What happened to the Houghland Family?

Houghland FamilyI brought in the paper this morning and saw this missing person ad at the bottom of the page. A boy with beautiful brown eye was looking at me. Next to him, an age-progressed picture of what he might look like today.

It was Richard Houghland, not yet nine years old, missing. I googled his name and a NamUs profile popped up. What I thought was a missing child case turned out to be a missing family case. Mom and two sons, all gone. There is little online. A few articles but the gist is the same. The rest is repeated content. After reading these few articles I do have some questions.

The Case

On July 15th, 1978, Norma Houghland (27) and her two sons, Richard (8) and Thomas (6) went missing. The family apparently decided to go for a drive. They never came back. When their family didn’t hear anything from the trio, they got worried. Apparently Norma’s father wrote a letter to police after he checked the apartment. Inside everything seemed in order. Nothing seemed disturbed.

How do we know they went missing on the 15th? KCRA (links below) mentions “July 15, 1978 was the first full day the threesome was not seen or heard from” but unless we can pinpoint details they might have gone missing before the 15th. And that could mean that alibis and statements should be checked for a range of days and not for one specific date. I point this out because in the California Department of Justice Missing Persons page (link below) I found that Richard was last seen on July 14, 1978, in Sacramento. So now I am curious. If anyone saw them, who saw which Houghland last and which person saw all three together last?

The letter describes what the family saw when they checked the apartment. “The boys’ bikes were inside. The mom’s clothes and makeup were untouched. There was also a welfare check” and “There were three or four dishes in the sink, (suggesting) the boys had a sandwich before leaving” so “It just looked like they just went for a ride for the day.”

How unusual was going for a ride? Not at all especially when mentioned that it was a hot day and there was no air-conditioning. But here I miss clarity. Either the apartment didn’t have AC or the car didn’t. Fox News (link below) mentions the car didn’t have AC. KCRA mentions the apartment didn’t have AC so the drive was a way to cool down. Norma’s car has never been found.

Houghland missing gridWhy did dad write a letter? Why didn’t they just stop by the police department? If you are already checking the apartment why not immediately go to the station? What made him decide to write a letter? Was that letter written immediately after he saw the apartment or sometime after? I am not accusing anyone but wondering out loud about details I miss in the reporting about this case.

From Norma’s family, only a brother and sister Karen Molina are still alive. The parents and one other sister have passed away. Norma’s ex-husband and father of Thomas and Richard used to live in Washington State. Not sure whether he was eliminated as a suspect of whether he ever indicated that Norma expressed fear for someone. He passed away too but I am not sure when.

KCRA reports no evidence was ever found in this case. To me that means no indications of any accidents, murder, stalking, threats, kidnaping, or suicide. KCRA did mention that a Sacramento Police spokeswoman said “old police files noted that the mother may have been suffering from depression.” However, this is too little to go on and should not be used for speculation about the fate of mom and her two sons. There have been no new leads in this case.

Contact information

If you have any information about the Houghland Family please call the Sacramento Police Department Missing Person unit at (916) 808-0560.


NamUs Richard

NamUs Thomas

NamUs Norma

Fox July 15, 2013


California Department of Justice