In 1993, Richard Hoagland, disappeared from his family home, leaving his wife Linda and his two young sons, Matthew and Douglas. He left no notes or explanation as to why he left, he simply disappeared without a trace. Richard seemed to outsiders to be living the perfect life. So where did he go? This mystery has haunted Linda Iseler and her two sons for three decades. After 30 years or not knowing whether Richard was alive, Linda and her sons, finally found out what had happened to their missing loved one. Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. They discovered Richard was alive and well but Linda had to swallow the devastating news that her beloved husband had chosen to walk out on her and his children. Linda had thought Richard was happy after claiming to have found love again with her and starting their family, following an earlier divorce, but this was just the start of his web of lies.
Richard and Linda settled in Indianapolis, Indiana with their two sons, where they lived the life of your average American family. Arguments were minor and any that did surface were usually about money or the children. It was when the boys were aged 7 and 9 that things started to change. Richard started to become withdrawn and distant. He seemed to be showing signs of depression, but Linda just put it down to work stress and carried on as usual, hoping it would pass. Little did she know that he was planning something that would devastate the family and change their lives forever.
Linda recalls the day their lives changed clearly. She dropped the children at school and went to work at the medical office, as she always did. She was having a good day, laughing with colleagues and looking forward to getting home for some much needed family time, when she received a call that would send her life into turmoil.
The call was from her husband Richard—she hadn’t expected to hear from him, as she would see him at home that evening. Wondering why he was calling, she asked how his day was going. Richard surprised her by saying he was calling from outside a hospital.
Iseler didn’t understand what was happening. What was so bad that he needed to go directly to the hospital? Richard told her he was feeling unwell, and he couldn’t wait for her to get home before seeking medical help. Although she was worried, Linda accepted what he said, trying to believe it was just something small and he would be home in no time. She packed up and went to pick up her son Douglas, hoping Richard would be home soon with a clean bill of health. But that wasn’t going to happen.
Linda received another surprise when she returned home after work. Her youngest son was alone in the house without supervision. Alarmed, Linda looked for Richard in the house, not believing he would be foolish enough to leave a child alone unsupervised. She was about to find out that things were going to get worse.
Linda was worried about her husband. It must have been an emergency for him to leave Matthew alone. She called all of the hospitals in the area, but none of them had any record of Richard ever checking in. Linda became frantic, terrified that he had been in an accident en route to the hospital and had been admitted as an unidentified "John Doe."
After calling hospitals to describe her husband to the admissions staff, she still hadn’t come up with any news about Richard, so she decided to go through the house to check if any of his belongings were missing. Everything he would have taken if he were going somewhere were still in their designated spots. His toothbrush wasn’t missing, and even his passport was right where he left it. Linda recalled how this whole situation took place mid-February, but Richard hadn’t even taken his coat with him.
How could be have just disappeared? Linda recalled that first conversation, as Richard told her he was ill. "He called me at work and told me that he was ill… and that he needed to go to the emergency room, and I asked him, ‘Why don’t you just wait and I’ll go with you?’" She remembered his reply, "No, I don’t have time to wait." What had made him so panicked that he seemingly fled without even a coat on his back?
Iseler told "20/20" she had no idea where Hoagland went. She said the family lived in a large home, took exotic vacations and seemed to have a very happy marriage. They had a happy homelife and a young family that Richard dited on. Hoagland’s family had no idea what happened to him. As Linda tried to put the pieces together, she started remembering strange things Richard had said throughout their time together.
Hoagland had once told Linda he was a wanted man. She distinctly recalled him once saying he had to leave town as he was suspected of embezzling millions of dollars. Although Linda had found this concerning, she had been sure he was lying, but now she wasn’t so sure. Had someone been after him? Was he forced to leave? Did someone find him?
