MONTAGUE COUNTY (KFDX/KJTL) — Two local investigators are among the best of the best when it comes to keeping their communities safe.

“Ricky Dale Howard was a long-time resident of Nocona,” former DA investigator and current Montague County Judge Kevin Benton said. “He was at one point the president of the local bank. He was a rancher and had a lot of oil interest.”

Howard has also been linked to the disappearance of Nocona teen Caleb Diehl back in 2015.

“The Diehl family and the Howard family had multiple children,” 97th District Attorney’s Office Investigator Chris Hamilton said. “They attended school together. The Howard family and the Diehl family were friends, parents were as well and the children were.”

Caleb did some work for Howard as well and Howard lent him a truck when his broke down and is believed to be the last person to have seen him.

Benton and Hamilton worked closely on that case that eventually lead to Howard’s arrest for sexual exploitation of a child.

“One of the things that caught my interest was the fact that in the original investigation when Caleb Diehl went missing they had found a burn pit on one of Howard’s ranches,” Benton said. “There were three computers that had been burnt up.”

They eventually found another computer in Howard’s home. Combine that with Howard receiving sex offender counseling, they obtained a search warrant on the computers and found hundreds of images of child pornography along with images of Howard molesting Diehl. Those findings ultimately lead to his indictment by federal officials.

On Oct. 7, 2022, both men along with two FBI agents were honored with the U.S. Attorney’s Award of Excellence for their investigative efforts. This is an award that honors law enforcement officers and agents who exceed the call of duty to keep their communities safe.

“It was a surprise,” Benton said. “I did not anticipate anything like that. I still feel like we were just doing our job.”

Although this is a huge honor for Benton and Hamilton to make sure Howard doesn’t do this to anyone else, they still feel incomplete because Diehl is still missing.

“I’m extremely honored that those people would think that Kevin and I deserved an award of that magnitude,” Hamilton said. “It’s humbling. But I need to find that Diehl boy, we need to find that Diehl boy. Until we do, that case is unsolved.

Last year, Howard was sentenced to the maximum sentence per federal guidelines of 30 years after a mistrial led to him then pleading guilty.

We also have a more in-depth look at Caleb and Howard as a part of our digital cold case series, Unraveling the Mysteries. Click here to watch that.