Mom found after 11 years locked up for ID theft

Brenda Heist

May 6, 2013 1:40:02 PM PDT
A Lancaster County mother found alive in Florida 11 years after she vanished is now locked up on identity theft charges.

Brenda Heist, 54, is accused of living under an alias during those years, mostly as a homeless person.

Heist surrendered on Friday and was booked under an alias, Kelsie Smith.

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 month long hitchhiking journey to South Florida, Lititz Borough Police Detective John Schofield said last week.

Heist's husband and two children thought she was dead.

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, earlier said that he was angry because of the effect 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 was eventually cleared.

Her identity came to light after she turned herself in to Monroe County sheriff's deputies in Key Largo, Fla., and informed them she was a missing person.

For about seven years she lived with a man in a camper in Key West and worked odd jobs. Schofield said she never had access to a computer and never checked to see if she was being sought, although she assumed she was.

The Heists' daughter is now a 19-year-old West Chester University sophomore, and their son, 23, recently graduated from the same college and is pursuing a law enforcement career.