She remembered that Richard had been married once before, but that wasn't reason for suspicion. She knew he loved her and he loved his children; therefore, she didn’t believe he would just up and leave them. He was successful when it came to his career and was able to afford things like multiple vacations for his wife and family. "He was very spontaneous. He was guy who lived life to the fullest. He was always doing something. He was very successful," Iseler told "20/20."
Hoagland’s previous life was a bit of a mystery to Linda. He had been a successful provider for the family, but after 11 years of marriage, it was all over. That’s all she knew. What would make someone who seemingly had everything give it all up and disappear? There were many potential reasons for his disappearance, such as mental illness, miscommunication, fear and misadventure. Had Richard’s earlier statements been true? Was he really on the run from the FBI? Linda found it hard to believe her husband was a criminal.
Was her husband mentally ill? Linda had jokingly put it down to a mid-life crisis, but was there something more serious underneath this disappearance? What if Richard was suffering from depression? Linda knew that people who have mental health issues often find it difficult to cope with the impact of life. She was worried that he was putting on a brave face. Perhaps he was feeling depressed underneath and had uncertainty about how to ask for help, or maybe he didn’t feel like he could be honest and risk how he was perceived. He had been losing interest in the family and isolating himself, but she had never seriously considered depression.
It was, in fact, only an hour after Richard’s disappearance when he decided to call his wife again. Stunned but glad to hear he was alive, Linda could hear the sounds of noisy traffic behind him. He provided little detail about his whereabouts and refused to say where he was or what he was doing, no matter how much Linda pleaded with him to just "come home." This one phone call decided the fate of the entire family. Linda picked up the phone, and before she could say anything, she heard Richard’s voice saying, “I can’t live this way anymore. I feel you would be better off without me.” Richard hung up before Linda even had the chance to truly understand what was happening. But this wasn’t the last she would hear from Richard.
He called her a second time, reaching out to his family again. This time he said, "I don’t want to go to jail. I’m never coming back." Linda didn’t know what to think. What would possibly send Richard to jail? What had he been doing? The date was February 10, 1993, a day that Linda, Matthew and Douglas would never forget.
Hoagland got far away and lost the trail of the police. Just a few days after his last call to his family, his car was found at the airport. The location of the car suggested that Richard got on a plane and flew out of Indianapolis, but his name was not registered on any departing flights. The police checked with various airlines to see if he had taken a flight out of town or maybe even out of the country, but found nothing. Why would Richard leave his car at the airport if he wasn’t flying?
Richard called again four days later on the 14th of February and again on the 15th. When he called, it was always collect. Linda managed to check the phone records from the last two times Richard called the house and found that both calls came from vastly different places, one from Venezuela and the other from Aruba. As baffled as Linda was, wondering what Richard was doing, things were about to get even worse for her.
The investigation was only beginning. Linda didn't heard from Richard again until May, this time in the shape of a birthday card sent to their son Matthew when he turned ten. In July, Richard sent another card with $50 to Douglas, who was turning seven. Linda had no idea what to make of this fatherly display from her absent husband.
Richard shocked his family when the boys’ birthdays arrived. Surely, there were only a couple of reasons why a man with a loving wife and two young boys would run away and disappear forever. Clearly he didn’t want to leave, so what could have happened? Linda thought that maybe Richard had been involved in something criminal, since he did say that he "didn’t want to go to jail." She just couldn’t imagine what that criminal activity could be. When Matthew turned ten, Richard contacted him through a card and gave him a $50 bill. He did the same for Doug’s birthday. Doug’s card read, “Have a super birthday, you are a super boy. I love you and miss seeing you. Let your mom help spend this money; you might want to put some away. Maybe sometime soon we will get to see each other. I bet I won’t even know you, it has been so long. Mind your mother. Bye.” For completely abandoning his family, $50 is a small price to pay.
Despite Richard Hoagland sending cards to his sons, the family couldn’t figure out how he could even pretend to care when he had left them. They even began to think that he was still in South America, having fled there to avoid extradition back to the US, for a crime they didn’t yet know about. Richard’s son Matthew Hoagland, who is now 33, has tried to reconcile how someone can be so selfish. He and his mother have both been very vocal about the bitterness and heartache they felt at knowing he had left them on purpose, and that he had a choice they weren’t given.
