Watch CBS News

48 Hours: Catch Her If You Can

This story was previously aired on May 9, 2009. It was updated on Nov. 21.

When Brooke Henson went missing from tiny Travelers Rest, S.C. on July 4, 1999, her friends and family clung to the hope that they would see her again. Six years later, there was a sighting: Brooke turned up at Columbia University in New York.

But as it turned out, it wasn't the "real" Brooke Henson - it was a con artist named Esther Reed.

Esther, another small-town girl from Montana, was smart and manipulative, and in the midst of a decade-long trail of deception. She conned her way into Harvard and Columbia and stole over $100,000 in student loans. Stealing identities and perpetrating fraud, Esther's escapades took her across the country, including relationships with West Point and Annapolis military men.

Eventually, the feds were in hot pursuit. She even ended up on the U.S. Secret Service's Most Wanted List - always managing to stay one step ahead of authorities.

No one could catch her… until now.

"I became a different person in name only. I'm basically the same girl.

"In first grade I was Esther Elizabeth Reed for a while. When I was 18, I was Elizabeth Reed…then I was Natalie Fisher. Then I went by the name Natalie Bowman… then Brook Henson and finally, Jennifer Myers," Esther Reed tells 48 Hours Mystery correspondent Peter Van Sant.

Esther granted 48 Hours her first interview. The circumstances of how we found her will become clear as this mystery is unraveled.

Private investigator Steve Rambam, working for 48 Hours, and U.S. Marshal John Bridge were each searching for the elusive Esther Reed.

"Right now, she must be living a life trying to keep one step ahead of the law," Rambam says. "She really is very much on the run now, I think in a way that she never was before."

"Esther Reed is cunning, she's calculated, and she's intelligent," Bridge says. "That's the perfect combination for a con artist."

After stealing many identities and running numerous brilliant scams, this master con woman earned a spot on the .

U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins has investigated Esther's background. "She lived this life as other people. She was not Esther Reed from 1999 on," he explains. "She's good. She's real good."

Trying to understand the riddle of Esther Reed, 48 Hours Mystery traveled to her hometown of Townsend, Montana.

"It's a very small town in the middle of Montana and if you blink you miss it," Edna Strom, one of Esther's eight older siblings, explains. "We used to play in the crick a lot. And that was a big thing, especially if you could do it without mom finding out."

Strom has not seen Esther in person for nearly a decade, but agreed to show Van Sant their family home. She also shared the contents of a trunk with items belonging to Esther, that found in the attic by the home's current owners.

The trunk is the first in a trail of clues a 48 Hours investigation will uncover. Inside, Strom finds a dress belonging to her younger sister and a photo of Esther as a child. "I'd say she's like four or five… She was always smiling," says Strom.

Van Sant later shows that same photo to Esther. "Yes. I was a very happy kid. Very, very happy," she says.

"What goes through your mind when you look at that?" asks Van Sant.

Crying, she says, "It's hard 'cause (long pause) this period of my life was great… It's just a shame what happened and how I disappeared."

"Why did you disappear?" he continues. "I just was so afraid of the world," she says.

After Esther's parents divorced, Esther felt like an outcast.

"What do you think Esther saw when she looked in the mirror?" Van Sant asks Jim Therriault, Esther's English teacher and debate coach.

"Somebody she didn't want to be. Someone she didn't like. Someone I think she would have done anything to escape from if she could have," he replies. "She was very, very smart. A kid with so much potential…"

When asked by Van Sant if she is intellectually gifted, Esther says, "Yes. I assimilate information quickly. I remember it. I'm able to problem solve, things like that."

Esther and her brother, E.J. Reed, were very close. He felt Esther's brilliance every day, especially when they played chess.

"She blew me away. I mean, I couldn't even hold a candle to her," he says. "She's definitely always thinkin' a little bit ahead."

But as smart as she was, Esther dropped out of high school and moved with her
mom to Seattle. In 1998, Esther's mother passed away.

