When Barbara Heist disappeared from her Pennsylvania home in February 2002, it got national attention. The wife and mother of two went missing for more than a decade, and was eventually declared dead.
Last week, Barbara Heist turned herself in in the Florida Keys, 11 years after she disappeared from a Pennsylvania park.
Much of her time on the run is still a mystery, except for four weeks in January, when Heist moved in with a family in Tarpon Springs and lied about who she was.
Barbara Heist's former roommate says the woman she knew didn't want to be found.
"I asked her, 'Where's your family? Don't you have family?' she said, 'No. I'm all alone, I have no one,' " Heist's former roommate said Friday. She asked not to be identified by name.
Heist lived in the Tarpon Springs townhouse for more than a month. Rent was free in exchange for her becoming the full-time housekeeper. The two met through a roommate-matching website. Barbara went by the name "Kelsie Smith."
"I asked her, I said, 'Kelsie, how do you do this, going from home to home housekeeping for people? Don't you want a house of your own?' She said, 'No. I like my life this way. I wouldn't have it any other way. I have no responsibilities, I don't have to worry about anything,' " her roommate recalled.
Everything changed in January, when Heist was arrested by Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies on minor drug charges. She didn't tell them her real name, which would have linked her the family she walked out on in Pennsylvania, 11 years ago.
"She said that she didn't have any children, she couldn't conceive. That's what she said," her former roommate said.
Heist spent about two weeks in the Pinellas County Jail. She was later transferred to a jurisdiction in the Florida Panhandle for charges on a different warrant.
When she was released, detectives say she headed down to the Florida Keys.
While the Tarpon Springs family feels deceived, they say the true burden rests on Heist's real family.
"I was a minor, brief moment in her life. Eleven years of mourning, that's got to be one of the sickest things I've ever heard," Heist's former roommate said.
Barbara Heist's daughter was 8 years old when she walked out. She's 19 now and says she regrets every tear she ever cried for her missing mom. Barbara's ex-husband says he is angry, but searching for forgiveness. The couple was going through a divorce when she disappeared.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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