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Six years after the return of Lois and Ed Smart's daughter, Dora Corbett is watching her own daughter resurface.

A year of forced medication has brought Wanda Barzee back from decades of mental illness, putting her on the road to "her real self," her mother said.

"It's wonderful to have her back," Corbett said.

But it's a complicated development -- at least for the 64-year-old Barzee's own children, who are wary about taking down protective walls put up during a hellish childhood and mental illness that culminated in their mother helping to kidnap and assault Elizabeth Smart.

"I love her, she's my mom," said Rhonda McLeod, Barzee's oldest daughter, who visited her mother in August 2004 and again last January. "But it's hard."

One of Barzee's two sisters has visited occasionally, too, but not until the medication began were the visits "really good," McLeod said.

The personality change is one that Corbett can trace in the evolution of her daughter's writings. That arc has moved from a 27-page screed Barzee sent a couple years ago to recent letters expressing remorse and seeking forgiveness.

Corbett, 88, said her daughter now sees how deeply she was deceived by Brian David Mitchell, whom she met in a therapy group and married in 1985.

It was a second marriage for Barzee, who first wed in 1964 -- the same year she graduated from the old South High School. She brought a fragile mental state to the marriage, which wasn't helped by the birth of six children in 10 years -- the first three quickly, one a year, all born in August.

Corbett said her daughter's first husband was physically and emotionally abusive. He was controlling, too, shutting down her entrepreneurial efforts as a cake decorator and piano teacher. After Barzee began to study organ, she "went wild" and "really kind of neglected her children because she practiced so long.

"It was a dysfunctional family," Corbett said.

Several of Barzee's children say their mother subjected them to physical and emotional abuse; one has claimed a sibling was sexually abused.

"She was definitely my 'Mommie Dearest' back in the day," said youngest daughter LouRee Gayler -- a reference to a movie about actress Joan Crawford's abusive mothering. "My mother was sick for a long time."

Barzee suffered a nervous breakdown not long before her first marriage collapsed.

In 1983, on Gayler's eighth birthday, Barzee left her husband and children -- one was in foster care and the oldest were becoming adults -- and filed for divorce.

Barzee's husband was given custody of the other children in an acrimonious divorce that included mutual accusations of abuse and, in Barzee's case, of mental illness.

In January 1987, when she was 12, Gayler rejoined her mother and new husband Mitchell. But after nearly three years she moved back with her father in part because of Mitchell's strange behavior.

It was around this time that, according to Corbett, Barzee and Mitchell entered a steady downward spiral. By 1993, Barzee had sent each of her children a letter saying she was leaving Utah and no longer wanted contact, McLeod said.

Barzee and Mitchell went to Idaho for a while. In 1995, Barzee renounced her family as "evil" and "materialistic" and disappeared in what turned out to be a two-year, cross-country trek with Mitchell.

Corbett received a single postcard from her daughter during that time. McLeod said neither she nor her siblings heard from their mother.

The couple resurfaced again in 1997. Barzee and Mitchell lived with Corbett for three months -- they were working on Mitchell's manifesto at the time -- before a falling out over the couple's increasing religious fanaticism.

"They were trying to push their religion on people all the time, calling them to repentance, and that was offensive," she said.

Her daughter resumed the life of a drifter, living in a tepee in the Salt Lake Valley's foothills or with Mitchell's mother. McLeod remembers spotting her mother and Mitchell, by then dressing in robes, around town a time or two; they never spoke.

Corbett said she had a final encounter in early 2002, with her daughter. Barzee showed up, cradling a doll as though it were a real infant.

"You can imagine how she must have been missing her children," Corbett said. "All she did was talk about her past."

That led to an angry exchange and Barzee, clutching her doll, stormed out.

Nearly a year passed before Barzee turned up again -- this time in the news.

In 2003, after "America's Most Wanted" fingered Mitchell as the prime suspect in Elizabeth Smart's abduction, all six of Barzee's children contacted authorities, according to news reports, with information that pieced together a horrific puzzle.

Now, as Barzee's delusions clear, she has begun sending her children letters -- holiday and birthday cards -- that ask for forgiveness and a chance at a new beginning.

"It's the first time in all these years," said McLeod. Another first: Her mother signed the cards with her given name rather than "Hephzibah," a name bestowed on her by Mitchell that means "God Adorneth."

"I have tried through all these years to have a relationship with her," McLeod said. And now? "It is hard to put that much effort into someone your whole life," she said. "It's hard."

Gayler received a birthday card in September -- the first time her mother had ever done that, she said. But Gayler has not written back.

Like her siblings, Gayler is hesitant about renewing a relationship with her mother. Gayler visited her mother in 2003, right after Barzee's arrest but found her mother as confused as she had been in the past.

"Now that a totally new person is arising, maybe," said Gayler, 34. "I am a little guarded, I can't say that I'm not. I need to worry about my life and my kids."

Gayler is proud of her mother for taking responsibility for her actions, for the progress she has made. "I didn't think I'd ever see the day," she said. But a relationship now would be "like somebody I've never known before."

Mark Thompson, one of Barzee's three sons, shares that reaction.

"I am glad she pleaded guilty. I don't know if she's sincere or not, but it's a step in the right direction," Thompson said. But, "I'm 40 years old and I don't know if I need a mom now."

Derrick Thompson, whose book Raised by Wolves references allegations of abuse Barzee heaped on her children, declined to be interviewed.

Corbett said she has been at peace about her daughter since a chance encounter with a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints two years ago. After hearing about Barzee, Corbett said he gave her simple advice: "He said, 'All you can do is love her.' "

Corbett, who no longer drives, relies on letters, occasional phone calls and court appearances to stay in contact with her daughter.

"Now that I see that she's competent and has her mind back, I am so happy for her," Corbett said. "I feel a lot better about it all. She is willing to spend the rest of her life in prison for what she's done."

Barzee is not likely to have to do that given a plea deal reached early this month that requires her to spend 15 years in prison, with credit for time served and good behavior.

"She has told me she is so sorry she has caused me all this pain and grief," Corbett said. "I told her, 'Of course I'll forgive you, Wanda.' You know, no matter what happens from now on she is going to be all right and the Lord is going to watch over her because she is on the right path again."

Corbett then repeated something she said days after Barzee's arrest in 2003: "At least I know where she is now."