Mother missing for 11 years turns herself in


Eleven years ago, Brenda Heist of central Pennsylvania vanished. She had dropped off her kids, then 8 and 12, at school. Dinner was defrosting. Laundry was half-done. And then she was gone without a trace. There was a long investigation. Her husband was considered a suspect at one point. Eventually, she was declared dead. Then last week, Heist walked up to police in South Florida and told them who she was. Not surprisingly, her children aren't ready to forgive her. From CBS News:

It began when three strangers reached out to comfort (Heist) as she cried in despair in a park in 2002, then offered to let her accompany them. She took them up on it…

Heist decided to join the three strangers as they hitchhiked for a month along Interstate 95 on their way to South Florida. She told (Lititz Borough Police Detective John Schofield) she slept in tents and under bridges, survived by scavenging restaurant trash and panhandling, and kept her previous life a secret, contacting no one and using a pseudonym.

Now 54, Heist told police she spent seven years living with a man in a camper and working odd jobs, but more recently she was homeless again, living in a tent facility run by a social service agency.

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

"Mom Brenda Heist resurfaces 11 years after abandoning kids"


  1. You gotta be in a pretty bad spot to walk away, leave everything behind, and have no official identity for years.I mostly feel sorry for her kids, but she deserves some consideration too. 

    1. Yeah, obviously she had a severe mental breakdown. Who knows what went on in that relationship? Granted, it could have been just fine, and not some Andrea Yates story, some people have problems with the reality others find “simple” to adapt to.

    2. my neighbor’s step-aunt makes $72 every hour on the laptop. She has been fired from work for 9 months but last month her payment was $12762 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on  Zap22.c­om

    3. My first reaction was that she needed some serious love. I cannot fathom what that journey must have been like, and hope the folks in her life find it within themselves to treat her with compassion.
      And I had basically the same reaction about the friends and family she walked away from.

    1. That “after” pic has Meth written all over it. She  is either mental or the most selfish person in the world to abandon 2 children without even a goodbye. Imagine the impact that her disapearance had on them.

      If that were my mother I would send her right back where she came from…..I guarentee if she wasnt homeless she would still be missing. She even admits she came home because “she was tired of running” . Not to see the kids or do the right thing. Selfish still…

      1.  You really, really don’t have any compassion for someone who clearly had a severe mental breakdown? No? None? Okay. Wagh! It was dreeeergs! Fuck, I’d need drugs too.

      2. She’s 54 and she’s been bumming around Florida for 11 years.  She never had much in the way of eyebrows; they were penciled in.  Have you seen many women over the age of 50 without make-up?  Her hair would naturally being going gray after 50. 
        She’s also been running all this time, from her past and from law enforcement for stealing and using one of her client’s id’s.  To me, she looks haunted. –New-pictures-and-details-of-Brenda-Heist-s-secret-life-in-Florida.html

      3. Her current condition can also be explained as what happens to you when you live on the streets, with mental instability, without any healthcare, for 11 years.

  2. Carla read this and said this woman is going to sell her story to Hollywood.

        1. Her ‘before’ pic looks like Margot Kidder,which had some serious mental problems too

    1. Yea, it was a long, hard decade.

      If you’re a parent, you often have fantacies of walking away (at least I know I do — it’s a hard job). This type of thing serves as a serious reality-check!

  3. Wow, she’s just glowing with health and vitality after getting out of the hideous, soul-destroying conformity of suburban life, the materialist rat-race, and the prison of possessions and  bourgeoisie  morality.

    Oh, wait, the “after” picture is on the right, isn’t it?

    1.  Therefore, all criticisms of corporatism, materialism and mainstream life in general are rendered totally invalid!
      Awesome job, dude!

    2. Uh yeah, I guess being homeless and insane is worse than the ‘burbs.  Good argument.  Go buy yourself a super cool car and couch and win +20 more happiness points!  Those kids going out to shows, having drinks, staying up late, and in general living a lifestyle that doesn’t center around materialism are totally way more unhappy than you.  They totally want to be you.  Honest.

