Pensacola, Florida - Lovie Smith told Pensacola resident Sondra Forrester she was a widow. She had no children. She lost her mother when she was very young.
Forrester believed all these things about Smith until earlier this week, when the truth was revealed.
"I feel like from day one, I was played with the sob stories. She knew exactly what she was doing," Forrester, 36, said.
Lovie Smith is actually Brenda Heist, a 54-year-old Pennsylvania bookkeeper who was declared legally dead in 2010. She is a mother whose own mother still is alive.
Heist was reported missing in Lititz, Pa., in 2002, when she left town after dropping her kids off at school.
All of this came to light on April 26, when she turned herself in to Monroe County sheriff's deputies in Key Largo and informed them she was a missing person.
Heist, who disappeared around the time she was going through a divorce, told investigators that she was on probation and had recently been arrested under a name different from her real name.
Heist was released from police custody Wednesday and is staying with a brother in northern Florida for now, said her mother, Jean Copenhaver.
When asked what she did for 11 years, Heist told investigators she slept under bridges and survived at times by scavenging food from restaurant trash and panhandling.
But Lititz Police Detective John Schofield said Thursday he is looking into reports that have come in over the past day suggesting Heist's time in Florida included much less miserable periods.
"We're getting several calls from people down in Florida that knew her who want to say she's not being truthful with us," Schofield said.
It's unclear exactly when Heist came to Pensacola. But Forrester said she met the woman around June 2010, when her neighbor recommended Heist to clean her house.
Time in Pensacola
At the time, Heist had posted an ad on Craigslist to advertise her cleaning service. She only took cash, Forrester said.
"She started cleaning once a week, and slowly we became close," Forrester said.
She was a quiet woman who rarely did anything to cause trouble, Forrester said. As the pair grew closer, Heist confided in Forrester that she was trying to get away from an abusive relationship.
Forrester said Heist could stay with her if needed.
"I told her in passing one day that my door's always open. I didn't think she'd take me up on it," Forrester said.
A few days later, Forrester said, Heist called and asked, "Were you serious? I want to stay with you for a few weeks."
A few weeks eventually turned into 10 months.
Heist, Forrester and her three children became closer. Forrester said she and Heist would often fish and go to the beach together.
Around Christmas 2011, Forrester said she started hinting at Heist that she needed to find a place of her own.
Forrester said Heist then moved in with Forrester's ex-husband, who needed a roommate. The arrangement seemed strange at the time, but Forrester said hindsight makes the situation seem different.
"We became more distant," Forrester said. "That's kind of weird, moving in with a friend's ex-husband."
Heist later moved in with someone in Gulf Breeze and stayed there for about six months. The pair stopped talking, Forrester said, and she only found out that Heist left the area when her ex-husband couldn't find her.
Family pain, anger
Before this week, Heist's disappearance also remained a mystery to her family. And the pain her family has felt for 11 years is just opening up again.
"I ached every birthday, every Christmas," said Morgan Heist, Brenda Heist's 19-year-old daughter. "My heart just ached. I wasn't mad at her. I wanted her to be there because I thought something had happened to her. I wish I had never cried."
Morgan Heist said she's not sympathetic, partly because her mother had a choice, unlike the family she secretly abandoned.
"It's definitely very selfish," she said. "She clearly did not think of me or my brother or my dad at all with that decision. She thought of herself."
Brenda Heist's husband, Lee Heist, was even looked at as a suspect in her disappearance. He was later exonerated and collected on a life insurance policy after she was declared dead.
Forrester said she was shocked to hear of the truth earlier this week, but now she has "become more torn." She feels bad for her friend and wishes her the best, she said, but there's still a lot of mixed emotions.
"I'm angry at her. So angry at her for just feeding me full of everything," Forrester said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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