Few things in this life are more devastating than finding out the person you love most in the world isn’t who you thought they were. That’s exactly what happened to Blake Ruff. When he married the love of his life, all he could think about was starting a family with her. Then everything went south. After years together, Blake learned the truth about who his wife really was, and he would never be the same again. This is the story of Blake and Lori, and their fairytale marriage that turned into a nightmare.
Love At First Sight
It was 2003 when Blake Ruff first laid his eyes on Lori Erica Kennedy. It was love at first sight, and he knew his life would never be the same. He had no idea, however, just how much it would change.
After a year of courtship, the two were married, despite the fact that Ruff barely knew anything about his wife. Was she hiding something from her past? In time, the answers would reveal themselves, although Lori wouldn’t be the one to tell.
A Blank Past
Blake might have been okay with his new wife refusing to get into details about her past, but his family was less trusting. They thought it was highly suspicious that the only thing Lori said was that she had a rough upbringing.
When Lori met Blake, she had just moved to Texas from Arizona. She didn’t have any friends and they met in Bible class. For Blake, that was enough to know. His family voiced their concerns from the start, but they fell on deaf ears.
A Private Wedding
With no family to speak of, Lori married Blake in a private ceremony. He didn’t even invite his own family. Only the couple’s preacher was there, happy to see the two lovebirds become one.
With the ceremony over, the couple decided it was time to start a family. Blake’s life was seemingly perfect. He had a job he loved and had found the woman he knew he was meant to spend the rest of his life with. Adding to their family was the obvious next step.
Now happily married, Blake and Lori began trying to have kids. Sadly, like so many people in the United States, the path was anything but easy. Lori had several miscarriages.
Still determined to start their own brood, the Ruff’s chose to try in vitro fertilization. The new plan worked, and before long Lori was pregnant with a baby girl. They couldn’t have been happier. Blake never could have imagined what would happen next, and it would leave him shaken to his core.
Pushing Everyone Away
In 2008, Lori gave birth to a healthy and happy girl. The event should have been one for her and Blake to celebrate. Instead, Lori began pushing everyone in her life away, especially Blake.
Lori acted overprotective of their daughter and became incredibly distant. Blake had known that she tended to be a private person, but now she was taking it to a new level. Something was wrong, but Blake had no idea what it was, and Lori refused to tell him.
A New Obsession
Before long, Lori stopped keeping Blake at a distance. She began asking him questions about his family and their history. She wanted to know everything. It was an odd turn of events for someone who refused to say anything about her own past.
What was Lori trying to do? Was she suddenly coming back around to the father of her child? Would they finally be able to happily raise their family together? Blake remained optimistic about the couple’s future, even when his family was not.
Enough Is Enough
Blake’s family finally had enough of Lori’s antics when his parents were banned from seeing their granddaughter. The two sides began fighting non-stop, putting Blake in one of the toughest positions of his life.
With so much pressure on her, Lori fell into a deep depression. No one was giving her her privacy and it was beginning to affect her both emotionally and mentally. Knowing she needed to do something to try and save her marriage, Lori agreed to try couple’s counseling.
Blake and Lori began marriage counseling in 2010. They both knew it was the last chance they were going to have to save their marriage. In the end, however, there was nothing they could do.
After seven years of marriage, Blake accepted the harsh reality that Lori was not the same person as when they met. The next spring, Lori and Blake filed for divorce. Their story was far from over though; they still needed to figure out how to co-parent their daughter.
Lori’s Health Declined Rapidly
With her marriage over, Lori sunk further into her depression. He stopped eating and her health rapidly declined. She lost weight and became impossible to communicate with. The only person she would talk to was her pastor.
During these visits, should would ramble about the problems in her life while fidgeting. Her behavior was incredibly worrisome. She had lost everything and was becoming unhinged. Would she find a way back to happiness? There had to be someone who still cared.
Too Much To Bear
At the end of 2010, Lori was under too much stress and saw no way out. On Christmas Eve she drove to the Ruff family household in a black SUV and parked.
