This is a super weird case, so strap in for a real mystery!
On the morning of July 28, 2013, Robert Hoagland, aged 49, was seen on security cameras at a Mobil gas station n Newtown, Connecticut. He was seen buying a map and gas for his wife's car. His son was the last person to see him when he said goodbye to his father, who was mowing the lawn when he left. A neighbor saw the interaction.
The next morning, he failed to show up for work. That afternoon, he was supposed to pick up his wife from a trip overseas, but did not show up. He was reported missing, but to this day, has never been found.
Police investigated a variety of sightings over the next year, most of them nearby his hometown. Tips also placed him in Southern California and South Carolina, but nothing lead to him being found. Some believe that his disappearance was from foul play, while others believe he was trying to start a new life due to his son's drug problem.
BACKGROUND AND DISAPPEARANCE
Robert Hoagland was a chef and a property appraiser. His wife, Lori, was a culinary arts teacher at the local high school. They lived in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and raised their 3 sons, who were young adults at the time of his disappearance. Though he and his wife had separated for 2 years once, they reconciled and had begun planning for retirement.
The Hoagland's 24-year-old son, Max, had a history of drug addiction. Earlier in 2003, he had gone to rehab. Robert left his job as a chef at a restaurant to work at a friend's law firm, on top of his real estate appraiser job, to help his son with his recovery. They were planning a hiking trip to the Appalachian Trail over the summer to help with his recovery efforts.
In July, Lori went on a 2 week trip to Turkey with some friends. While she was gone, she and her husband exchanged emails regularly. In the week before she came home, 2 of the family's laptop computers were stolen. Robert believed that Max had taken them to sell in exchange for drugs, and he sent an email to Lori apologizing for letting it happen. A few days before his disappearance, $600 was withdrawn from the family's bank accounts. Later, police would learn than Robert went to an abandoned building to confront some of the men described as Max's "associates" about the laptop theft.
On the evening of July 27, Robert and Lori spoke on the phone. Robert confirmed he would be picking up his wife at JFK Airport in New York City 2 days later. The following morning, he went out in his wife's car to buy bagels for breakfast, and then stopped to get gas. The security footage from the gas station was the last documented evidence of him anywhere.
However, he likely did return home. According to Max, the 2 had breakfast. Then, Max said his father paid some bills and played Scrabble online before going outside to mow the lawn. Max went out in his mom's car during this time, and told his father he'd be back in a few hours. A neighbor told police he saw the father and son talking on the lawn.
However, the next day, Robert didn't go to work, and didn't arrive at the airport to pick up his wife as planned. She tried to call the house and his cell, but didn't get an answer. She believed his phone was dead and he was stuck in traffic. When he still didn't show up, she went to a relative's home nearby, where she learned through another phone call that her husband hadn't been at work that day.
Once she arrived home on July 30, she found Robert's keys, passport, and prescription medicine in the house. The mower was parked in its usual spot. His shoes were in the house. His dirty clothes were in the laundry, and his car was in the driveway.
Her car was missing, so she believed there was a possibility that her husband had left with it short-term. But then, Lori heard from the police that Max had been arrested the night before, near the same building where his father had gone to confront his friends for the laptop theft. The area was well known for drug sales and prostitution. Max was there to buy drugs in his mother's car, which he claimed he had permission to use. Lori said he did not. He was arrested for trespassing.
The Hoagland's printed and distributed flyers with Robert's photo on it, and worked with the media to bring attention to his disappearance. They also let the National Park Service Rangers know he was missing, as they theorized he may have gone their on his own to hike the Appalachian Trial. The police looked into the case, and his information was entered into the missing persons database.
On August 6, Lori found Robert's wallet and car keys hidden in their bedroom. Before this time, she believed that her husband may have left voluntarily, but began to believe that he was abducted, or otherwise met with foul play. Around the same time, Max plead guilty to trespassing along with his friends he claimed stole the laptops, but police did not find any connection to the disappearance. Lori did not believe these arrests were connected to Robert.
While investigating online, police found that he had searched a Rhode Island address several times, but no connection was found. He had also downloaded a program to his home computer that allowed the user to delete all searches and results from the computer.
