Wife Is Murdered; Four Years Later Husband Vanishes

Dian Harlin’s murder and Hugh Harlin’s disappearance still remain a mystery.

Morro Bay, California / Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Hugh Frederick Harlin, 51, and Dian Lenore Eakes Harlin, 43, were a married couple living in the fishing village of Morro Bay, California. Hugh was an occasional fisherman and was missing his left thumb and forefinger. He was known as a quirky but kind man, who loved to help others for nothing in return.

Hugh Harlin / Unsolved Mysteries

Dian was not as sociable as her husband and was thought of as peculiar. Locals referred to her as “The Dog Lady”.

The couple had a troubled relationship, most of their fights were because of the little money they had. Dian would spend most of it on her beloved dogs, her friends, and random beggars.

Neighbors claimed she liked her dogs more than her husband. Apparently, Dian had even served him meals containing dog food.

Dian Harlin / Unsolved Mysteries

On October 13, 1982, a cross country meet took place at Morro Bay High School. While walking on the beach near the school, the coach’s wife spotted a body under a stand of trees.

The female body, which was in an advanced state of decomposition, could not be identified. Nonetheless, the cause of death was determined to be strangulation with a nylon dog leash that had been found nearby. Authorities released the little information they had through the media in hopes that it would bring some answers.

Dian had last been seen walking two of her dogs on October 2. At 6:30 PM, the dogs were seen running away from the same spot the body would later be found.

The owner of the ranch where Hugh and Dian lived thought it was weird the dogs came back at 11 PM without Dian. When he brought it up to Hugh, he said he wasn’t worried.

A friend of Hugh’s convinced him to contact the police after hearing about the body found half a mile away from his home. Hugh claimed that he had not seen his wife in 12 days (since October 2) but was not worried as she would regularly leave for long periods of time.

He identified the body as Dian’s after officials showed him the bracelets that had been found on the corpse. Authorities were automatically suspicious of Hugh since he had not reported his wife missing. Although their suspicions increased after he changed an important part of his statement. 
Initially, he claimed the dogs returned home with their leashes on. However, after finding out Dian was killed with a leash, he claimed they had no leashes on.

Hugh said he wasn’t worried about Dian’s whereabouts because he thought she had gone to Colorado or Orange County to visit her Swami. According to Hugh, Dian wanted to seek condolences over the death of one of her beloved dogs, an Afghan named Ratzelle. This was because Dian, who claimed to be able to predict the future, had a dream that told her if anything happened to Ratzelle she’d also die.

Dian’s husband claimed it was a disgrace that they were considering the case a homicide. He believed she had died from an aneurysm, for which she regularly forgot to take the medication she needed to treat it. Hugh was eventually deemed innocent and Dian’s murder became a cold case.

On November 1, 1986, Hugh borrowed some tools from a friend and headed to San Simeon for a small construction job. Reportedly, he finished the work and was last seen driving his 1967 Chevrolet Utility pickup truck back to Morro Bay at 1:30 PM.

Steve Mathieu, a friend of Hugh’s, received a phone call from a mutual friend in Cambria saying he had found Hugh’s truck sitting on the side of the road. Mathieu and another friend Eddie Grimes went to see the vehicle.

The hood was up but the doors were locked. On the dash were Hugh’s glasses, a tin of tobacco and a tin with ragweed pot he regularly smoked. His lunch, sleeping bag, backpack, and tools he had borrowed were also in the pickup. The keys to the vehicle were found a few feet away. Oddly, the truck’s fuel line had been removed.

One theory is that Hugh did, in fact, strangle his wife and then voluntarily disappear. His friends believe he was more than capable of doing so and had left Morro Bay before, but never without telling someone.

However, authorities do not believe Hugh killed Dian. They think he knew more about the killer but was too afraid of them. It is believed that a third party killed Dian then harmed Hugh four years later — most likely because he knew too much.

To this day, Dian’s murder and Hugh’s disappearance remain a mystery. If alive, Hugh is 83 years old.

Dian and Hugh Harlin / Unsolved Mysteries