Authorities allege that Richard Hoagland, who vanished from his own family, took advantage of a grieving father in Florida and stole his dead son's ID

By Elaine Aradillas
November 04, 2016 11:33 AM

Decades after Richard Hoagland disappeared, leaving his wife broke and under suspicion, his secret life is finally exposed. For much more, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

Edward Symansky was heartbroken over the death of his son, Terry, who drowned in a boating accident in 1991.

So, a few years later, he was grateful when Richard Hoagland rented an efficiency apartment inside his home in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Hoagland would listen as Edward told stories about his son.

“My dad was grieving and pouring his heart out,” Terry’s sister, Cynthia Bujnak, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands now.

But that vulnerability was taken advantage of, authorities allege, because Hoagland stole Terry’s identity — and used the dead man’s name for more than two decades after running away from his own family halfway across the country.

“This was a perfect candidate for [Hoagland] to use for identity theft,” Bujnak says, alleging, “He stole my brother’s death certificate.”

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Credit: Courtesy Pasco County Sheriffís Office

In July, Hoagland was arrested for fraudulent use of personal identification.

“Since 1994, the defendant has exclusively used the victim Terry Symansky’s identity for everything,” according to an incident report by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.

“The defendant obtained a private pilot’s license, got married, had a child, opened and used numerous credit cards, applied for and was granted multiple mortgages for homes with his wife.”

Hoagland remains in jail and declined to be interviewed. He has pleaded not guilty.

Credit: Jim Wright

But his alleged crimes are connected to more strange behavior: In 1993, a year before he moved into the Symansky home, Hoagland disappeared from his Indianapolis-area family — leaving behind his wife and their two young sons.

They struggled to rebuild their lives, never knowing what happened to Hoagland, until Bujnak got involved months ago.

An Internet search by Bujnak’s nephew turned up activity surrounding Terry, and Bujnak called a friend at her local police department with the tip.

Authorities say they unraveled Hoagland’s scheme soon after, leaving those around him wondering at his motivations and speaking out about his lies.

“My dad was the victim,” Bujnak says. “Even after 23 years, the truth will always come out.”