She took her life in the car. Blake’s father found her the next morning with two notes, one for him, and one for their daughter. When Blake opened his, he noticed the writing was completely illegible. Curious, he opened his daughter’s letter too, and it was more of the same.
Blake’s Big Discovery
Blake was in shock by what had just happened. He knew that Lori was having problems, but had no idea she was in such a vulnerable state. Then he made his big discovery, learning that his family might have been right about her from the start.
While sorting through Lori’s old things, Blake came across a lunch box he had never seen before. Inside, the truth about his wife’s past was revealed, and Blake couldn’t believe what he learned.
What Was In The Box?
Blake found the lunchbox in the back of the closet, hidden behind a heap of boxes. He knew it wasn’t right to open the box, but he also needed to know if anything Lori had told him about herself was true.
Sitting there by himself, Blake couldn’t break open the box to see its contents. He needed help, and knew exactly who he could trust. Without hesitation, he went to his local precinct and asked a police officer for help.
The Box’s Contents Shook Blake To His Core
With help from the law, Blake was finally able to see the contents of the lunchbox. Inside were ID cards from different states and a birth certificate no one had seen. On the certificate was a name Blake had never heard.
Then it all made sense. Blake pulled out another document; a name change document form 1988. Lori would have been 17 years old at the time. The secrets to Lori’s past were finally starting to reveal themselves, and there was no turning back for Blake now.
Becky Sue Turner
Thanks to the name change document, Blake and the officer discovered that Lori had changed her name from Becky Sue Turner in 1988. Blake and the officer dug deeper into Lori’s past, and learned that something even more shocking.
Becky Sue Turner had perished in a house fire in 1971, when she was two years old. If Lori wasn’t Becky, then who was she? This puzzling clue led police to open an investigation into the real identity of Lori Ruff.
A Woman Without A Past
The first piece of the puzzle that police solved was that Lori was truly a woman without a past. She never lied to Blake about it, because there was nothing to tell. In Idaho, she was given a state ID and social security card as Lori.
She used her new forms of identification to go back to school and get her GED and enter a business program at the University of Texas. When cops tried to trace her whereabouts as Lori before that, nothing came up in their databases.
No Good Leads
As the investigation continued, police were left with no good leads. They met one former acquaintance who said that in the early ’90s Lori had worked as a dancer at a gentlemen’s club.
Police then spoke to a social security investigator who had been following the case. His name was Joe Velling, and he had nothing to add. Despite trying to track down the truth about Lori for years, every lead he came up with turned into another dead end.
DNA Was The Answer
With years of searching behind them and no answers to be found, Blake and the police had given up. Then, in 2013, Colleen Fitzpatrick heard about the case. She was a genealogist and she asked if she could have a DNA sample from the couple’s daughter.
Thanks to DNA, Fitzpatrick was able to find a connection with Lori in Pennsylvania, a cousin named Michael Cassidy. She told Joe Velling, who hopped on the first plane he could to meet Cassidy and finally get the answers he and Blake desperately needed.
A Family Reunion Of Sorts
Joe arrived in Pennsylvania and met up with Michael Cassidy and his family. He was hoping the truth about Lori would finally come out. As soon as he showed the family her picture, someone recognized her as Kimberly McLean.
McLean ran away from her home at 17 years old when her mother married a man she hated. Now that Joe and Blake finally knew the truth about who Lori was, they couldn’t help but wonder what happened between her running away and meeting him.
The journey to discover the truth about who Lori really was took investigators six years. In 2010, when it was discovered she was lying about her identity, authorities listed her as a Jane Doe in their system.
In 2016, Colleen Fitzpatrick uncovered the truth with help from Blake’s daughter. DNA proved to be an invaluable tool in this case, showing just how far science has come. Even though it can’t solve every mystery, without advancements in genealogy, the Ruff family might still be left in the dark.
From One Daughter To Another
It’s no small wonder that the case of one missing daughter was solved through the DNA of another. Since ancestry companies starting using DNA to backtrack family trees, several familial mysteries have been solved.
