In a new interview with ABC News' 20/20, Linda Iseler, Hoagland's ex-wife, says she cannot comprehend the reasoning behind such a destructive lie

By Alexia Fernández
Updated October 28, 2016 12:47 PM
Credit: Pasco County Sheriff's Office

Twenty-three years after Linda Iseler’s husband, Richard Hoagland, disappeared on Feb. 10, 1993, and was later declared dead, she received a call from Florida police saying her ex-husband had been arrested on a charge of fraudulent use of personal identification.

In a new interview with ABC News’ 20/20, Iseler says she cannot comprehend the reasoning behind such a destructive lie.

“How do you walk away from your own children? How do you turn your back?” she told 20/20.

Hoagland, who spent the last 20 years living as Terry Jude Symansky, was arrested in July after the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office discovered he was actually Hoagland, who was declared dead in 2003.

Hoagland, 63, is accused of stealing the real identity of Symansky, who drowned in 1991 at the age of 33. Hoagland knew the dead man’s father, deputies told the Tampa Bay Times.

Iseler and her former husband lived in Indianapolis, Indiana before his disappearance. They had two sons together, had a big home, steady income and enjoyed exotic vacations. It all ended 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 said. “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’d called hospitals in the area looking for him, but none had him listed as a patient.

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

The couple’s sons were young at the time: Matthew was nine and Doug was six.

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

Ten years passed and Hoagland was declared dead. Iseler later re-married, but her world was shaken once more when she received a voicemail from detective Anthony Cardillo of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department.

“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 Hoagland fled to Florida, police told 20/20 that he rented a room from Symansky’s father, where he found Symansky’s death certificate and stole it. He later used it to obtain a birth certificate and driver’s license.

Cardillo said Hoagland lived in Zephyrhills, Florida and married again to a woman named Mary. They had one son together.

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

Hoagland is in jail awaiting trial on charges of identity fraud. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. Iseler’s 20/20 interview will air Friday on ABC (10 p.m. ET).