When Schofield called recently to meet with her ex-husband and their daughter, they assumed he would be notifying them that her remains were found, the detective said.
Lee Heist said he struggled financially after his wife disappeared, quitting his job and losing his home. She had been a bookkeeper at a car dealership.
"There were people in the neighborhood who would not allow their children to play with my children" because he had been a suspect, he said.
Brenda Heist had been homeless for the past two years, most recently living in a tent community run by a social service agency.
"She said she was at the end of her rope, she was tired of running," Schofield said.
For about seven years she lived with a man in a camper in Key West and worked odd jobs. Schofield said she never had access to a computer and never checked to see if she was being sought, although she assumed she was.
The Heists' daughter is now a 19-year-old freshman at Montgomery County Community College, and their son, 23, recently graduated from West Chester University and is pursuing a law enforcement career. The school is about 30 miles west of Philadelphia.
Schofield said police in Florida were trying to sort out a warrant-related issue before releasing Brenda Heist. Details about any charges, and whether she was being held on an active warrant, were not available from police in Florida or Pennsylvania.
The Monroe County sheriff's office said Heist was in "protective custody," although not with the office. The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press to provide a way to contact her.
Police in Lititz said the investigation eventually involved dozens of detectives, and although the trail had grown cold, the case had never been forgotten, with Heist's picture tacked to a wall at police headquarters.
Lee Heist said he and the children also remembered, and observed anniversaries. Her valuables were returned to her mother years ago, he said. As for the life insurance policy that paid off on his ex-wife, he said he's unsure what will happen now.
Associated Press writer Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.