who stated they had Melissa and requested $75,000 for her safe return. The two were arrested while collecting the ransom money. They were not involved in Melissa’s abduction and were charged with extortion. The ya ere sentenced to 7 years in prison.
Investigators immediately had a suspect in her alleged abduction. Caleb Daniel Hughes was employed as a groundskeeper at the apartment complex and had only been working there for about two weeks before Melissa’s disappearance. He was at the party that Melissa and her family attended that night and was last seen sitting near her shortly before she disappeared.
Multiple women reported that Caleb made sexual propositions to them during the party and that Hughes had given unusual levels of attention to the children at the party, including Melissa.
Hughes also left the party the same time that Melissa was found to be missing. He did have a criminal record before Melissa disappeared but not in relation to violet or sexual assault. Investigators attempted to locate Hughes right after her abduction. He was found at 1:00 am the next day.
Hughes has already put his clothing that he wore that night in the wash. Any evidence that might have been on the clothing was gone. They also noted that the sides of his shoe soles had been cut off with a knife. Hughes was given a polygraph in relation to Melissa’s abduction and he showed signs of deception.
Investigators did search his maroon Honda. Inside they found fibers which were consistent with Brannen’s clothing from that night. It proved that Melissa at one point sat in his passenger seat that night. Investigators also found rabbit hair fibers which were a match to the jacket that her mother wore that night. Testing initially elected Melissa as a possible candidate for the blood but later testing proved otherwise.
His wife, Carol, also stated that her husband came home several hours later then he usually did and that there was extra mileage on the cars odometer. Caleb told his wife that the extra mileage was due to him taking a side trip to purchase a 6-pack of beer and then taking the longer route home.
Caleb was charged with kidnapping Melissa with intentions of defiling her. He was convicted on March 8th 1991 and sentenced to a maximum of 50 years in prison. He was never charged with killing Brannen and it’s unclear if she’s still alive. He maintains his innocence in Melissa’s case.
In August of 2019, Hughes was released from prison. He had only served 29 years of his sentence for his role in Melissa’s disappearance. He was exemplary prisoner during most of his term there and had earned enough good behavior credits which shortened his sentence.
Melissa has never been found and her whereabouts remain a mystery. Foul play is suspected.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Fairfax County Sheriffs Office 703-246-7800
Federal Bureau of Investigation 202-324-3000