Richard really left Linda in a financial mess. She was in massive debt. Hoagland had run up all of their credit cards before he left without Linda's knowledge or any way to pay it off, then he left and took his much larger salary with him. She was completely flummoxed and unsure how she and her boys were going to survive.
Richard made devastating financial decisions before he left the family. Linda had no idea just how much debt her husband had been wracking up. He even forged her signature on an enormous bank loan behind her back. All in all, he left her with repayments on 26 credit cards, almost all maxed out, plus loan payments. With no sign of Richard coming back any time soon, Linda had no choice but to file for divorce and hope she would not be responsible for his debt, which she couldn’t pay. As a result, the judge ruled that Richard would have to pay back the loans as well as the debt incurred on all the credit cards. He was even mandated to pay the taxes he’d been avoiding. Of course, Richard was still nowhere to be found.
Was this a mental breakdown by Richard? His son Matthew said, "Initially, you think, okay, this won’t last long. He’ll be back." Linda, however, stated to ABC News, "He devastated us. He left us with nothing, absolutely nothing. I was very broken." Linda was facing an uncertain future. She couldn’t afford her car payments or even her mortgage. She had two boys to raise and she had no idea how she would do it.
Richard was the main bread-winner in the family, and for that reason, Linda struggled to support the family once he left. She was unable to pay the mortgage and the car loans, so she quickly found herself having to rely on her parents for help. To make matters worse, the police entered Linda’s life again and began insinuating that she may know where Richard had disappeared to.
Linda became a suspect, even though she had already told the police that she had no idea where Richard could possibly be. Despite Linda sticking to her original story, police weren’t convinced that the couple weren’t in on it together. Linda knew that the police in the Marion County prosecutor’s office didn’t trust her or believe her. "They kept implying that I was guilty, that I was involved in his disappearance," Linda said. She had already told them she knew nothing, but they didn’t believe it. Linda was about to understand just how deep their suspicions went.
One investigator accused Linda of planning to take the boys out of Marion County to meet Hoagland wherever he was, and authorities were determined to prove it. This was not just about his disappearance, Linda was about to get yet another surprise. Law enforcement had been investigating Hoagland for some time as part of a theft case, so he was already on their radar, and his disappearance had flagged him as a serious player to the police. Thinking that he’d skipped town with money and that his wife and children would soon be following, the police actually gave Hoagland more credit than he deserved. Linda’s life was about to come under serious scrutiny.
The detectives believed that Linda knew about the financial problems. The accusation that Linda was in on this with Richard hurt her to the bone. "They interrogated me over and over and over," she told "20/20." "They alluded a lot to the possibility that he was involved in some type of drug trafficking, which I had no clue." Though Linda was struggling to convince the cops that she wasn’t involved in the disappearance, she had bigger problems with her family’s finances.
Richard’s financial problems continued for Linda, and it was becoming clear that she was going to face repossession. There was eventually no choice for her; to keep herself from sinking, she knew she had to claim bankruptcy. She didn’t want to do this as it would wreak havoc on her life, but there was no other alternative for her to keep the children from being homeless.
Linda had no easy way out of her financial problems. When the bills began to pile up, she knew she was at the end of the road and had to swallow her pride. With no other choice available, she had to move herself and her two boys back in to her parents’ house. Grateful to have family to help take some of the pressure off and ensure her boys had a roof over their heads, she was able to relax a bit. That's when things started getting weird.
Bizarre things began to happen to Linda. Over the next six months, Iseler suspected that someone was watching her and her family. She started noticing people following her in public, and the same faces would pop up over and over again. Suspicious unknown cars started to park near her parents’ house. This wasn't the most unusual occurrence, but things were about to get even stranger.