Not all have been as dramatic as the Ruff and Cassidy story was, but each is unique in its own right. Of course, bizarre cases like Lori’s continue to baffle investigators around the world. Perhaps as science continues to develop, more of these will be solved.
Twenty-Three Years After His Disappearance The Mystery Was Solved!
The story of Linda and Richard Hoagland is one strange and sordid tale. The two had a happy marriage and Linda gave birth to their two sons. They settled in Indianapolis, Indiana where everything seemed to be going well for the happy family.
The couple took part in normal, everyday activities with the occasional argument over money or the children, but nothing to the extreme. When their sons, Matthew and Douglas, turned nine and six years old, respectively, the happy family’s life turned upside down. Something was very wrong in the household, and only one person knew about the secretive tumult.
A Terrible Secret
It turned out that Richard Hoagland was hiding a terrible secret. As the days passed on he withdrew more and more from his family. His wife, Linda, noticed his behavior but made up excuses for it within her own mind. The happy family façade quickly began to crumble.
The poor boys remained blissfully unaware that anything in their life was amiss. Apparently, this was an issue that Richard felt could not be fixed or even talked about. In hindsight it seems that throughout the entire time Richard was at home with his family, he was quietly planning something that no one could have seen coming.
An Unassuming Call
In February of 1993, Linda went to work like she did every other day. She worked at a medical office, and on February 10th at 4:45 PM, Richard gave Linda a call at work. He said that he had to go to the emergency room because he wasn’t feeling well.
Linda offered to come meet Richard at the hospital if she wanted him to but he said that he “couldn’t wait.” Linda had no idea that everything was about to change. She went about her day and picked up younger son Douglas from daycare after work. She got home at 5:25 P.M. and was shocked when she discovered that Matthew had been left home alone.
A Left-Behind Life
Linda called all the local hospitals but no one had any record of Richard ever being there. Richard had left no sign that he was leaving, his toothbrush remained in the bathroom, his clothes in the closet, his passport remained untouched. Linda recounted, “It was cold. It was in February. He didn’t take a coat.”
In one moment, their successful life together unraveled. Richard had a previous divorce and claimed to be in love when he met Linda. He was successful in business and took his family on luxurious vacations. He couldn’t just up and leave such a successful life like his, could he?
A Shattered Life
Less than one hour later the family was officially shattered with a simple phone call. The phone rang and at the other end was Richard. All that he said was, “I can’t live this way anymore. I feel you would be better off without me.” He quickly hung up, not even allowing his wife to respond.
A few hours later he called back with one more strange message, he said, “I don’t want to go to jail. I’m never coming back.” Within a 24-hour period, Richard had successfully dismantled his family and turned his life upside down. He disappeared on that day, February 10, 1993.
A few days after his last call, Richard Hoagland’s car was discovered abandoned. Various airlines and their flight records were searched. His name was never found on any flights. Richard called twice more and he always called collect. After Linda checked the phone records, it showed that his calls came once from Venezuela and another time from Aruba.
With the patriarch of their family disappearing into thin air, it seemed like things couldn’t get much worse. As Linda and her two sons tried to cope with the loss of their husband and father, police began to investigate Richard’s mysterious disappearance.
Hidden Financial Issues
That Spring, Richard contacted his son Matthew for his 10th birthday when he sent a card that contained a fifty-dollar bill. A few months later, he did the same for his son Douglas’ seventh birthday. This became the last time they ever heard from their father.
Apparently, before he left town, Richard had been struggling financially unbeknownst to the family. He almost maxed out all of their credit cards and even forged Linda’s signature on a bank loan. Linda filed for divorce, and in the decree, the judge ordered Richard to pay unpaid taxes, various loans and debts, and 26 credit cards.
A Family In Shock
In the cards he sent to his sons, Richard wrote, “I love you and miss seeing you. Let your mom help spend this money, you might want to put some away. Maybe sometime soon we will get to see each other. I bet I won’t even know you it has been so long. Mind your mother. Bye, Dad.”