"My mom always just loved me. If she was there, it was fine," she says, crying. "…and when she died, it wasn't fine, anymore. Nothing was fine anymore."

Strom says Esther didn't like who she was or where she was going. "She would say, 'I just wish I was someone else.'"

Esther's metamorphasis from small town girl to big city con woman had begun, and so did her life of crime.

"I have lost my only compass in life. I've lost my only support system," she says of the loss of her mother. "And I'm spiraling out of control and I have nowhere to turn."

During this period, she pleaded guilty to stealing her co-workers purse, a misdemeanor.

Esther even took Strom's purse and drained her checking account of thousands of dollars.
"It was like somebody slugged me in the stomach," she says. "I just told her, 'You can't live like this… You have ripped me off.' And, you know, 'Who are you?'"

Esther describes their relationship as toxic. "I think I push her buttons and I think she pushes my buttons."

The last time they say each other Strom says, "We just hugged each other and said we loved each other. And then she said, 'I promise I will keep in touch.' And she did for a while."

Strom never saw her sister again. Esther Reed had ceased to exist.

By 1999, Esther Reed knew she needed to leave town.

"I was really, really angry, and my life was falling apart," she says.

Now a convicted criminal with family problems, Esther decided it was time to ditch her old life and find a new identity.

"I decided, 'OK, I'm just gonna move on.' In the beginning, I thought I just needed a drivers license and I could just have a name and that would be OK."

Soon after that, she made the decision to become Natalie Fisher. The real Natalie Fisher is the sister of Esther's old boyfriend.

"This is gonna sound really bad. But she's wicked smart," the real Fisher says. "She seemed like she was a nice person. But she was quiet."

Quiet, but cunning. Before long, Esther had gotten hold of Fisher's social security number and began using it to rip her off.

"I got a phone call from a collection agency representing AT&T. And they informed me that I owed them like $400 or $500 in bills," says Fisher.

Esther got a drivers license in Fisher's name, and proceeded to live as Natalie. Esther left Seattle in 2000, and spent much of the next two years traveling cross country in her car and sleeping in cheap hotels. Despite her life of vagrancy and petty crime, part of Esther was still searching for a path to success and a place where she truly belonged.

"I hated the name Esther. I never liked it. So I was never attached to that name," she tells Peter Van Sant. "My intention was to have a life that I could live. And I tried my best not to hurt people."

Forced to live by her wits, Esther needed a way to make money any way she could. She perfectly forged J.C. Penney receipts and used them to return items for more than they were worth, pocketing tens of thousands of dollars.

When asked how she managed to make money, Esther would not discuss money matters, only admitting, "I managed to survive."

Esther did more than survive. She transformed herself by losing weight and having cosmetic surgery.

Two years later, she met Brandy Olson at a debate camp in Tempe, Arizona. Olson says the woman she knew as Natalie Fisher always had plenty of money and a ready explanation of where it came from.

"She had a very well-paying job as a professional chess player she said. …she told us that the prizes, if you won a tournament, were pretty substantial - upwards of $10,000," Olson says.

So where did Esther get the money? U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins says it came from her scams.

"She was getting it from opening up credit cards in other people's names," he says. "She was living a relatively good lifestyle - at least that's what our evidence suggests during that time."

Olson was on a college debate team and "Natalie" used her new friend to meet people at debate tournaments. "She wanted to go back to college," Olson says. "And she'd been interested in debate, so she was gonna start getting into that."

Esther's ruse worked. She met debate coach John Brushke and in 2002, he invited "Natalie" to attend Cal State Fullerton and asked her to join his team. She agreed, but by the time she got there she had a different name.

"Natalie was very guarded about her past," Brushke says. "I mean I once, in fact, asked her the question, 'Is your last name Fisher or Bowman?'"