The feeling of being watched and followed continued for Linda, and things were getting really scary. Iseler noticed her mail had been opened and then resealed before she got to it. It seemed as if someone wanted to know if she was in communication with Richard, by intercepting everything they could. The following and the mail opening continued, and then things took a very sinister turn. Within her parents’ house, Linda began to notice things were constantly out of place. Initially putting it down to the kids moving things, she tried to ignore it, until it became completely unavoidable. The kids weren’t moving things in the drawers. Someone was in her parents’ house.
As Linda got more and more scared of what was happening around her, her father found proof of something suspicious. On February 15th, 1993, he found a recording device attached to Linda’s phone line. It was the confirmation Linda needed but desperately wished she didn’t have. Linda said, "When you’re in that situation, you become very paranoid." The bank foreclosed her home and repossessed her car at the same time. Linda took this opportunity to go into hiding, making sure that all her bills were in her parents’ names and hoping that no one would link it back to them. She even made the boys catch their school bus from a neighbor’s house in case anyone was watching them. Their new home in McCordsville, Indiana, was their new hiding place.
Despite hiding for six months, nothing really changed for Linda and her sons. "When you’re in that situation, you become very paranoid," Iseler said. "My thoughts were that he hooked up with the wrong people, and he did something wrong, and he had to leave." They were still under surveillance by the cops and felt like they were walking on eggshells. Linda claims that she and her boys would not have gotten by without the help of her parents. A crutch during their time in need, her parents were the only thing holding Linda upright. It seemed as if they were never going to get over what Richard did.
Twenty-three years later, everything changed in Linda’s life again when a detective named Anthony Cardillo called Linda and asked the question: “Do you know who Richard Hoagland is?” Linda couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Everything went hazy as she tried to put together the detective’s words. He was calling from Pasco County, Florida; why was he calling her? Richard had been declared dead officially in 2003, as he had been missing for so long. Worried the police were going to accuse her of something else when she finally had her life back on track, she said she knew him, he was her ex-husband. “Good,” the detective said, “we have him in custody.”
Richard was discovered in Florida. He was being held on charges of using the identity of a dead man. After abandoning his family in 1993, Richard had moved to Florida where he had created an entirely new identity for himself, that of a dead man. He stole the death certificate of a man who died in 1991 and elaborately created a life in the small Florida town of Zephyrhills. To add insult to substantial injury, Linda found out that Richard had been remarried for quite some time and even had a son with his new wife. He was about to turn his new family’s life upside down, just like he had done to her and her children.
Richard’s new identity came to him through a man named Edward Symansky. Throughout the time Richard was getting to know Edward, he was also storing information about Edward’s deceased son, Terry. Terry Symansky had died in a tragic fishing accident in 1991. It was only when Richard stole Terry Symansky’s death certificate that his whole plan became clear. The investigator on the case, Cardillo, told the ABC show, "Using that death certificate, he applied for a birth certificate. He used that birth certificate to get a driver’s license. Once he had that driver’s license, he started establishing his name as Terry Symansky."
Hoagland took advantage of Edward, a grieving father, and used him to find a new identity. Hoagland had established quite a life for himself, wasting no time in remarrying two years after he had disappeared from Indianapolis. Now with a wife of twenty years and another son, Hoagland was finally about to face the consequences of his actions.
Terry Symansky worked in Pasco County for more than two decades, leading a completely ordinary life. He had a wife named Mary and a teenage son. It wasn’t until the nephew of the real Terry Symansky started an search for his family history that Richard was found out as a liar and an identity thief.
The real Symansky’s nephew knew that his uncle had died back in 1991, and he was surprised to find someone with the same name and date of birth living in Central Florida. He was even more surprised when he discovered the lineage was the same. How was an uncle he knew was dead getting married and applying for his pilot’s license? Instead of going straight to the police, the Symansky family waited three years before doing anything, buying Richard some more time.
