Published May 06, 2013
A Pennsylvania mother who disappeared 11 years ago — leaving her two children behind to hitchhike to Florida — is reportedly back behind bars.
Brenda Heist, 54, turned herself in Friday at central Florida’s Alachua County jail and was booked under her alias, Kelsie Lyanne Smith, for an out-of-county warrant. She will be transferred to Santa Rosa County, where she’s sought by authorities for violating probation on charges of identity theft and providing a false name to law enforcement, jail officials told the New York Daily News.
Heist, who had been declared legally dead following her disappearance in 2002, disclosed her identity last week in South Florida, telling police she slept under bridges and scavenged food from restaurant trash to survive.
Lititz Borough Police Detective John Schofield said he met with Heist in Florida on Monday. She expressed shame and apologized for what she did to her family, he said.
Her children were ages 8 and 12 when she befriended two women and a man she met as they began a monthlong hitchhiking journey to Florida. One is now a 23-year-old college graduate and the other is a 19-year-old West Chester University sophomore.
In 2002, while going through a divorce, Heist decided to take off after learning she had been declined for housing assistance. In the years since she left, Heist's husband remarried, and a court declared her legally dead.
Officials declined to indicate why Heist turned herself in at the Alachua County jail, the Daily News reports. It was believed she had been living in North Florida with a brother.
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 since remarried — told reporters during a news conference Wednesday he was angry because of the effect her disappearance had on their son and daughter. Lee Heist was considered as a suspect, but he cooperated with investigators, took a polygraph and was eventually cleared. He was able to maintain a bond with the children.
"They knew that I was there, and I loved them and would take care of them," he said.
Police in Lititz said the investigation involved dozens of detectives, and although the trail had grown cold, the case had never been forgotten, with Heist's picture tacked to a wall at police headquarters.
Lee Heist said he and the couple’s two children also observed anniversaries. Her valuables were returned to her mother years ago, he said. As for the life insurance policy that paid off on his ex-wife, he said he's unsure what will happen now.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.