Esther says she changed her identity from Natalie Fisher to Natalie Bowman because, "I couldn't be Natalie Fisher anymore."

That's because the real Natalie Fisher was monitoring her credit report and realized someone was stealing from her.

Esther needed to refine her scam and get someone's social security number. "So I got the idea that you could use a missing persons'… that's why I started college as Natalie Bowman. I was just gonna go to college… go on with my life."

If there's anyone who knows what Esther was going through, it's Frank Abagnale.

"It's horrible," he says. "It's an extremely difficult life to live." Abagnale's exploits as a young con man inspired the movie "Catch Me If You Can." He spent years posing as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer.

He says he knows why Esther loved to debate.

"There's no greater debate person than a con man who has the answer to every question instantly," he says. You're acting. You're playing a role. You're not really that person. You're just pretending to be that person."

Abagnale says she has a lot of things going for her. "Esther has talent. She's intelligent. She has a personality."

Bita Shaghaghi, who was Esther's roommate at Cal Fullerton, had no idea her close friend was an imposter. "She always had cash on her… she paid for everything with cash and she always had money and she was very generous with her money."

Shaghaghi trusted Esther completely and they bonded after learning both their mothers had died of cancer.

"She said, 'Oh, my goodness, I haven't met another person who's lost their mother at such a young age like I have.' She seemed to feel like I understood where she was coming from."

Of Shaghaghi Esther says, "She just was always loving and accepting and whenever I had a problem, she was there to help."

Back in Seattle, three years had passed since Esther's family had heard from her.

"It's the betrayal and that she has left everybody hanging," her sister, Edna Strom, says. "That she doesn't even have the consideration to call and say, 'I truly am OK.'"

The family filed a missing persons report. Strom wondered if she'd ever see Esther again, thinking to herself that someone had hurt her sister and she was dead.

Esther was very much alive and she was moving onto another identity.

In the spring of 2003, Esther ditched the name Natalie Bowman, left Cal State Fullerton and hit the road. She told Shaghaghi that she was being stalked and had to change her name yet again. Her friend believed her.

"The [name] that she ended up picking was Brooke. Then I said, 'Well, what's your last name gonna be?' And she said, 'Henson.'"

In Brooke Henson, a young woman missing from South Carolina, Esther felt she'd found the perfect cover. It proved to be anything but.

"For some reason, new people are not as frightening as people I know," Esther Reed explains. "Like people I get used to, they start to get a look on their face, or maybe she's treating me a little differently now. So new places, for some reason, were safer for me."

After her first taste of college life in California under the name Natalie Bowman, Esther Reed wanted more. She wanted to go to Harvard.

"She was clearly, qualitatively, better than other students in the class," says Professor Mitch Avila. Esther asked him to write her a letter of recommendation, but there was a catch: She asked him to write it for her under another name.

"I know I told him that I was in danger and had to change my name. I don't remember why," she tells Van Sant.

Avila says Esther claimed, at the time, "that she was being stalked."

"A lot of debating is BS. You learn how to come up with creative arguments and you craft them, to research them, and you present them. And that's sort of what I did," she says.

It was Esther's most ambitious identity theft yet, and one she thought was foolproof -
Brooke Henson, a young woman from South Carolina who was missing but presumed murdered.

"I really thought that I could live my life as Brooke Henson, and they wouldn't know and I would have a new life."

In 2004, Esther fulfilled her childhood dream: she applied and was accepted to Harvard University - its extension school, anyway.

"She went as someone else, that surprises me," Edna Strom says with a laugh. "But that she made it doesn't surprise me in the least."

Esther had big plans for her new identity. As Brooke Henson, she wanted to attend law school. According to her brother, E.J. Reed, it was something she'd always wanted to do.

"Wanting to be out in front of the judge and arguing her case and winning her case, obviously. That was her point. She didn't want to be the losing lawyer," he explains.

Esther had fooled Harvard, but she wanted more. She'd scored well on the SAT and soon set her sights on another Ivy League school.