Little did they know, those would be the last words Richard’s sons would ever see from him. “Initially, you think: ‘OK, this won’t last long. He’ll be back,'” Matthew Hoagland told ABC. Matthew’s mother, Linda, also said, “He devastated us. He left us with nothing, absolutely nothing. I was very broken.”
Struggling on Their Own
Linda was unable to pay their mortgage and car loans and it seemed as though the walls were closing in on the family. It was then that the police began to question Linda on Richard’s disappearance. They insinuated that Linda knew where he had gone or that she knew what actually happened to him.
Linda continuously told police she had no idea about where Richard had gone. She told them that he had called her and said that he was never returning. Police continued to suspect her and subjected her to numerous police interrogations but Linda never once wavered on the story.
Linda Under Suspicion
Eventually one of the police officers, a detective, actually claimed that Linda knew where her husband had disappeared to. He claimed that it was a big financial hoax and that Linda was planning to take her children and eventually meet up with Richard. While being repeatedly questioned by police, Linda had even bigger problems to worry about – her finances.
All of the financial damage that Richard had left her with was starting to add up. No longer able to pay her bills, Linda had to declare bankruptcy. This was a nightmare scenario for a woman with two children, especially when her husband had been the primary breadwinner.
The Family Was Followed?!
Instead of staying with his family and dealing with the financial issues that he had created, Richard decided to take the easy way out and disappear. In return, he left his family’s lives in complete and total ruin. Linda ended up depending on her parents to get by during this dire time.
She began to notice a variety of strange things that seemed to suggest that she was being watched and she became more and more sure of it. She would notice strange people that seemed to be following her, cars parked outside, her mail was opened and re-sealed, and items in her house seemed as though they were being moved.
Family Goes into Hiding
One February, her father even found a recording device attached to her phone line. Linda was convinced that Richard had been involved with unsavory individuals and that’s why he left town. She said, “When you’re in that situation, you become very paranoid.” The bank eventually came and foreclosed on the family’s home and almost simultaneously repossessed her vehicle.
That October, Linda and family decided to go into hiding in McCordsville, Indiana. She was desperate to keep herself and her children safe, especially if Richard had been involved in something shady. Linda ensured all of the bills were in her parents’ names, so they couldn’t be tracked to her. She also had her boys catch the school bus from the home of a friend, all in order to prevent anyone from finding out where she lived.
Linda and her family stayed in hiding for over six months, but the fear did not drop away then. The family continued to be fearful, and almost paranoid for years. The troubles, sadly, didn’t stop there. Linda was still being watched by the police department. It seemed like Linda and her family were destined to live in a constant state of suffering after the departure of her husband.
How could Richard do this to people that he claimed to love? Luckily, Linda still had her parents to help her at the time. In an interview with ABC, Linda’s elderly mother recounted how painful the entire situation had been.
Richard Hoagland Resurfaces
In 2016, the truth was finally uncovered. A detective named Anthony Cardillo of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department in Florida called Linda. He asked, “Do you know who Richard Hoagland is?” Linda could hardly believe what she was hearing after all of these years.
Apparently, throughout all of her family’s strife, Richard had settled down again in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was alive, content, and happily remarried. He even had another child with his new wife, a son. Detective Cardillo told Linda that they had Richard in custody. He had been arrested for using the identity of a dead man.
After Richard left his family he rented a home and found a death certificate in the house. It belonged to a man named Terry Symansky who had died in 1991. At this point, Richard decided to make the fateful decision to cut all ties to his family and assume another person’s identity.
Richard Hoagland decided to become Terry Symansky. From there, the new Terry embarked on a new life, he got a job, a home, and even found love again. He seemingly loved his life in West Palm Beach. None of his new loved ones in his new life were aware of anything amiss.
The man that Hoagland rented a home from was Edward Symansky, who was still lamenting the death of his son Terry. Hoagland was renting an efficiency apartment that was in Symansky’s home in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Because of the close proximity, Hoagland was often there to listen to Symansky reminisce about his son, but little did he know, Hoagland would take advantage of this information, especially after finding Terry’s birth certificate.