For Hoagland, Terry Symansky was a perfect candidate for identity theft. He had no children, and he was never married. He would have very little in the way of a paper trail leading to him. Without wedding photos, a marriage license or previous children, the job was made easier for Hoagland. But Gerry Beyer, a law professor from Texas Tech University, spotted something very unusual in Hoagland’s actions. He told the Tampa Bay Times that the alleged actions were strange, because most identity thieves steal identities for financial crimes, not to establish a life. It’s believed that Richard stole the identity because he had already committed very serious financial wrongdoing and needed a new identity to disappear from debt collectors and law enforcement.
Hoagland was arrested in July 2016 and charged with identity theft. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. Mary Symansky, Hoagland’s third wife, spoke to Cardillo the investigator. She said, "There were always questions, but he would always come up with a reason or an explanation." In fact, Hoagland’s new wife and son were completely blindsided by the revelation. "Obviously, their 20 years of marriage [was] shattered," Cardillo said. "The son came down. He was shocked. It was still his father. It’s his blood, but the Symansky name is not his. The emotions they were feeling [were] between anger and sadness and the wonder of why."
When Cardillo interviewed Hoagland, he was unshakable in his denial that the case had anything to do with him. "He told me his name was Terry Symansky, provided me a driver’s license. Terry Symansky: correct date of birth, everything," Cardillo recalled. "I asked him again but he said his name was Terry Symansky. Eventually, I showed him the death certificate and he told me his real name was Richard Hoagland." The news about Hoagland’s arrest hit the media: The missing man was found after over twenty years.
Richard was being held at the Pasco County jail on $25,000 bond. Authorities tried to charge Richard for his full wrongdoings: massive debts which hadn’t been repaid, divorce proceedings and a host of previous charges from his disappearance in 1991; however, they were unable to make the charges stick. The statute of limitations had run out, and the loss of an original affidavit meant Richard had an exceptional piece of good luck. Instead, Richard was charged with stealing a dead man’s identity, and Linda’s lawyer was present to make a case for unpaid child support. Linda had a great deal of sympathy for Richard’s new family, because she knew firsthand what it was like to live in a family destroyed by Hoagland.
Richard’s son Matthew became the most stable member of their family, according to his mother. They have both spoken openly about the disappearance and sudden resurgence of the man who had made their lives such an ongoing nightmare for so many years: forcing them out of their home, into hiding, bankrupt, penniless and having to restart their lives again. The case has opened a whole host of wounds and has thrown the family back into the spotlights of the national media again. Remembering the odd occurrences in their lives, it’s not surprising that Linda and Matthew were reluctant about bringing the case into the public sphere again.
Iseler is a strong and devout woman. Her faith supported her through the toughest times she faced, which was undoubtedly a serious challenge. She remembers those days in sharp focus, as she kept a journal at her attorney's recommendation. The pages are littered with detailed and meticulous notes on phone calls, timings and everything that happened. This book could have been mistaken for a suspense novel if repackaged, but the contents are all true and all written in Linda's own hand as she tried to keep her family together. When asked why he’d disappeared, Hoagland only said it was "family issues to do with his wife and kids." After all he’d put them through, he offered no more explanation than that.
The effect of Richard’s departure and all the dramatic events of their time, in hiding and in turmoil, has had an undeniable effect on the family. Doug, who was only six when his father disappeared, found his early years shaped by his dad’s disappearance. He didn’t take it well at all and struggled with addiction, blaming his father for his downfall. Although Doug’s choices are his own, to experience such upheaval and anxiety at a young age can easily create a pattern of anxiety where someone could turn to an addiction, like drugs, to self-medicate.
For Matthew Hoagland, things have turned out very differently. He now has a family of his own. It would be understandable for Richard’s sons to avoid having a family out of a fear of commitment, which their father was unable to make to their mother. Matthew has no such worries and, instead, has a good way to remind himself of his duties. He wears his father’s ring, not out of devotion or loyalty to Hoagland, but rather to remind him what not to do as a father and husband.
