When Linda Iseler listened to her voicemail on that fateful day, the name spoken on the other end was the last one that she expected to hear. After all, her husband Richard had been missing without explanation for 23 years. So, decades on from his mysterious and agonizing disappearance, would this call finally bring her any closer to the truth?
Rewind to the beginning of this couple’s story, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. In fact, it appeared as if the closest thing that Richard Hoagland had to a skeleton in his closet was that he already had an ex-wife by the time he met Linda. Still, that was something he shared with millions of others who have had their marriages break down. And this time around, at least, there looked set to be a happy ending: the pair fell in love and enjoyed a good life together in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“He was very spontaneous,” Linda recalled in an October 2016 interview with ABC News’ 20/20. Furthermore, she added, “He was a shaker and a roller. He was always doing – making deals and doing things. He was very successful… a lot of fun to be with.”
In time, the couple had two sons, Matthew and Doug. And the family were financially secure, enjoying life in a large house and taking holidays together to exotic destinations. Indeed, on the surface, they seemed to have it all.
On February 10, 1993, however, everything changed. Linda was at work when she received a phone call from her husband. He told her that he was feeling unwell and that, as a consequence, he had to go to hospital.
And although Linda tried to persuade Richard to wait so that she could go with him, he refused. It turned out to be the last that she would hear from her husband. Subsequently, she called several local hospitals in an attempt to track him down, but Richard seemed to have vanished without a trace.
Naturally, Linda was left baffled by his sudden disappearance. “[His toothbrush] was still there,” she remembered on 20/20. “He didn’t pack any clothes. It was cold. It was in February. He didn’t take a coat.”
Matthew, who was nine at the time Richard disappeared, thought that his father would soon return home. But the mystery deepened when Richard’s car was discovered at Indianapolis International Airport – despite the fact that he had left his passport at the family home.
Furthermore, airport staff were unable to find any evidence of Richard having boarded any of their flights on the day that he went missing. And, as a consequence, the trail went cold. For several months, in fact, Linda had no idea where her husband had gone.
Then, in the summer, Matthew and Doug were both sent birthday cards from someone purporting to be their missing father. Inside Doug’s card, moreover, there was a cryptic message. “Maybe sometime soon we will get to see each other,” it said. “I bet I won’t even know you. It has been so long. Mind your mother. Bye, Dad.”
It was the last time that Richard attempted to make any contact with his family: Linda, Matthew and Doug had, it seemed, been left alone. Without Richard’s income, meanwhile, the family soon lost their home. And at one point, in fact, Linda even found herself to be a suspect in her husband’s strange disappearance.
“[Police] interrogated me over and over and over,” she said to 20/20. “They alluded to the possibility that he was involved in some type of drug trafficking, which I had no clue.” Eventually, though, Linda’s mother came to the family’s rescue with some much-needed support, and the family began to rebuild their lives.
Ten years after his disappearance, then, Richard was legally declared dead. And as time went on, Linda met someone else and remarried. All the while, neither she nor her sons heard anything from Richard – until the summer of 2016, when the phone rang.
Some 900 miles away, a Florida man had been researching his family history when he discovered something very strange indeed. His uncle, Terry Symansky, had died in an accident at sea in 1991. But according to state records, Symansky had also married in 1995 – four years after his official death.
Of course, Symansky’s nephew sensed something was amiss and contacted police. So Anthony Cardillo, a detective with Pasco County Sheriff’s Department, traveled to Zephyrhills, Florida, to meet the man claiming to be the late Terry Symansky.
And despite initially providing evidence to support his identity, the man caved when presented with Symansky’s death certificate. He eventually revealed that his real name was Richard Hoagland – leaving Cardillo to make that fateful call to the wife and children whom Hoagland had abandoned 23 years before.
Finally, Linda and her children found out what had happened to Richard on the day that he had disappeared. According to Cardillo, he had left Indiana for Florida, where he had begun renting a room from Terry Symansky’s father. And when he discovered the late man’s death certificate, he seized the opportunity to create a new life for himself.
With the help of the death certificate, then, Richard Hoagland established a new identity as Terry Symansky. By the time the law caught up with him, moreover, he had a birth certificate and a driver’s license under his new name and had bought a house in Zephyrhills. Most shockingly, he had also married again – and fathered a son.
And Richard’s new wife and child were just as shocked to discover his double life as Linda, Matthew and Doug were to find out that the man who had disappeared more than two decades before was still alive. According to Cardillo, Richard was evasive when questioned about his disappearance, stating only that he had been experiencing “issues” with his family.
Today, meanwhile, Matthew wears his father’s ring – but not for any reason you might expect. As he explained to 20/20, “I think I wear it to remind me of a bad example.” And while both of his families deal with the repercussions of Richard’s deception, the man himself is awaiting trial for identity fraud.