MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The body of Mont F. Highley IV was found inside an old grain silo in January 2004, weeks after he vanished from his family’s farm. Despite an extensive investigation, the case remains unsolved 19 years later.
Mont F. Highley IV, son of Dr. Mont F. Highley III and Gail Highley, was born in Columbus, Ohio, on Dec. 19, 1969, the youngest of three children.
Highley grew up in Montgomery, where he played sports in high school. After graduating, he attended the University of Alabama, and following college graduation, Highley worked in construction and traveled.
Highley, 33, was an exuberant, handsome young man who loved to have fun and spend time with his family.
On Nov. 27, 2003, Highley spent Thanksgiving with his family. The next day, Gail Highley saw her son in the kitchen with his back to her, having a friendly phone conversation; she did not know who was on the other end.
The Highley family owned a hunting trailer on a 290-acre farm located on County Road 30 in Macon County. Highley and his father planned to hunt at the farm on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2003. However, between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Black Friday, after his phone call ended and for whatever reason, Highley decided to go hunting at the farm alone instead of waiting the next day to go with his father, telling the elder Highley he would still see him on Saturday.
About an hour later, Highley stopped at Tiger Pride Mart & Liquor Store on Co. Rd. 30, off Interstate 85, and purchased some beer. He called and invited a friend to go hunting, but the friend had prior plans and could not go.
Phone records show a few calls on Highley’s cell phone between 8 p.m. and 9:35 p.m. Sometime between 10 p.m. on Nov. 28 and 7 a.m. on Nov. 29, 2003, Highley disappeared.
Dr. Highley arrived at the farm on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2003, in the afternoon, as planned. The farm’s gate was unlocked, and the metal storage building was unlocked and open. However, his son and his son’s Chevrolet Tahoe were not there.
Highley’s boots were on the trailer’s front porch, and the light and television were on when the doctor entered the mobile home. Dr. Highley figured his son had changed his mind about hunting and decided to watch a football game with friends. Dr. Highley turned off the lights and television, locked the trailer and front gate, and returned home.
The Highleys were close friends with the Segrest family, who owned property near the Highley farm on County Road 30. Philip Dale Segrest, Sr. phoned Highley’s father on Nov. 30, 2003, telling him he found the Tahoe on his property.
When Dr. Highley and his wife arrived, they found their son’s wallet with $200 cash, a briefcase, and a hunting rifle inside the vehicle, with the keys still in the ignition.
Highley’s parents and Segrest looked around a duck pond on the Segrest property for any sign of the young man but found nothing.
After failing to locate their son, the Highleys began calling hospitals and friends of their son, but no one had heard from him other than the person he invited to hunt. The Highleys then drove to their lake house, but Highley was not there either. They filed a missing person report at 5 p.m. with the Macon County Sheriff’s Department.
According to The Birmingham Post Herald, the Highleys returned to the farm and noticed things they had not before. A pair of wet boots were sitting on the mobile home’s front porch. In the bedroom, they found Highley’s recently bought pants “pulled off and damp up to the groin area” with his cell phone in one of the pockets.
“If my son was going to take one thing with him, it’s his cell phone,” Dr. Highley said to reporter Kim Chandler.
When police arrived at the farm, they did not find any signs of a struggle.
A witness reported seeing a dark-colored pickup truck driving through the gate at the Highley farm onto County Road 30 at 5 a.m. on Nov. 29, 2003.
A massive search for Highley began, including tracking dogs, helicopters, multiple law enforcement agencies, Highley’s family and friends, and volunteers. Hundreds of people searched for Highley over several days but did not find him. However, they found a golf cart on the hunting grounds four miles from the trailer stuck on a tree root. Near the cart were Highley’s pistol and shirt.
At 10:30 a.m. on January 14, 2004, Ted Johnson, owner of the Back 40 Restaurant outside Shorter, and his son found the decomposed body of a white male in an unused grain silo on the Johnson farm behind the restaurant, 500 yards off County 30.
Johnson and his son were on the property when the boy wandered over to the grain bin.
My son just happened to look in,” Johnson told WSFA shortly after the discovery. “Being friends with the Highley family and going through all the searching that was going on around here…we never considered it being just right here.”
Johnson said the silo had not been used in years. “Border collie dogs used for sheep herding are housed in kennels in the rear of the barn, which Ted Johson’s brother, Harold Johnson, said hasn’t been used since soybeans were stored there in the 80s,” wrote Donna Adams in the Montgomery Advertiser.
Harold Johnson also said there was no indication that the dogs sensed a body there.
According to Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI) Agent Scott Donovan, the silo was not part of the original search, although volunteers might have previously searched there.
The following day, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (ADFS) performed the autopsy and used dental records to identify Highley’s body.
As reported by Uncovered.com, “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.”
Investigators submitted evidence to the ADFS, but a case backlog at the state department delayed a report on the cause of death for months. For this reason, investigators referred to Highley’s case as a “death investigation.”
In August 2004, ABI announced it was restarting the Highley investigation. Agents once again combed the area where Highley’s body was found and distributed flyers with Highley’s picture and case information. According to ABI spokeswoman Donna Teague, that search came after ABI received new information in the case. However, Teague did not elaborate further.
During this time, former Governor Bob Riley announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction in the Highley case.
In September 2005, a Montgomery county grand jury convened with more than one witness appearing before the grand jury, but investigators provided no further information.
“It’s unclear why the case appeared before the Montgomery county grand jury since Highley’s body was found in Macon County,” WSFA reported.
Uncovered.com also reports that “in October 2022, a digital billboard went live in an effort to renew public interest and encourage anyone with information to contact SBI directly.”
The Highley case is strange because investigators remain tight-lipped on Highley’s cause of death and other information. Local media have not reported on it since the grand jury met.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
Mont knew his killer, no doubt. The killer took no money from him, so robbery was not a motive.
Someone had a grudge against him for whatever reason.
The case is strange, like the golf cart found four miles away. Or Mont’s wet pants found in the bedroom and wet only up to the groin area, suggesting he had been walking in shallow water. Why? Where? We know there was a duck pond on the Segrest property.
As mentioned above, Segrest owned a law firm. He’s retired now, but he has two sons – Philip Dale Segrest, Jr. and Mike Segrest, both lawyers. The former is two years older than Mont. He is licensed in Alabama and Illinois and lives in Chicago, while Mike Segrest works at his father’s law firm, or he now runs it, I don’t know.
I find it interesting that Mont’s Tahoe was located on the Segrest property. Because of the Florida license plates, Segrest told Dr. Highley he thought the vehicle was connected to drugs. I call BS on this one. The Highleys and Segrests knew each other well; therefore, I’m sure they knew the Tahoe belonged to Mont.
Mont might have been talking on the phone to a female on Black Friday. Maybe a woman killed him.
I say this for two reasons. One is the phone conversation Highley had with someone at his parents’ house before he disappeared and the number of calls on his cell phone between 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. His friends said they had yet to hear from him, other than the one he invited to hunt. So, that kind of suggests that he had spoken with a woman and that maybe there could have been an argument over the phone with this person.
Two, his pants were found neatly folded on his body. A male killer would not worry about that, but a female would.
Just because Highley invited a friend to the trailer does not mean a woman wasn’t there, too. Was he dating anyone? Could it be a former girlfriend? Did investigators interview any females who might have a grudge against him?
That said, it is possible the killer is male and that there is more than one. Or there is one killer, and others are helping to cover up the crime. This one is a real mystery! You can read a detailed timeline of Mont’s case on Uncovered.com.