  4. Sounds like she was in the middle of a mental crisis of some sort and the wrong opportunity showed up at the exact moment she was open to it.

    I hope she gets a psychological evaluation.  Whatever happened in the past, she has asked for help now and she’s right: she’ll need help to get healthy again.

  5. Aside from a few more wrinkles, the eye baggage being a little more puffy, slightly more sunken cheeks, and unstyled hairdo, I don’t see much difference between the photographs that 13 years of aging would not do to a person.
    I did a walk-off about 25 years ago, for about 6 months, while trying to extricate myself from a community of family and “friends” whose standards of conformity were definitely not making any improvements in my quality of life.
    Granted, it wasn’t the right way to go about it — but a lack of access to constant, clean running water and hygiene products put a significant dent in my ability to be socially presentable. Of particular note: my once soft, shiny, wavy hair turned into an unmanageable mess of split-ends after two weeks without quality shampoo and somewhere to wash it.
    I looked terrible, and not once during my time away did I do any drugs.

    People need to practice their detective skills and learn to tell the difference between a “no makeup photograph” and a “meth photograph”.

    1.  I agree: I don’t see evidence of (hard) drugs. It throws me off that we can’t see her eyebrows (bleached by the sun, maybe? Thin to begin with?), and she’s picked up wrinkles, but that goes along with age and exposure to weather. A month or two with good hygiene, she’ll look a lot like she did before.

      I do think she probably needed counseling/a trustworthy, wise friend *before* she disappeared, let alone now. My heart goes out to her and her family.

    2. No, she has the sores on her face and all. And it would appear from her mouth formation, some test issues as well. Not saying you are incorrect, but she definitely has drugs in her.

      1. The red marks on the sides of the bridge of her nose? Glasses with nosepads. I have them myself.
        The one on her upper lip could be a pimple scar for all we know.

        brother had a childhood friend who’s grandmother smoked like a chimney,
        and suntanned almost as much as Tanning Mom. She was the epitome of
        middle class (her son was a big deal at Anhaeuser-Busch), and she looked
        twice as haggard as this woman does.

        Wait until they have her on the Today show, and I’ll bet she’ll look as normal as ever.

    3. I’ve aged about a quarter of what she has in 11 years, but maybe I’m atypical.  I think that the facial expression is probably a bigger problem than the makeup/ no makeup thing in making the photos look different.

      1. I usually respect your opinion, Antinous, but I suspect being dirt poor or homeless for 13 years would give anyone the grimface.

        1.  …or even having to look over your shoulder all that time because you have the nagging feeling that people are onto you and will turn you in.

    1.  I have relatives in Pennsylvania that say the state is like the urban, east coast on both ends (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), and like Alabama in the middle :/

    1. It’s not news when they disappear. It’s news when they come back, though.

    2. Ha good point. Its thoroughly amazing how much coverage this non story is getting. Not criticizing BB for posting it, since that fact alone is interesting. But man, its been at the top of every news feed for 2 days now.

      1. Human interest, supposedly, I guess. 

        Plus, she’s white, which makes her and her family’s story more “relate-able” to primarily white news producers and consumers. 

        Just imagine if she were black; we’d never even hear about it.

  6. With as little information as is currently available, speculating about drugs, background, motivations is basically Making Shit Up.

    We all have a drive to finish the story, fill in the picture, figure out the clues and solve the mystery.  Sometimes it’s useful, sometimes it’s counter-productive, sometimes it’s dangerous.

    Perhaps a little restraint and patience before making wild unsupported speculations would be a kinder thing?

    1. The other articles about this on are interesting.

      The audio interview with her friend, who provided other photos, is also telling; it ends with her commenting that “she looks a lot different in those pictures than that one I saw on the news…”

  7.  I understand her kids being pissed at her, but this was obviously not your average, “I found some handsome and rich man, so I’m leaving you all, tootles!” This is what you see in people with mental health issues. She just snapped and wandered off. I hope her kids can understand that.

    1. Chances are that she caused them irreparable psychological harm. They may come to understand her problems, but they’re probably better off leaving her in the past.