Cynthia Bujnak, Terry’s sister, told People after Hoagland’s arrest, “My dad was grieving and pouring his heart out… My dad was the victim. Even after 23 years, the truth will always come out.”
A Final Arrest
Everything began to crumble for Richard when Terry Symansky’s real nephew was doing some research on ancestry.com. The nephew found something in his research that seemed out of place. His uncle, who had been dead for many years, had somehow been listed as getting remarried and even getting his pilot’s license.
The nephew contacted authorities and from there the truth began to unravel. In July of 2016, the same month as his son Douglas’ birthday, the police went to Terry Symansky’s house and arrested Richard Hoagland. He was put in jail at the Pasco County jail on a $25,000 bond.
Repercussions For His Actions
After all of these years, Richard was finally being held accountable for all of the wrongs he had committed, both legally and morally. Sadly, prosecutors were unable to file charges for theft against Richard from back in Indiana. The authorities couldn’t find affidavit that contained the original allegations.
Of course, this included the forged loan document where he had signed Linda’s name and stolen credit cards. The state of Indiana maintains a statute of limitations on a theft that is five years. So while he couldn’t be held accountable for the crimes of his past he could still be charged with stealing a dead man’s identity.
Two Families Destroyed
While living as Terry Symansky, Richard had remarried and had another son who is now 19 years old. Richard’s two families have never met, including the brothers. Linda said, “My heart goes out to them. We know what they are going through. We do express our sympathy and empathy to them. I’m sorry.”
Richard has now successfully torn apart not one but two families that he has claimed to love with his atrocious actions. In the meantime, Linda’s attorney, Tom Markle, is attempting to get some kind of reparations by demanding that Richard pays almost $2 million dollars in unpaid child support. Richard will more than likely have to pay restitution for making a living as Terry Symansky.
Richard’s New Family
Posing as Terry Symansky, Richard remarried a woman named Mary Hossler Hickman in 1995 and the newlyweds settled in Zephyrhills, Florida. They even had a son together, who was just a teenager by the time his father was caught and arrested.
While Hoagland’s Florida family has remained generally quiet throughout the whole situation, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Mary later found a briefcase that contained documents about Hoagland’s real identity, as well as a deed to a property in Louisiana, and the key to a storage unit. According to detectives, their son “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.”
A Son’s Struggle
While Richard did send his first sons a few cards over the years, the experience he put his family through cannot be forgotten. His sons, Matthew and Doug, especially were irrevocably harmed by his actions. Matthew became “the rock” for his mother and Doug took his father’s disappearance very hard. Ultimately Doug even has had to serve multiple prison sentences for drug-related charges.
He wrote a letter to his father, that was obtained by People magazine. Doug said that it caused him to have so much anger, and he partially wondered if something was wrong with him. Ultimately, he turned to drugs. Doug said that he forgives his father, but he has one big question for him, “Why?”
A Bad Example
Doug’s brother Matthew Hoagland is now 33 years old and has his own family. Matthew has had a hard time figuring out how someone could walk away from their own family. Matthew said he initially thought that his father would return, but he has come to believe that his father got caught up in something bad and that’s why he chose to leave.
Matthew wears his father’s ring, and he said he wears it to remember the bad example his father set, so Matthew never makes the same mistake with his own family. Even Linda’s elderly mother said that she “is tickled” that he is now confined since he cannot stand being in any one place.
Still No Explanation
Since the solved mystery, Richard has refused to talk and has not given any explanation about his choice to disappear. He has given no response that would go along with the claim that he was in financial dire straits, or account for why he forged Linda’s name. Terry Symansky’s family was also hurt by Richard’s choices, especially because it seems as though Richard knew Terry’s father.
Terry’s grieving father poured out his heart to Richard, and in response, he stole the death certificate of his son. It is unlikely Richard will ever give any reasoning to atrocious actions and why he felt so desperate to leave. One thing can be sure, the truth will always prevail no matter where you go or what you do to get away from it.