Pa. mom who disappeared in 2002 sentenced to year in jail

Brenda Heist, 53, from Lancaster, went missing 11 years ago and recently surfaced in Florida.

Brenda Heist, 53, has been sentenced to jail for violating her probation.

  • She disappeared 11 years ago and was declared legally dead in 2009.
  • Listed in Florida jail records as "Kelsie Smith," she turned herself in in early May.

A Pennsylvania woman who was declared dead after vanishing in 2002 has been sentenced to jail for violating her probation on forgery charges.

Brenda Heist, 53, disappeared from Lititz, Pa., 11 years ago after dropping her children off for at school. She was declared legally dead in 2009, but resurfaced in Florida last month.

The Pensacola News Journal reports that a judge sentenced 53-year-old Brenda Heist to serve a one-year jail term for failing to check in with authorities before leaving the area after she was released from jail in April.

That jail term stemmed from a February arrest for stealing identification from a woman whose house she cleaned, and using it during a traffic stop.

Heist, who is listed in Florida jail records as "Kelsie Smith," turned herself in to sheriff's deputies in early May to face the probation-violation charge. That's when she told authorities that she was a missing person.

She told authorities that she traveled to South Florida from central Pennsylvania on a whim with homeless hitchhikers, and had slept under bridges and panhandled.

Heist was going through an amicable divorce at the time of her disappearance. She was crying in a park when she met the hitchhikers, who invited her to join them, she told officials after identifying herself.

When she resurfaced, she had been homeless for two years and was living in a tent community.

"She said she was at the end of her rope," a John Schofield, a Lititz police detective, told the Associated Press after Heist's identity became known. "She was tired of running."

Her ex-husband has said he was "confused" about Heist's disappearance, and her resurfacing has been a struggle for their children, now ages 19 and 23. The two were 8 and 12 when their mother vanished.

"I'm very proud of them - they've done so well with what they went through," Lee Heist told the Inquirer last month.

Brenda Heist is in custody at the Santa Rosa County jail, records show.

Contact Emily Babay at 215-854-2153 or Follow @emilybabay on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; Follow @phillynews on Twitter.