Known for his contagious smile, infectious laughter, and witty comebacks, Mont F. Highley, IV, affectionately known as “Little Mont,” was the youngest of the three children born to Dr. and Mrs. Mont F. Highley, III. Born in Columbus, OH, and raised in Montgomery, AL, from the time he was six months old, Mont was the quintessential southern boy with a love for the outdoors, sports, and especially the Crimson Tide.
His hobbies didn’t change much as he got older, and he could often be found spending time with his family at their lake house or watching Alabama football with friends. Mont attended the University of Alabama, where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Upon graduation, he began working in the construction field and traveled frequently. His fun-loving and charming personality made it easy for him to make friends wherever he went, but the friends he’d made in his younger years remained some of his closest. Though he traveled a lot with work, his home was always in Montgomery, and he made sure to return regularly to spend time with his friends and family - especially his nephews and niece, who he adored.
Since November of 2003, when Mont disappeared from his family’s hunting camp (the “farm”) on County Road 30 in the rural Macon County community of Shorter, AL, and was found deceased almost seven weeks later, there have been an abundance of unanswered questions. Dr. and Mrs. Highley want answers to those questions, and they want the person(s) responsible for the murder of their son held accountable.
“I told my family I’m not going to die without knowing what happened to my son. I figured I’ll live another 20 years so I’ve got 20 more years I can work on. Whoever did it, if ABI doesn’t found out, we’ll find out somehow,” Dr. Mont F. Highley, III (WSFA 12, 8/18/2004)
The week of his disappearance, Mont spent Thanksgiving with his family and made plans to go hunting with his father on Saturday. Mont left his parents’ Montgomery home on Friday evening fully intending to see his father at the farm on Saturday, but when Dr. Highley arrived on Saturday, Mont nor his Tahoe were there, which was odd considering the gate to the farm was unlocked, the front door to the mobile home was open and the lights and tv inside the mobile home were on. Assuming Mont decided to watch the Alabama game with friends, Dr. Highley locked the farm up and went home. The Highleys didn’t suspect anything was wrong until Sunday, November 30th, when they received a phone call about Mont’s Tahoe being found at a nearby property.
According to sources, the Segrest family hosted a small get-together the weekend Mont disappeared and saw his Tahoe on their property but didn’t give it much thought since they’d known the Highleys for quite some time and also knew they had a camp not far away. However, when Dr. Highley arrived at the Segrest camp on Sunday after receiving the call from Dale Segrest - an attorney and former Macon County judge - about Mont’s Tahoe being parked on their property, he recalled Dale Segrest saying he didn’t know whose vehicle it was until he looked in the wallet and thought it must be drug related since the Tahoe had Florida plates.
Rumors quickly began to spread about why Mont’s Tahoe was found at the Segrest family camp, also located on Co. Rd. 30, approximately 2.5 miles away from the farm, and how his body ended up in an unused grain silo about half a mile away from where his Tahoe was located. Despite very few details being released about the investigation, including the cause and manner of death, the rumors made one thing clear from the beginning, people believed Mont had been murdered.
“I’m not bothered by this because I haven’t found out the cause of death. If this turns out to be a serial type murder, then I’m concerned, but there are a lot of rumors around and if it’s a revenge murder, then I’m not concerned.” - Bob Wilson, County Road 30 resident who lived next to the Back 40. (The Montgomery Advertiser, 1/15/04)
Mont’s disappearance was complicated by the fact that there were multiple locations involved and no signs of a struggle. A few of Mont’s various personal belongings were found strewn about the Highleys’ 290-acre farm - his boots were on the front porch of the mobile home, his wet pants were in the bedroom with his cell phone and $100 still in the pockets. The family golf cart was found a little farther from the mobile home, abandoned and slightly stuck on a tree root with Mont’s shirt, a pistol, and other random items scattered in the same general vicinity. At the Segrest family camp, Mont’s Tahoe was found unlocked with the keys in the ignition, his wallet with cash and his rifle still inside.
During a four-day search, multiple law enforcement agencies and SAR teams, family, friends and members of the public scoured the farm for Mont. Law enforcement even conducted fly-overs to get a broader view. Scent-specific tracking dogs were able to track Mont’s scent from the farm to the Segrest family camp, then from the Segrest family camp to property directly across County Road 30 before losing Mont’s scent.
On January 14, 2004, someone linked to the Johnson property reported a body in an unused grain silo behind the Back Forty restaurant. Due to the level of decomposition, Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences used dental records to confirm the identity. Neighbors said then, and continue to say today, the area around the silo had been searched early on and Mont’s body was not there. However, according to SBI Special Agent Whitaker, while volunteers may have searched the area, SBI did not. It’s unknown whether cadaver dogs were ever taken around the barn/silo during the initial search.
According to Harold Johnson, Ted’s brother, the silo had not been used since the ‘80s and no one had been inside in quite some time. It’s unclear exactly who happened upon Mont’s body and what urged them to look in. According to an AP press release, SBI Maj. Ken Ballford said a landowner discovered the body, while Ted Johnson told WFSA his son discovered the body.
“Anyone in the area who knows the property well could have taken the body there… No one knew. Last weekend, I washed out my trailer just 20 to 30 yards from the bin and I never knew.” Harold Johnson, Ted Johnson’s brother. (The Montgomery Advertiser, 1/15/04)
The Highleys do not know the full extent of the evidence collected, but they do know Mont was still wearing his $600 watch when he was found and there was a pair of pants neatly folded on top of him. Evidence obtained during the investigation was submitted to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, but the results of any testing was delayed for months due to backlogs in the forensic labs. Because of this, investigators declined to classify their investigation as anything but a death investigation. In August of 2004, former Governor Bob Riley offered a $5,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the murder of Mont Highley, marking the first time Mont’s death was publicly characterized as a murder.
In September of 2005, a grand jury was convened in Montgomery County. No person(s) of interest have ever been named publicly and no arrests or charges resulted from that grand jury, which left many wondering why a grand jury would be convened in Montgomery County for a murder that occurred in Macon County.
The 2005 grand jury was the last known public update until July of 2022, when Mont’s case became the focus of a series of social media posts on the Alabama Cold Case Advocacy Facebook and Instagram pages, a volunteer-run effort that highlights unsolved missing person and homicide cases in Alabama on social media platforms to raise awareness. The Highleys did receive and continue to receive new information in response to the posts, which have now reached over 90,000 people since the series began in July. As that information comes in, it is forwarded to the SBI for review and follow up.
In October of 2022, a digital billboard went live in an effort to renew public interest and encourage anyone with information to contact SBI directly.
The SBI has recently connected with the Highleys to discuss the status of the investigation and hear their concerns. However, even with the recent social media attention and ongoing investigation, the Highley family continues coping with the frustration and heartache of so many unknowns.