      1. They’re probably better off leaving her in the past? Really?

        I usually agree with you, but that’s pretty presumptuous. She probably did cause them irreparable harm, but who knows why she left, and who knows what the kids might still gain by getting to know her again, and maybe even by helping her back into some semblance of health, if that’s possible. 

        1. Fuck that.  I’m guessing that you don’t have a Bad Parent.  They’re best left to history while you move on with your life.

          Her children owe her nothing.  If dealing with her helps them, fine.  Otherwise, leave her to the decision that she made for all of them when they were too young to process it.

          Forgiveness is massively overrated.

          1. Depends what you mean by “bad parent.” They come in many different kinds, and they have many different reasons for doing what they do. I reject your apparent assertions that they’re all the same, that none can change and overcome, and that children have nothing to gain by taking part in that process. 

          2. And I reject your assertion that the children whom she abused by abandonment need to stir up a decade of grief for her sake.

          3. They are likely to suffer a great deal of pressure to meet her for the first time on Oprah, have a tearful reconciliation replayed endlessly on Fox News and become an editorial on forgiveness in the Daily Mail.

          4. Ugh, here’s hoping they don’t, and that if they do, they can resist it. That would indeed be a shit show.

          5. They owe her nothing.  But finding out what happened, that it wasn’t their fault, that it probably wasn’t her fault either, that there’s a mental disorder that might run in the family and affect them as well in future….they’ll need answers for psychological closure.  They are old enough now to make the decision themselves on how much they want to open up to her and on what timetable.

            If there was any indication that she was abusive or narcissistic, that would be different, but this seems to be a straight-up case of mental breakdown.  Walking away from her in disgust would be like blaming a parent who gets laid up in a hospital for months or years in a coma.

          6. I may have to take back what I just said.  I followed the Lancaster Online link above to read the various follow-ups:

            “Schofield said the emerging story of Brenda Heist, as Lovie Smith and Kelsei Smith, is disappointing and continues to be heartbreaking for her family.
            “It doesn’t change any of the facts of what she did,” he said, “that she left her family here.
            “It’s just that she painted a picture that she lived a homeless life and a tough life. Life wasn’t as bad as she portrayed it. That’s obvious.
            “The new information that is now surfacing, as people are coming forward, is just showing that she is not telling us the whole truth, and life was not as bad.”
            The sad thing is, he said, “Some of the things we’ve learned are going to upset the children that she left even more now.””

          7. An amazing number of people have Bad Parents, but never come to terms with it, never see it, or don’t want to see it.  

            I have Bad Parents, and I approve of your message.

  8. I’m sure we all have photos of ourselves that we would hate to be judged by. The “speculation” of drugs does not discount that she could have had a serious mental problem. I will err on the side of compassion for both her, and her children.

  9. I really wonder what happens to the life insurance money now.  After the husband was cleared and he got her declared legally dead the policy paid off and put the kids through school but she didn’t really die so…
    You’d have thunk that the Insurance company detectives would have had a serious go at looking for her but I guess when you’re totally off the grid like that it’s a pretty hopeless case.

    1. There’s an article about that. If there’s no evidence of fraud, the insurer has no case.

      1. Abandoning your children, family, and life to spend a decade living a secret life in self-exile is hardcore if you’re aiming for fraud. Most people just engage in good old conspiracy or misrepresentation/lying.

      2. Obviously the husband is innocent and wasn’t committing fraud.  But I do wonder what the insurance company’s response is when they’ve paid a claim on a missing person declared dead who then shows up alive.  I’m guessing the statute of limitations has run out and they have no ability to sue (even if fraud were involved).

        1. Here’s the article:

          Local attorneys said that as long as Lee Heist’s petition and evidence were presented properly, the policy can’t be voided.  “If there was no misrepresentation when the policy was taken out, or
          no fraud or collusion when the claim was made, as a matter of contract law the policy would have to be paid,” said Jim Thomas, chairman of the Judiciary Committee of Lancaster Bar Association.

  10. Many parents of the SPARKLE MOTION dance group were devastated after the plane crash.

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