For Matthew Hoagland, all is not forgiven toward his father, but being a new father himself has allowed him to move on and create his own family. If anything, Matthew’s unique experiences as a child, whose father disappeared, leaving him alone and scared in his home, have meant that he wants to be the best father possible to his own baby. Matthew has his own take on what happened with his father, and he thinks it wasn’t just Hoagland’s story of "issues with his wife and kids." Rather, Matthew thinks that his father got involved with "the wrong people—got carried away and over his head in something."
Linda Iseler has moved on with her life and doesn’t want to think about Hoagland anymore. She is happily remarried and enjoying family life as a new grandmother. She has apparently put the stress of her ordeal behind her and come out stronger as a result.
When it comes to sympathy, though, the family have none for Richard. They’re incredibly happy that he is behind bars and being made to pay for some of what he has done. It’s a change for the family, knowing where he is for once. They do have sympathy for his Florida family; the two families have not met, but the Hoaglands are sympathetic to them. They know how much damage Richard has caused. "My heart goes out to them," Matthew said. "We know what they are going through," Iseler added. "We do express our sympathy and empathy to them. I’m sorry." But Iseler has nothing to be sorry for. The reality is that Richard has ruined the lives of two families with little remorse.
When Richard finally went to court, he was unable to be charged for theft but was charged with identity theft. There is still a chance, however, that he will be called back into an Indiana courtroom. Iseler’s attorney, Tom Markle, has indicated that he will soon be asking the judge to award Linda about $2 million in unpaid child support, and she may also have a right to proceeds from any assets Richard accumulated in his absence. The lie of identity theft was made much easier for Richard because it began before digital records were mandatory. To lie for over two decades is shocking; maybe he even began to believe it himself!
Hoagland may be pleading not guilty to identity theft, but the evidence against him in Florida is overwhelming.
On the other hand, the full details of Hoagland’s motives for abandoning his wife, children, job, car and other possessions in Indiana will not be aired in a court of law because the statute of limitations ran out and evidence like a key affidavit went missing. It’s pretty clear though, that when he headed south in the winter of 1993 without his coat or toothbrush, Hoagland was running away from overwhelming problems of his own making. Perhaps he had gotten involved with dealing drugs -- stemming from one of those fancy foreign vacations. Or maybe he ran up huge gambling debts. Or maybe it was international bank fraud or money laundering. At one point before he became distant and their relationship faltered, Hoagland had told Iseler that he was suspected of embezzling millions of dollars. If he had actually done such a thing, it would certainly help explain the lavish lifestyle he maintained.
In any case, it was likely something much bigger than, for example, embezzling money from his insurance company employer that made him anxious about the FBI, and later caused Linda herself to be targeted for aggressive interrogation and subjected to continuous surveillance.
Richard’s complaints to Linda in February of 1993 about about feeling unwell were probably the truth. Underworld figures pressuring you to pay up and federal law enforcement authorities bearing down on you would tend to make anyone feel pretty sick. And as an adult, his son Matthew has said he believes his father “got in over his head in something.” All of this is perfectly consistent with the elder Hoagland being guilty of major financial fraud or embezzlement of some kind.
Thanks to Richard Hoagland’s selfishness and criminality, two separate happy families were completely destroyed. This one man's decision to abandon his real identity and steal another one left a legacy of heartbreak and destruction 25 years long But while his ex-wives, 3 grown children and grandchild are now getting on with the rest of their lives, it is Richard who is left to face the consequences of his actions behind bars.
Remember how he told Linda back in the early 90s that he didn’t want to go jail? Well, justice was delayed, but Hoagland’s deceit and deceptions finally caught up with with him, even if the FBI did not, and he’s behind bars where he belongs. Maybe he’ll decide to confess to somebody eventually why exactly it was that he took off from Indiana without a trace and abandoned his own name along with his family, but Linda wouldn’t bet on it.