How missing Indiana man's family found him alive 23 years later

(ABC NEWS) -- For 23 years, Richard Hoagland’s wife and kids had no idea what happened to him after he disappeared on Feb. 10, 1993.

“How do you walk away from your own children? How do you turn your back?” Linda Iseler, Hoagland’s wife at the time of his disappearance, told ABC News’ “20/20.”

Iseler and Hoagland had an idyllic life in Indianapolis. After an earlier divorce, Hoagland thought he had found love again with Iseler.


“He was very spontaneous. He was a shaker and a roller ... he was always doing -- making deals and doing things. He was very successful,” Iseler said. “He was a lot of fun to be with."

The family had a big house, a steady income and exotic vacations, but their picture-perfect relationship came to an end one day in 1993, after 11 years of marriage.

“He called me at work and told me that he was ill … and that he needed to go to the emergency room,” Iseler recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, why don’t you just wait, and I’ll go with you?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t have time to wait.’”

Iseler said she called the hospitals in the area, but there was no trace of him ever being there. Hoagland had vanished.

“[His toothbrush was] still there. He didn’t pack any clothes. It was cold. It was in February. He didn’t take a coat,” said Iseler.

Hoagland hadn't even taken his passport, Iseler said. Their son Matthew was 9 years old at the time, and his brother Doug was just 6 years old.


“Initially, you think, ‘OK, this won’t last long. He’ll be back,’” Matthew Hoagland told “20/20.”

Authorities eventually found Richard Hoagland’s car abandoned at Indianapolis International Airport, but there was no record of a Richard Hoagland taking any flights out of the airport the day he went missing, Iseler said.

That summer, his two sons both received a birthday card from their father, each containing $50.

Doug’s card said, “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, Dad.”


Those words were the last they ever heard from Hoagland. And Iseler said police viewed her as a suspect in his disappearance.

“They interrogated me over and over and over. They alluded a lot to the possibility that he was involved in some type of drug trafficking, which I had no clue,” Iseler said.

Iseler said they lost the house and cars after he vanished. Her mother stepped in to help.

“He devastated us. He left us with nothing, absolutely nothing. I was very broken,” she said.

After 10 years, Hoagland was declared dead. Iseler eventually moved on and re-married.

Then, just this past summer, Iseler received a voicemail from detective Anthony Cardillo of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department in Florida.

“He asked me if I knew who Richard Hoagland was, and I said, 'Yes, that’s my ex-husband,'" Iseler said. “He said, ‘We have him in custody.’”

It turns out, police said, he had been living as a man named Terry Symansky, who was a fisherman killed in a boating accident in 1991.

After he disappeared in 1993, police said Hoagland had fled to Florida, where he rented a room from Symansky’s father. Hoagland found Symansky’s death certificate and stole it, police said.

“Using that death certificate, he applies for a birth certificate. He uses that birth certificate to get a driver’s license. Once he has that driver’s license, he starts establishing his name as Terry Symansky,” Cardillo told “20/20.”


According to Cardillo, Hoagland bought a house in Zephyrhills, Florida, and married a woman named Mary. The two even had a child together.

“She said there was always questions, but he would always come up with a reason or an explanation,” Cardillo said.

Hoagland might have gotten away with living under his new identity. However, this past summer, the real Terry Symansky’s family started looking into their family history, using Ancestry.com for a genealogy project.

Through this research, the real Symansky’s nephew discovered that his uncle, who supposedly died in 1991, had gotten married two years after they buried him. After the Symansky family contacted police, Cardillo interviewed Hoagland.

“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. He said his name is Terry Symansky. Eventually, I showed him the death certificate that I'd brought with me. He eventually told me his real name was Richard Hoagland.”

Cardillo said Hoagland’s unsuspecting new wife and son were 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 that Symansky name is not his. The emotions they were feeling [were] between anger and sadness and the wonder of why.”

Cardillo said Hoagland’s only explanation for disappearing was “family issues with his wife and children.”


“I believe he got caught up with the wrong people -- got carried away and over his head in something,” Matthew Hoagland said.

Richard Hoagland is now in jail awaiting trial on charges that include identity fraud. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was unavailable for an interview with “20/20.”

“I have this ring. This is my dad's ring. That's it. I do wear it for the most part every day. But I think I wear it to remind me of a bad example,” said Matthew Hoagland.

 

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