Caleb Diehl: Missing teenager led to arrest of sexual predator Ricky Howard

A profile pic of Caleb Diehl
Caleb Diehl vanished in Nocona, Texas, in 2015. Pic credit: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Teenager Caleb Diehl has now been missing for over eight years. He left his mom’s house in Nocona, Texas, in 2015 but never returned home, and there are few clues about what happened to him.

On March 31, 2015, the 18-year-old Caleb high schooler vanished without a trace. He has still not been found, but the investigation did discover that he had suffered years of sexual abuse from a close and trusted family friend.

At the time, Caleb was living in Grapevine, Tx., but he regularly visited Nocona to see family and friends, and he was working in the area for a family friend, Ricky Howard. Caleb had grown up as a friend to Howard’s two sons, and the two families were very close; they had even vacationed together.

However, Howard soon became a suspect in Caleb’s disappearance, and the investigation led to a number of dark secrets being unveiled.

The community saw Howard as a respected and successful member of the community. He owned several properties and had been a bank president.

Howard had hired Caleb at a young age to do jobs for him around his ranch. However, this so-called respected member of the community was actually a cunning predator who had been using his position to sexually exploit minors for years.

At the time of his disappearance, Caleb had been driving Howard’s pickup truck because his own had broken down. When he failed to turn up at school, his family contacted the police and Howard.

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Caleb Diehl missing for two days before Rick Howard told police he had the pickup truck

Two days after his disappearance, Howard called Caleb’s mom, Tami Diehl, to say the truck was back at his shop. The vehicle was in its normal spot, with the keys hanging up where they normally would. But there was no sign of Caleb.

The cops had questions for Howard; they wanted to know why they could trace both Caleb and Howard’s cellphones to the shop on the evening Caleb disappeared. He told the investigators that he had found a broken cell phone on the floor but threw it away.

Ricky Howard's shop
Caleb’s cellphone was tracked to this property owned by Howard. The pickup truck he had been driving was also found there. Pic credit: @CBSDFW/YouTube

The investigators also learned that Howard had removed the sim card from his own cellphone and cut it up into small pieces. He even failed a polygraph test at the same time.

Officers also discovered a burn pit on Howard’s land that contained several incinerated computers. When questioned about the devices, he claimed they belonged to his parents.

Tami Diehl and Montague County investigator Kevin Benton would both later admit to being highly suspicious of Howard. But unfortunately, a lack of evidence meant the case grew cold.

Nothing happened until 2017 when Tami was cleaning out a cupboard in the house, and she discovered some new evidence. She found a clock radio with a hidden camera, a tape recorder, and a handwritten note with polygraph questions.

The cops concluded that the questions had been written by Howard and that a tape recording revealed him practicing answering polygraph questions.

Had Caleb Diehl found incriminating evidence against Ricky Howard

Tami speculated that her son had been collecting evidence against Howard. She said, “Caleb was collecting stuff. That he was collecting evidence and he was going to tell what was happening.”

Howard already had a criminal record. He had spent a couple of years in jail for bank fraud, but the cops discovered that while the FBI had been investigating the bank fraud, they had come across allegations of sexual abuse.

He was accused of molesting a number of male teenagers who had been the children of his bank’s customers.

Howard had even had to attend sex offender treatment, which required him to perform regular polygraph tests.

Sample polygraph questions written by Ricky Howard
The police suspect Ricky Howard used these Sample polygraph questions to practice. Pic credit: @CBSDFW

When the investigators looked more closely at Howard’s activities, they learned that he had been molesting Caleb at the same time he was attending sex offender treatment. They found other victims, too, including a 13-year-old boy who had been sexually abused 500 times over a four-year period.

The cops asked Howard’s ex-wife and daughter about the damaged computers they had found two years before. When they examined one of his computers, they found hundreds of images of child pornography.

A search of other old computers revealed more images of Caleb being sexually abused. He was between 13 and 15 at the time. Among the images were other victims as well.

After the images were discovered, Tami said, “I’ve had so much guilt and regret for not knowing. I just feel like I should have known. I mean, he was my baby.”

Mugshot of Ricky Howard
Ricky Dale Howard was sent to prison for child sexual abuse. Pic credit: Tarrant County Jail

Howard was charged with sexually exploiting a minor, along with other charges. He appeared before a court in a jury trial, but a mistrial was called after a juror fell down some stairs and couldn’t continue.

Ricky Dale Howard pleaded guilty to sexually exploiting a minor

Howard decided to plead guilty to exploiting a minor in exchange for the dropping of other charges. In a statement, he claimed that he wished to spare his family a second trial but also that he hoped this would get him a more lenient sentence.

The judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison, the maximum allowed.

At the sentencing, Tami spoke passionately, “My family is broken. I know we will never have a gathering where there isn’t a sense of wrongness and of a huge, important part being missing.”

She lamented that they still had no news on Caleb’s whereabouts, but she thanked the police for their efforts in trying to find him. She said, “I am so thankful to the investigators and prosecutors for not giving up and at least making sure that Ricky Howard can hurt no one else.”

Howard still denies that he has anything to do with Caleb’s disappearance, and no charges have been brought against him in that case.

The search for Caleb Diehl doesn’t stop

Acting U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham praised Caleb, stating, “While we may never know what happened to him in the moments before his disappearance, we know he spent many months enduring the unthinkable.”

Meacham added that he hoped putting a sexual predator behind bars would provide some solace to Caleb’s family.

The hunt for Caleb has not ended, and the case remains open. District Attorney Casey Polhemus spoke defiantly, “This is not the end. The disappearance of Caleb Diehl is still open and under investigation and will continue to be for as long as it takes.”

Caleb is 5’11 and weighed about 145 lbs when he vanished. He had blond hair and blue eyes and would now be 26 years old.

Anyone with any information about what happened to Caleb Diehl is asked to call the Montague County Crime Stoppers at (940) 894-2871, the Nocona Police Dept. at (940) 825-3281, or the Montague County District Attorney’s Office at (940) 894-6211.

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