EXCLUSIVE: Back from the dead

By on May 1, 2013

Brenda Heist, missing for 11 years and declared legally deceased, found in Key Largo


By:  STEPHEN SEEBER, Record Express Staff

She dropped her kids off at school, befriended a group of vagabond hitchhikers, left for Florida and never looked back…until last Friday.

Brenda C. Heist, who on Feb. 8, 2002 traded her life as a Lititz homemaker for that of a dumpster diving scavenger, was immediately reported missing and eventually presumed dead after an extensive investigation went cold. The case was brought back to life, more than 11 years later, with a phone call to Lititz police on April 26.

“I was shocked,” said Det. Sgt. John Schofield, the officer who took the call. “Quite honestly, I presumed her to be deceased as well, and I thought we were going to get the phone call one day that her remains were discovered.”

The call came after Heist, who was reportedly tired of being homeless and on the run, approached a sheriff’s deputy in Key Largo. She said there was an open warrant on her in which she used a false identification. While the officer was checking on the warrant, she handed over her Pennsylvania ID and said her husband reported her missing in 2002. A national database search confirmed that Brenda Heist was missing and declared deceased, and a photo sent to Schofield via text matched the face to the name.

About an hour later, Schofield called the family she left behind, which moved to the Norristown area several years ago, and made arrangements to meet with Heist’s ex-husband Lee and daughter Morgan. Heist’s son, Lee IV, did not attend the meeting, which was held at a King of Prussia restaurant around 10:30 p.m.

“I think they assumed that I was going to tell them that we found her remains,” Schofield said. “Needless to say, they were absolutely shocked. It was very emotional for them to hear that she was still alive, and that she left them voluntarily. I can’t imagine how that feels.”

Check out the rest of the story in this week’s Record Express, on newsstands this afternoon…

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