"I applied to Columbia," she tells Peter Van Sant. "And I was incredibly shocked when she called me and said, 'You've been accepted.' And I thought, 'How the heck am I gonna pay for this big school?' Because I was not planning ever on taking out student loans.'"

The high-school dropout from Townsend, Montana was in the big leagues.

"What was it like for you to walk the campus of Columbia University as a full-fledged student?" Van Sant asks.

"I had a feeling that this was gonna be the start of my life. And I was incredibly excited about that."

Esther financed her new life by acquiring more than $100,000 in fraudulent student loans.

"I never ever borrowed a penny, opened a credit card that I did not intend on paying back," she says. "I planned on being Brooke Henson for the rest of my life."

After months with no contact, Esther was now back in touch with her friend in California, Bita Shaghaghi.

"She told me that she really loved New York," Shaghaghi says. She went to visit "Natalie" in New York on July 4, 2005, still unaware that her best friend was a con artist.

"We went everywhere. We took a ferry out to the Statue of Liberty and took some pictures. She didn't like taking pictures, so I really had to talk her into even getting these pictures with me," she says. "She told me she just didn't like the way she looked in pictures."

That same Fourth of July was also the sixth anniversary of the real Brooke Henson's disappearance. Her aunt, Lisa Henson, held a vigil.

South Carolina investigator John Campbell had nearly run out of new leads.

"We would get the occasional sighting and - but we would never be able to substantiate it," he says. "It was like she dropped off the face of the earth."

Back at Columbia, the fake Brooke Henson was making the most of her new life. She had a 3.22 GPA, an apartment near Central Park and was dating a West Point cadet.

"Among the textbooks, you were studying psychology and criminology," Van Sant points out. "And logically, someone would say, 'What perfect two courses for a con woman to take to hone her craft.'"

"What perfect two courses for a lawyer to take," she says.

In July of 2006, feeling confident after two years at Columbia, Esther applied for a job.
She says, "I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong enough to get caught."

While doing a background check, the employer Googled "Brooke Henson." He discovered she was a missing person and quickly called South Carolina authorities.

"It didn't make any sense to me… that there was somebody alive in New York-and it was actually Brooke," says Det. Campbell.

He was shocked and skeptical. "I didn't think it was possible that Brooke had gone to New York and somehow got into an Ivy League school after she'd been a high school dropout."

But then again, that's exactly what high school dropout Esther Reed had done. "A lot of kids who are incredibly bright drop out of high school because we're bored," she tells Van Sant.

Campbell asked a New York detective to make contact and ask Esther some questions that Lisa Henson, Brooke's aunt, had prepared. "What's your brother's best friend's name? What's your late uncle's first name? Things like that," says Campbell.

Remarkably, Esther got nearly all the answers right.

Lisa Henson had new hope - until she saw a photo. "Absolutely, positively, she is not Brooke Henson," she says. "I started thinking, either she had something to do with Brooke's disappearance or she knew somebody who was involved in it."

Henson and Campbell wanted more information.

"Technically she is a suspect until we can clear her," says Campbell.

Campbell asked a New York detective to call Brooke and request a DNA sample. Panicked, Esther decided to flee. She quickly went out and rented a U-Haul truck.

"I came back and the New York City police were at my door," she explains. "And I went upstairs, grabbed my dog and my suitcase and I left. The only thing I couldn't leave was my dogs."

As Esther's cons made headlines, she went underground. 48 Hours then set out to find her, hiring renowned private investigator Steve Rambam.

"Well, we begin by finding out everything we can about her background: her aliases, places where she's lived," he says.

Rambam first heads to Esther's old apartment in Manhattan, where he strikes gold.
Esther's landlord saved what she left behind, including Brooke Henson's certified birth certificate and a paper trail of her life as Brooke.

"She left behind her credit card statements, her bank statements, her phone bills. Countless, countless leads," says Rambam.

