Tarpon Springs, Florida - The sudden resurfacing of a Pennsylvania woman who walked away from her family for over a decade, likely happened because of an incident that took place in Pinellas County several months ago.
Brenda Heist was arrested on January 28th on charges of driving with an expired tag, possession of drug and paraphernalia and providing false information to a law enforcement officer.
One week after serving three months in jail on those charges, eleven years after abandoning her family and nearly three years after being declared legally dead, she confessed her true identity.
Heist, who had resided and worked in Pinellas County, had lived under the name Kelise Smith.
"I needed a housekeeper so in exchange for rent. You know that was the agreement," said a Tarpon Springs person who did not want to be identified, but who hired her as a live-in housekeeper. "She has excellent references so I didn't think anything of it."
The woman said Heist seemed normal but guarded about her past when she was hired in late December.
When 54-year-old Heist was arrested in late January, the unidentified woman decided to search her room and found a lockbox full of fake identifications.
"It just had names and social security numbers of other people," said Heist's unidentified employer.
Heist disappeared February 2002, after last being seen dropping off her children at school.
She was going through a divorce from Lee Heist and was applying for housing assistance so that she could get her own apartment.
Heist told Pennsylvania that she decided to hitchhike to Florida because she was going through a divorce and could not find affordable housing for her children.
Her ex-husband had her declared legally dead back in 2010.
The family is now seething with anger at the realization that their mother was not dead or taken against her will, but abandoned the family on her own.
"I hope she would ... I hope she would feel terrible to be honest with you, feel terrible for what she did to the family," said her son Lee Heist Jr.
Heist's daughter is also finding it very difficult to come to grips with what her mother admits to doing to their family.
"I have mixed emotions ... I'd probably tell her I'd hate her. I mean obviously I'd miss her. Obviously I miss her cause she's my mom," said Morgan Heist.