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The unusual story of Richard Hoagland spans decades, states and families.
Sitting in a cold room in the Marion County prosecutor’s office two decades ago, Linda Iseler was sure the detectives on the other side of that table didn’t trust her.
Iseler’s husband at the time, Richard Hoagland, had disappeared from their Fishers home on Feb. 10, 1993, leaving her alone with 9-year-old Matthew, 6-year-old Douglas and a pile of unpaid bills, she said.
“They kept implying that I was guilty, that I was involved in his disappearance,” Iseler said.
She knew nothing, she told them. They didn’t believe her, she said.
When the interview was over, one investigator accused her of planning to take the boys to leave and meet up with Hoagland.
Hoagland had skipped town not long before law enforcement started investigating him in a theft case. He left behind more than unanswered questions and worried loved ones.
He left his family in financial ruin, they said, and his wife under the intense scrutiny of law enforcement. What happened to Hoagland was a mystery that went unsolved for more than two decades.
Until this past week.
Police discovered that Hoagland had started a new family, bought property, registered vehicles and even earned a pilot’s license using a name he stole from a dead man.
“How can somebody be such a terrible human being?” said Matthew Hoagland, now 33.
IndyStar met Matthew Hoagland and Iseler, who divorced Richard Hoagland in 1993 and has since remarried, at their attorney’s office in Fort Wayne on Thursday.
Mother and son spoke candidly about the disappearance and sudden reappearance of a man whose recent arrest has reopened old wounds and thrust the family in the glare of national media.
Iseler is a strong and devout woman. She said she has leaned heavily on her Christian faith and support from her family through the difficult years.
Her memory of those days remains sharp and, guided by the advice of her attorney at the time, she kept meticulous notes in a journal. She brought the book with her to the IndyStar interview, thumbing through its pages to read passages aloud.
On the day Richard Hoagland left, Iseler had been working at a medical office in Greenfield.
It was 4:45 p.m., Iseler said, looking at the notes. Hoagland called, telling her he was ill and headed to the emergency room. She pleaded with him to wait. She said she would leave work and go with him.
He said he would be gone before she got home.
Iseler picked up Douglas from day care and was home by 5:25 p.m. Matthew was alone in the house.
Fifteen minutes later, at 5:40 p.m., according to her notes, the phone rang. Hoagland was calling to say goodbye. He was never coming home.
“I can’t live this way anymore,” he told her. “I feel you would be better off without me.”
He called again at 7:30 p.m., Iseler said, with sounds in the background suggesting he might be in an airport or a bus station.
“I don’t want to go to jail,” he told her. “I’m never coming back.”
Police found his van at the airport a few days later. Police told Iseler that Hoagland’s name was not listed on any departing flights.
Hoagland called a few more times, always collect, on Feb. 14 and 15, 1993, Iseler said. She said the phone bill showed the calls were placed from Aruba and Venezuela.
In May 1993, Hoagland sent a card and $50 to Matthew for his 10th birthday. In July, Hoagland sent another card and $50 to Douglas, who turned 7.
That was the last they heard from him, Iseler said.
Meanwhile, Iseler said, Hoagland had run up their credit cards and forged her signature to take out a bank loan before he skipped town. In the couple’s December 1993 divorce decree, a judge ordered Hoagland to pay 26 credit cards, loans and debts, along with unpaid taxes and attorney’s fees.
Their mortgage and car payments were overdue, Iseler said. She said she could not pay either.
The police were looking for him, and came to her, believing that Iseler knew where Hoagland was. There was the accusatory meeting with the investigators.
For at least the next six months, Iseler said, somebody watched her family. She noticed people following her in public; suspicious cars were parked near her house.
Her mail showed signs of being opened and sealed back up, she said. She would come home from work to find items out of place, as if somebody had been inside.
On Feb. 15, 1993, she said, her father found a recording device attached to the bedroom telephone line.
Iseler was terrified.
“When you’re in that situation, you become very paranoid,” Iseler said. “My thoughts were he hooked up with the wrong people and he did something wrong and he had to leave.”
Iseler declared bankruptcy. Creditors repossessed the family’s van. The bank foreclosed on the house.
In October 1993, Iseler went into hiding in McCordsville. The house, phone and utilities were in her parents’ names. The school bus picked up and dropped off the boys at the home of a church friend.
They hid for about six months, Iseler said. The family remained wary and lived in fear for a couple of years.
Hoagland, meanwhile, had made his way to West Palm Beach, Fla. There, police say, he found Terry Symansky’s death certificate in a room he rented from Symansky’s father.
The real Symansky died in 1991.
Hoagland, police said, used the death certificate to get Symansky’s Ohio birth certificate. He used the birth certificate to get an Alabama driver’s license. He got a Florida license under the new name in 1994, police said, and had been living as Symansky ever since.
The deception was uncovered when the real Symansky’s nephew searched ancestry.com and found documents showing his uncle had gotten married and earned a pilot’s license after he had died.
On July 20, Pasco County sheriff’s deputies arrested and booked Hoagland under his real name. Hoagland remained in jail Friday on a charge of fraudulent use of personal identification, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office website. Bond was set at $25,000.
Under the new identity, police said, Hoagland remarried and fathered another son, who now is 19.
Hoagland’s Indiana family said they have not met the Florida family. When asked whether they had contacted them, Matthew Hoagland declined to comment.
“My heart goes out to them,” he said.
“We know what they are going through,” Iseler added. “We do express our sympathy and empathy to them. I’m sorry.”
Marion County prosecutors filed theft charges against Richard Hoagland in October 1993, electronic records show, but officials can’t find the original file or the probable cause affidavit that would include detailed allegations of the offense.
The records likely were destroyed within the past few years. In Indiana, the statute of limitations for theft typically is five years.
Hoagland, however, might still be called back to an Indiana courtroom.
Iseler’s attorney, Tom Markle, said he will soon ask a judge to order Hoagland to fork over about $2 million in unpaid child support.