And some her targets were the men she was dating.

"How many men do you think Esther Reed has gone through?" Van Sant asks. Rambam says, "I'm aware of about a dozen."

So what was it about Esther that made her so attractive to men? U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins says, "She's a master of manipulation. And she can socially engineer anyone into liking her."

Among those dozen, at least five of them were cadets and midshipmen from West Point and Annapolis. There were fears that Esther was taking her scams to a whole new level.

"Law enforcement thought she might be a spy, that there may be possible espionage," says Rambam.

In July 2006, after having shed her identity as Brooke Henson, Esther Reed escaped from New York.

"When I made the decision to leave New York, I never spoke to anyone I knew ever again. I felt like that would be putting them in jeopardy," she tells 48 Hours Mystery in her first interview.

Esther took a cab to New Jersey, explaining, "I just knew I needed time to think."

Then she was gone; but the authorities were closing in.

A federal grand jury in South Carolina handed down an indictment, charging Esther Reed with felony identity theft and student loan fraud. With the full investigative powers of the Secret Service now deployed, it seemed likely that Esther would be apprehended quickly.

"When it came in as a potential identity theft case, that's why the Secret Service became immediately involved," says U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins.

"The fact that Esther got a passport under the name Brooke Henson - was that kind of a fatal mistake for her?" Van Sant asks.

Wilkins says, "anyone who can get a U.S. passport fraudently… we're gonna take that very seriously."

Hot on Esther's trail is 48 Hours private investigator Steve Rambam. He tracked Esther all the way from Vermont to Florida to California.

"I would be very surprised if we don't find her," he says. "If I didn't genuinely believe that, I wouldn't be daring enough to say it on television."

Pouring over Esther's old cell phone records, Rambam decided to head for Chicago. "There are a lot of significant leads in the Chicago area," he explains. "We know she lived there. We know she did whatever she does there."

Those records led 48 Hours to Steven Fouts, a convicted sexual predator.

"Steven Fouts, is that you? There were more than 100 phone calls between you and Esther Reed on your cell phone and hers," Van Sant says as he confronts Fouts going into his favorite bar.

Fouts claims a woman named Wanda used his cell phone to make those calls to Esther.

"She had my telephone. Right? Believe that? Do you believe that?" Fouts says.

"No. I don't," says Van Sant.

The Fouts lead is a dead end. Rambam next zeroes in on Steven Donald, an old boyfriend of Esther's who is also in Chicago. "He may know her current location. He certainly has a lot of information we don't yet have."

After observing Donald in his apartment, Rambam coaxes him outside. Then Van Sant moved in:

Peter Van Sant: "Steven-Peter Van Sant. Are you in contact with Esther Reed today?"
Steven Donald: "No. Of course not."
Van Sant: "Do you have any idea where she is?"
Donald: "No."
Van Sant: "You understand that she may be involved in illegal activities. And that those who associated with her will be likely questioned. And I'm giving you an opportunity to tell us what you know about her."
Donald: "Well, you tell the federal authorities I'd be more than happy to speak with them as they are a fine, upstanding, professional group of people."
But Donald goes back on his word. Authorities say he refused to cooperate. And while Rambam was in Chicago, Esther was still at large.

Joining the hunt on the federal side is U.S. Marshal John Bridge.

"I don't believe Esther's been in contact with any of her family or friends. I honestly believe that she pretty much left everyone behind," he says. "Because she's able to change her identities, it presents a unique challenge in figuring out what identity she's now using."

To uncover that new identity, Bridge has to match wits with Esther, explaining, "There's an old saying: You can't connect the dots until you collect the dots."

And when the dots are connected and Esther's pattern becomes clear, authorities are alarmed. Esther is dating a series of military men - but no one knows why.

"We investigated, along with the military, a potential security risk that Esther Reed might impose to the United States," Wilkins explains. "That she could be a spy, that she could obtain information and counter-espionage - sell the information to other countries."

