Family Reels After Married Dad Vanishes for 16 Years, Reappears Gay

Eric Myers said he fled in 1991 due to stress over his sexuality.

ByABC News
July 19, 2013, 11:00 AM

July 19, 2013— -- Have you ever thought about leaving everything behind? What if you could start over, just hit the reset button and escape your life?

"I've never encountered somebody who has managed to disappear from their own life," said Robert Anglen, an investigative reporter for the Arizona Republic.

But, in June of 1991, while attending a real estate seminar in San Diego, Eric Myers, 34, pulled off the great escape, disappearing from his life and vanishing without a trace.

Watch the full story on "20/20: I Escaped My Life" TONIGHT at 10 ET.

For nearly two decades no one knew where Eric Myers was. Police in two states and a private investigator only turned up dead ends.

"Most people grow up thinking that magic is an illusion, and that people can't disappear," said Kirsten Myers Ruggiano, Myers' youngest daughter. "I grew up in a reality where people do disappear."

After being missing for 16 years and being declared legally dead by his family, Eric Myers decided to come back into his family's lives.

"He pulled off the great escape. But he came back. He got away clean, but he came back, and destroyed everybody's life in the process," said Anglen.

Why would a wealthy, successful real estate agent living the American dream just throw everything away?

"I just wanted it all to end. I wanted everything to end," said Myers in an interview with ABC News.

Privileged Beginnings

Eric Myers was the third of five kids born to Don and Joan Myers in a suburb just outside of Phoenix.

"He had every advantage: the best schools, the best neighborhoods, the best toys," said Anglen.

The conservative, wealthy Myers family lived among luxury homes, picturesque golf courses and influential neighbors.

In high school, Myers was a popular class president who was also considered a class clown. While in college Myers couldn't shake his memories of a sweet girl he knew named Anne.

"When I'm in Washington state, away at school, I realized that the only thing I miss back in Arizona is Anne," said Myers. He proposed to her over the phone.

What appeared to be a storybook marriage was completed by two daughters, Erin and Kirsten.

"I remember him being fun," said Kirsten Myers Ruggiano. "I remember riding on his shoulders."

The family was deeply religious and soon grew to include three adopted boys from Vietnam. While Eric's career, as a property manager in his father's booming real estate business, was taking off, he confided to his friend David Vandervoort that he was in over his head.

"Eric talked about being in debt. Big time. And he was borrowing money from his dad's company to pay it back," said Vandervoort.

And despite picture-perfect appearances, Eric's marriage was on the rocks.

"Anne tells the story of, she wanted to go to college, she wanted to finish the degree, and that ... didn't fit Eric's mold of a Christian housewife," said Anglen.

"Eric searched high and low through the Bible and could not find a way out. So he felt trapped. But yet he was doing the Christian thing by staying married," said Vandervoort.

There was talk of divorce, and on June 25, 1991, as Eric headed to a real estate seminar in San Diego, little did his family know he wouldn't be coming back.