She thought her husband was dead. Police told her he was living with his new family in Florida.

Hoagland abandoned his two young sons and his wife of 11 years
Hoagland abandoned his two young sons and his wife of 11 years
Pasco County Sheriffs Office

Twenty-three years had passed since Linda Iseler had seen or heard from her husband.

For more than a decade, the Indiana woman had assumed Richard Hoagland -- who had mysteriously vanished after 11 years of marriage -- was dead.

That all changed this summer when Iseker received a phone from detective Anthony Cardillo of the Pasco County Sheriff's Department in Florida, according to ABC News.

"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.'"

After abandoning his family in 1993, Hoagland moved to Florida, where he constructed an entirely new existence from scratch.

Police say he started by stealing the death certificate and adopting the identity of a man named Terry Jude Symansky -- a fisherman who died in 1991.

News about Hoagland's arrest broke in July, but his ex-wife and the investigator who uncovered his true identity have recently spoken out on ABC's "20/20."

"Using that death certificate, he applies for a birth certificate," Cardillo told the ABC show. "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."

For more than two decades, Terry Symansky appeared to lead an ordinary life in Pasco County. He had a wife named Mary and a teenage son, owned property and "worked odd jobs," according to the Tampa Bay Times.

"She said there was always questions, but he would always come up with a reason or an explanation," Cardillo told "20/20."

The truth began to surface when a nephew of the real Terry Symansky -- who drowned in 1991 at the age of 33 -- started an family search, according to NBC affiliate WFLA. Knowing that his uncle was dead, the nephew was surprised to find someone with the same name living in Central Florida.

"He looks up his real uncle Terry Symansky and realizes that he died in 1991, which the family knew," Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco told the station. "He then starts scrolling down the page and sees more details that Terry Symanksy was remarried in 1995. He owns property in Pasco County, Florida."

Terry Jude Symansky, who died in 1991, is the man whose identity was stolen by Richard Hoagland, police say. (Courtesy of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office) Terry Jude Symansky, who died in 1991. (Pasco County Sheriff's Office)

Fearing that their fake relative might try to harm them, family members waited three years before eventually contacting authorities in April, police told the Tampa Bay Times.

Hoagland, 63, was arrested in July and charged with fraudulent use of personal identification, the paper reported. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, ABC reported.

Hoagland's disappearance in 1993 seemed to come without warning, Iseler told "20/20." She said the family lived in a large home, took exotic vacations and appeared to have a healthy marriage. Their two sons were ages 6 and 9 at the time.

Then, one day, without warning, everything changed.

"He called me at work and told me that he was ill ... and that he needed to go to the emergency room," Iseler told "20/20." "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 was never able to find her husband, even after calling all the local hospitals.

"[His toothbrush was] still there," she told "20/20." "He didn't pack any clothes. It was cold. It was in February. He didn't take a coat."

[How a man solved the 30-year-old mystery of his own disappearance]

In his absence, Hoagland's family suffered, never knowing what had become of him.

In addition to losing their house and cars, Iseler said there was even a point when police suspected she may have been criminally responsible for her husband's disappearance.

She told investigators that Hoagland told her in the early 1990s that he was wanted by the FBI for embezzling millions of dollars and had no choice but to leave town, according to the Tampa Bay Times. In reality, police told the paper, Hoagland told investigators that he left Indiana to get away from his wife.

Eventually, the paper reported, Hoagland's wife assumed her husband was dead.

"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."

"He devastated us," she added. "He left us with nothing, absolutely nothing. I was very broken."

Gerry Beyer, a law professor at Texas Tech University who studies identity theft, told the Tampa Bay Times that Hoagland's alleged actions are unusual because most identity thieves steal people's names to commit crimes.

He told the paper that because the real Symansky never married or had children made him a "perfect" candidate for identity theft.

Yet, he noted, Hoagland's ability to maintain the lie for more than two decades was shocking. It was a lie that was probably made easier, Beyer said, because it began before digital records were commonplace.

"You just never know," Beyer told the paper. "It will all catch up with you."

Cardillo said Hoagland's new family in Florida was also shocked to learn that its loved one had a former identity.

"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."

Asked why Hoagland left his life behind, Cardillo told "20/20″ that Hoagland's explanation was strangely simple: "Family issues with his wife and children," he said.

Washington Post

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