Fueling the suspicion was the fact that Esther had received several wire transfers of cash from a man in Germany.

In the states, investigators focused in on Kyle Brengel, a West Point cadet with whom Esther was romantically involved. Rambam says, "This is again, somebody who, should he choose, probably can rise through the ranks to the very top of the military."

Van Sant questions Esther about some instant messages (IMs) between Brengel and herself.

"…you have IMs in which you're asking about what he's studying… if he could provide you with some of this information, including potential battle plans. Why did you ask him for that?"

"I could not imagine I would ever ask Kyle for a battle plan," she replies. But her instant messages with Brengel say otherwise:

Kyle: Training briefing…got lots of maps and timelines.
Esther: Is it for a class or something real?
Kyle: Yeah, for my military science class…just like what I'll do as an infantry PL (platoon leader)
Esther: Are they doing cool stuff? in your plans
Kyle: Yeah, it's pretty interesting.
Esther:I wanna see it…when you are finished.
Rambam says this is a classic method of espionage. "Using sex and using intimacy to get this sort of information. I mean, this is Mata Hari 101."

"No, never," she says when asked if she is a spy. "You can die for being a spy. I would never even consider doing that."

Again, her IMs to Brengel conflict with her story.

Esther: I'd so love to be james bond.
Kyle: Really? You want to be a spy?
Esther: Oh please, that would be a dream job.
"Either I was drunk or we were joking. I have no idea why I would say that," she says.

"Why shouldn't I think you're just BSing me right now? That the master con woman is just conning me and this audience," Van Sant asks.

"I am never very clear on why people consider me a con artist," Esther replies. "I don't think everyone who tells a lie is a con artist."

Frank Abagnale, who himself used sex to get information when he was a con man, thinks he knows why Esther was romantically involved with so many military students.

"She's using sex to meet them. But once she gets to meet them, she can question them all day long in a way that they don't realize they're even being questioned about. You know, 'How do I do this? How do you go about what you have to do.' It's to round out her military character," he explains. "I don't think Esther is into military espionage."

But Esther didn't limit her relationships only to military men.

"The one thing she's religious about paying her bills for, apparently, are for and," says Rambam. "She's trolling the Internet for the next boyfriend, for the next sucker."

And she found them everywhere. Traveling all over the country, Esther was hooking up with men in Connecticut, New York and Florida.

In February 2008, investigators get a huge break. They link Esther to a car purchased in the greater-Chicago area.

"All we have is a license plate number and we're just hoping and waiting that eventually law enforcement will find this particular car," U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins says.

They do find the car… but in a way no one ever expected.

More than a year-and-a-half after her escape from New York - and despite being hunted by the Secret Service and U.S. Marshals, investigated by a U.S. attorney and hounded by private investigator Steve Rambam - Esther Reed was still at large.

"I think Saddam Hussein changed his sleeping arrangements less often than she did," says Rambam.

She was still changing identities to keep one step ahead of her pursuers.

"After Brooke Henson, I decided we're not playing with real people. I'm going to create an identity… so I didn't think I could get into any trouble for that one," Esther explains. She became Jennifer Myers and she traveled.

Unbeknownst to Esther, investigators uncovered her new identity and U.S. Marshal John Bridge was closing in fast. "We had information that Esther was in the area of Tinley Park," he says.

It turns out that on Feb. 2, 2008, Tinley Park, a suburb of Chicago, was the worst place in the country for Esther to be.

Cops were searching everywhere in town after five women were brutally murdered in a Lane Bryant store. The killer was still on the loose. Police began cruising parking lots, running checks on all out of state license plates.

Just by chance, they came across Esther's car.

"I had just gotten lunch and I noticed there was tons of police," says Esther, who was staying a nearby hotel. "And I was like, what the heck is that?"

She says she was awakened by a knock at the door. It was police.

