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Lead Investigator Speaks Out About Lancaster County Runaway Mom

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(credit: CBS) Jenn Bernstein
Jenn Bernstein joined CBS 3 and The CW Philly as a general assign...
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by Jenn Bernstein

LITITZ, Pa., (CBS) – We are learning more about a Lancaster mother’s time in Florida, after she was declared missing eleven years ago from her home in Lititz (see related story).

According to police, she wasn’t always homeless in the sunshine state.

Lititz Detective Sergeant John Schofield – the lead investigator in her disappearance – says now that the case has made national headlines, the department is receiving calls from people in Florida who say they knew her.

One woman claimed Heist, used the alias “Lovie Smith”, and was her live-in housekeeper for about 11 months.

Prior to that, the woman said “Lovie” cleaned houses for her other friends.

“We’re learning now that life wasn’t so bad for her in some of her friend’s eyes, that are calling us today,” said Detective Sergeant Schofield Thursday.

The 53-year-old turned herself in to police in Key Largo, Florida on Friday.

Eyewitness News has confirmed Heist was in trouble with the law there.

Using at least three different aliases, she was convicted of forgery, and is also facing additional charges for another incident of theft and forgery.

It’s a painful reality for the Heist family, who petitioned to declare her dead after seven years of searching for her.

At one point, Heist’s husband, Lee, was named as a person of interest until police cleared him.

“I will say they were very thorough in their investigation but they were also very fair,” Lee Heist told Eyewitness News Wednesday, “Still a tough thing to go through, and until really Friday, there’s still thoughts in people’s minds so, that’s a good point and that’s a very good thing to go forward with.”

WATCH: Neighbor Speaks Out About Runaway Mom

Brenda Heist’s long-time next door neighbor, who asked to remain nameless, was surprised when she heard Brenda was found alive, “I was in shock yesterday morning when I got a knock on the door that they found her.”

The neighbor remembers back to the day Brenda Heist disappeared, “That morning, I was out front here on my lawn and she pulled out and waved to me, and I waved back, and that was the last I saw of her.”

“I feared something terrible happened to her back on that day, she went missing, I really did,” said Detective Sergeant Schofield.

The 21-year Lititz police veteran remembers when the mother of two vanished.

He says interviews with friends and family painted Heist as a wonderful mother, one who’d never leave her children.

“That was the last thing on our minds is that….she left that day,” said Schofield.

Weeks turned into months, which turned into years, Schofield followed every lead.

Including a call that someone saw her at a hotel in Quebec.

Schofield even had cameras checked to see if it was Brenda Heist.

But a phone call from Police in Florida on Friday, changed the entire case.

“I was very shocked, I immediately called down to the Sheriff’s Deputy that had her in his custody, I asked for him to text me a picture of her so that I could confirm it was her,” said Detective Sergeant Schofield,  “I was happy to know that this 11 year investigation…I feared was an unsolved homicide, is now cleared.”

But that excitement turned to anger, knowing how much effort and money went into looking for her.

“All this time we’re doing this she’s living in sunny Florida,” said Schofield, “I truly thought someday, I would have to tell her children and her husband that that she was found, and when I did meet them this past Friday, I think that was on their mind[s].”

“When I told them that she was actually alive and living down in Florida it was very emotional for them,” said Schofield.

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