Once fall came, Lori and other volunteers searched the woods around the area with search dogs, but none of these efforts lead to any traces of Robert. Lori claimed the searches were primarily to eliminated possibilities.
2 sightings of men matching Robert's description were reported in Rhode Island in September. One was a man walking with a backpack down a Rhode Island state route, but it turned out to be someone else. The other was also a backpacked man walking town an interstate, but police could not find the man. The LAPD asked citizens to be on the lookout for him, as he had some connections to LA, but no significant sightings were reported.
About a year after his disappearance, a sighting in Newtown was reported. A man had walked into the county jail and left after 2 minutes. However, the man on the security footage couldn't be identified. Around this time, the family and friends felt that the case was not moving quickly enough, and believed police were too focused on his voluntary disappearance when they believed he was met with foul play. They felt the police were not putting enough effort into the investigation.
There was another possible sighting in Myrtle Beach in November of 2014, which was later clarified as not a sighting, but just a citizen who believed he might be there. However, again, nothing conclusive was found.
At this point, realistically, anything could have happened. The investigation is at the same place it was on the first day he was reported missing. The 2 main theories are that he was met with foul play, or decided to walk away from his life. Neither seem more likely based on the evidence.
Lori believes foul play was more likely. If he was planning to disappear, she believed he would have taken out more than $600 from their bank account, and thought his hidden wallet and keys were indicative of something strange going on. She said that, because they had separated before, she knew that if he wanted out of their marriage, he would just say it. But, she also said that didn't align with where they were in life, as they were very happy. His son, Chris, also found it weird that both of his most-worn shoes were left at home if he left on his own accord, as he never wore any other shoes.
Lori said that he may have made someone so scared that they wanted to do him harm. "I've seen him chase people down the street with baseball bats," she said, while protecting his children. Perhaps if he went to the abandoned lot to deal with the drug using thieves, they wanted to enact revenge? Perhaps it is because I'm deep into Breaking Bad, but I know that people witnessing illegal behavior is a huge risk, and disposing of said risk often seems like the best option.
The other theory is that he decided to leave on his own accord. But if that was the case, why hide his wallet and keys, and leave his passport and other items out? Why only withdraw $600? It doesn't make sense to me that he would take care of some things (cutting grass, filling the car up) and not others (leaving his wife at the airport). On top of that, his wife just doesn't believe he would have just walked away from his children at a moment's notice.
I am typically anti-leaving on your on your own accord, and I stand by it in this case. Sure, your son being on drugs and stealing from you certainly adds stress to your life, but it appears they were letting him stay with them. A lot of their problems could have been resolved had they kicked him out. Without trying any other alternatives, it seems strange that he would just up and leave his life, including his wife and other children. I just don't think it is that common for people with a seemingly normal life, even if there are a few dark spots, to just abandon everyone they know and everything they are in favor of a brand new life. And if he had, I can't believe he wouldn't have been found out by now.
What makes the most sense, to me, is that he was the victim of foul play in some capacity. Though police had ruled out involvement from the men who had assisted his son in stealing the laptops from the family home, if Robert had recently gone to a place known for drugs, who knows what he could have stumbled upon. Perhaps he had seen the wrong thing or the wrong person. His actions in the morning he disappeared (filling the car, playing a game, mowing the grass) do not seem to indicate that he thought he was in any danger, but he certainly could have been. He, realistically, could have even been a victim at the hands of his own son... it is just impossible to tell.
I just have no idea. I can't imagine that he would leave his life voluntarily, but it also seems very far-fetched that a few low-level drug dealers would (and could) kill a man and leave no trace of him behind. All scenarios seem equally as possible as they do impossible.
I suppose I can't even hope for one over the other. Part of me hopes he left on his own accord and is living a happy life somewhere else, but I can't imagine the confusion and heartbreak of his family and friends finding out that their beloved father, husband, son, and friend just decided to leave them behind. I'm not sure if that would hurt worse knowing that he was gone, but at least then they could know he was at peace, and loved them until the end. Both options are terribly sad, and I genuinely hope his family and loved ones have been able to move forward in any way they can, while knowing that Robert's case has never been solved.