"I actually thought they were doing a manhunt looking for the guy, so I said 'Sure come on in. He checked my identification and it came back invalid… and he said 'Let's just take you down to the station and we'll figure it all out. It was overwhelming. There was an absolute panic," she tells Peter Van Sant.

Finally, Esther Reed is forced to admit her true identity. She is arrested and charged with multiple counts, including identity theft and student loan fraud. And after nine long years, she spoke with her sister, Edna Strom, from a jailhouse phone.

"I told her I loved her. She told me she loved me and that she missed everyone," Strom recalls. "And I said, 'Then why were you gone so long?' And she said, 'I don't know.'"

"I'm still very frightened how I will handle a family I can't deal with. It's pain. I mean, every time I talk about it, its pain. I just - want to be a happy girl," Esther says tearfully.

Ann Fitz, who was Esther's defense attorney, thinks Esther is a lost soul.

"Esther has an underlying psychological disorder," Fitz explains. "It stems from a social anxiety disorder. She feels like people are out to get her."

Social anxiety disorder is a very common phobia and defined as an excessive or irrational fear of being watched, judged and criticized by others.

"Howe convenient - social anxiety disorder. Boy, it seems to explain all the bad decisions you made in your life," Van Sant points out.

"I've been diagnosed by some of the top psychiatrists in the field," Esther replies.

Van Sant says, "You could be acting. You studied it." "I could be," she says, "But they happen to be the top experts."

As a woman who has spend years manipulating people, could she also be manipulating her attorney?

"Well, she could be manipulating me," Fitz says. "But from my perspective, as her attorney, I have to believe her."

Esther's defense will never be heard at trial. Six months after her capture, she admits to the fraud and identity theft charges, but refuses to detail her many scams.

"Are you a criminal, Esther?" Van Sant asks.
"Sure. I mean, I'm a felon," she replies. "I just pled guilty to four felonies."

Esther Reed, now 30 years old, is sentenced to 51 months in federal prison.

U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins does not believe she was a spy. "My thoughts are that she was merely looking into the possibility of broadening her criminal schemes," he tells 48 Hours Mystery.

Federal investigators concluded that Kyle Brengel did nothing wrong.
The Lane Bryant killer has never been found.

When asked if he thinks Esther knows the difference between right and wrong, Wilkins says, "I hope she does today. And I hope that she realizes what she's done to the Henson family."

Lisa Henson is still living with the pain of not knowing what happened to her niece, Brooke, who remains missing. "I don't think she ever considered anybody that this would affect," Henson says. "She was all about Esther."

"A mother lost her daughter. And I understand that...," Esther tells Van Sant. "I wish I could fix it and if I could fix it I would. I don't know how to make it better."

Esther agreed to an interview with 48 Hours after her sentencing. There's one question on everyone's mind.

"People wonder, why couldn't you just do this as Esther Reed?" Van Sant asks. "You had such intellect, such talent, such ability. Just do this as yourself."

"Esther Reed wonders why I couldn't," Esther replies. "I just wanted to go to college. I wanted to go to college and have a family where I wasn't constantly plagued by these toxic relationships that I couldn't make work."

After nearly a decade of running from her family, the law and herself, what will become of Esther Reed?

"I think Esther Reed has remarkable potential to do something. God knows what it is," Rambam says. "I suspect she'll find what it is. I suspect if it doesn't exist, she'll create it."

And who will she be in this new life?

"I don't know. I don't know if I'll stick with Esther Reed or if I'll change my name legally to something that might be more comfortable. And then I intend to go on and do something great! No BS," she says with a smile.

Esther Reed will serve her time at the Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia. The prison - nicknamed "Camp Cupcake" - is the facility that housed Martha Stewart.

Esther Reed is scheduled to be released in October 2011.
Despite pleading guilty, she could still be charged in other cases.
Produced by Paul LaRosa and Chris O'Connell

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.