Mother missing since '02, declared dead, admits living in Fla.
LITITZ — A central Pennsylvania woman who mysteriously disappeared after dropping off her children for school 11 years ago has surfaced in Florida.
Brenda Heist, 54, told police that she traveled to Florida on a whim with homeless hitchhikers, slept under bridges and survived by scavenging food and panhandling, authorities said on Wednesday.
She had been declared legally dead, Lititz Borough police Detective John Schofield said. The detective said he met with her on Monday in Florida and that she expressed shame and apologized for what she did to her family.
Heist was going through an amicable divorce in 2002 when she was turned down for housing assistance, which led her to despair. She was crying in a park when two women and a man befriended her, then invited her to join them as they began a monthlong hitchhiking journey to South Florida, said Schofield.
Her ex-husband, Lee Heist — who collected on a life insurance policy after getting the courts to declare her legally dead in 2010 and has remarried — said at a news conference that he was angry because of the effect that her disappearance had on their son and daughter. Lee Heist was looked at as a suspect, but he cooperated with investigators, took a polygraph and eventually was cleared.
He was able to maintain a bond with his children.
“They knew that I was there, and I loved them and would take care of them,” he said.
He said his ex-wife and their children have expressed a desire to speak with each other, but for now they are taking the situation slowly.
Heist's identity came to light when she turned herself in to Monroe County sheriff's deputies in Key Largo, Fla., on Friday. She informed them that she was a missing person. Heist told police that she was on probation and recently was arrested under a name different from her real name. The nature of those charges is not clear.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Homeland Security panned for passing on bio-threat technology
- Buffet: Berkshire’s built to last
- Florida fisherman’s high court win spurs call for legal reform
- Paul edges Walker in CPAC straw poll
- Monarch butterflies find milkweed supply dwindles
- Supreme Court’s health care law ruling worries 34 states
- Most young Republicans back legal marijuana
- Perceived slights have some New Yorkers longing for Pennsylvania
- Congress approves 1-week funding measure for Homeland Security
- Huge, ancient quasar could alter theories on black holes
- Gene making human brains bigger found