Hoagland is accused of stealing a dead man’s identity and using it to
lead a new life in Florida. Photo / Pasco County Sheriff’s Office via
For more than two decades, Terry Jude Symansky appeared to lead an ordinary life in Pasco County, Fla.
He had a wife and a teenage son, owned property and “worked odd jobs,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
only problem, police say, was that Terry Jude Symansky wasn’t really
Terry Jude Symansky. He was actually an Indiana man named Richard
Hoagland who vanished 25 years ago and has been considered dead since
2003, the paper reported.
The lie lasted more than two decades. In the end, a single online search was all it took for the ruse to unravel.
truth began to surface when a nephew of the real Terry Symansky – who
drowned in 1991 at age 33 – started an Ancestry.com family search,
according to ABC affiliate WFLA. Knowing that his uncle was dead, the
nephew was surprised to find someone with the same name living in
“He looks up his real uncle Terry Symansky and realises 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.”
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
Hoagland, 63, was arrested Thursday and charged with fraudulent use of personal identification, the paper reported.
exactly Hoagland came to assume the identity of Terry Symansky – who
moved to Florida from Cleveland to work as a commercial fisherman –
remains a complicated mystery.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that investigators suspect it occurred as follows:
think Hoagland stole Terry Symansky’s identity like this: Hoagland once
lived with Terry Symansky’s father in Palm Beach. Hoagland found a copy
of Terry Symansky’s 1991 death certificate and used it to obtain a
birth certificate from Ohio. With the birth certificate in hand, he then
applied by mail for an Alabama driver’s license and used that to obtain
a Florida driver’s license. That’s how deputies think Hoagland came to
spend more than two decades living in Florida as Terry Symansky.
Terry Symansky, he married Mary Hossler Hickman in 1995. The couple
lived in Zephyrhills. He also fashioned a medical card to obtain a
private pilot’s license as Terry Symansky from the Federal Aviation
Terry Jude Symansky, who died in 1991, is
the man whose identity was stolen by Richard Hoagland, police say. Photo
/ Pasco County Sheriff’s Office via Washington Post
Before he began the process of assuming a new identity,
Hoagland left his old life – which included a wife and four children –
behind in Indiana, according to Bay News 9. His former wife in Indiana
told police that Hoagland had three businesses related to insurance.
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.
“This is a selfish coward,” Nocco said. “This is a person who has lived his life destroying others.”
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
He told the paper that the fact that the real Symansky
never married or had children made him a “perfect” candidate for
And 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.”
Hoagland’s Florida tenants told Bay News 9 that they were shocked that their landlord wasn’t who he said he was.
“We’ve been personal with him quite a bit, and Terry’s the nicest guy anyone could ever meet,” Gregory Yates told the station.
a really nice guy, and he’s a really good landlord,” Dean Lockwood,
another tenant, said. “Never would have known this, couldn’t imagine
this was happening.”
Perhaps most damaged by Hoagland’s hoax,
police said, was his wife in Florida, who learned about her husband’s
alleged crimes only when detectives showed up at her door last week.
20 years, she’s been lied to, so now she doesn’t know what she has to
do as far as whether her marriage is even legal – what’s going to happen
to all the properties they own, their bank accounts,” Detective Anthony
Cardillo told Bay News 9. “The son has the last name Symansky.”