Woman Missing For 11 Years: Found in Florida!

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A Pennsylvania woman who went missing 11 years ago has surfaced in Florida, to the surprise - and dismay - of her husband and their two children.

Brenda Heist, 54, had been declared legally dead.

Missing Woman

Lititz, Pa., Police Detective John Schofield said he met with her in Florida Monday and she expressed shame and apologized for what she did to her family.

She said she traveled there on a whim with homeless hitchhikers, slept under bridges and survived by scavenging food and panhandling, authorities said.

Brenda Heist says she 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.

Her ex-husband, Lee Heist, evntually collected a life insurance policy after getting the courts to declare her legally dead in 2010 and has remarried.

He said at a news conference yesterday afternoon 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, remaining close to the children.

"They knew that I was there, and I loved them and would take care of them," he said in the wake of the shocking discovery that his spouse is alive.

He said his ex-wife and their children have expressed a desire to speak with each other, but for now they are in no rush and are taking things slowly.

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

She told them she was on probation and had recently been arrested under a name different from her real name. The nature of those charges is unclear.

She is expected to be released from custody in Florida and is likely to spend some time with a brother in that state before moving in with her mother in Texas.

"She has a birth certificate and a death certificate, so she's got a long ways to make this right again," Schofield said. "She's got to take it slow with her family.

"It's going to be a long process."

Inside her Lititz home the day she disappeared, dinner was defrosting and the laundry was half done. Police located her car in neighboring York County.

None of her personal belongings were missing.

When Schofield called recently to meet with her ex-husband and their daughter, they assumed he would be notifying them that her remains were found.

Lee Heist said he struggled financially after his wife disappeared, quitting his job and losing his home. She had been a bookkeeper at a car dealership.

"There were people in the neighborhood who would not allow their children to play with my children" because he had been a suspect, Lee lamented.

Brenda Heist says she had been homeless for at least the past two years, most recently living in a tent community run by a social service agency.

"She said she was at the end of her rope, she was tired of running," Schofield said.

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