The cold case murder of Dian Harlin - Morro Bay, California - October 2, 1982

While a cross-country meet was in progress at Morro Bay High School on October 13, 1982, the coach's wife took a walk on the beach near the school. Suddenly she saw something strange lying under a clump of trees, and when she came closer it turned out to be the dead body of a woman. The police took action and had the body examined, which was already in a far state of decomposition. A jade bracelet and a silver bracelet were found on the beach near where the body was found.

The woman's cause of death was found to be strangulation with a dog leash. Who the victim was remained unknown for a while. She was unrecognizable due to the decomposition, and police gave a description of the woman to the press, hoping someone would shed some light. A man named Hugh Harlin came forward and identified the woman as his wife. 

Police Investigation
Hugh told police he had not seen his wife for 12 days, and they last spoke on October 2, when she went out to walk her two dogs. Hugh said that Dian was often away from home for a while, so he wasn't worried until he heard that a body had been found. A friend had persuaded him to check if it happened to be Dian. Although she was unrecognizable, the man immediately recognized the bracelets found.

Police spoke to neighbors, and were told the dogs were seen at 6:30pm running from the same spot where Dian's body would later be found. The owner of the ranch where Hugh and Dian lived thought it was strange that he saw the dogs coming back at 11:00 PM, but that Dian was nowhere to be seen. Hugh brushed off his concerns and said he wasn't worried.

Detectives found Hugh suspicious because he never reported his wife's disappearance. Rumors that the couple would have a rather tame marriage contributed to the suspicion. The fact that he changed his statement didn't help him either. Hugh said that her dogs came home that night with their leashes on. But when the police told him that his wife had been strangled with a dog leash, he suddenly said that the dogs had come home without a leash. As mentioned, it created suspicion of Hugh. 

Probably realizing he wasn't making things easier for himself, Hugh asked for a lawyer and said he no longer wanted to be questioned. He later claimed that according to him Dian had died as a result of an aneurysm, for which she had received treatment in the past, and that she was not murdered at all. Although the police considered the man a suspect, they could find no evidence of his involvement in the murder. Hugh was eventually ruled out as a suspect.

About the Harlin's
The couple were known to be quite eccentric in town. Hugh was a small man with a big beard, and occasionally worked as a fisherman, doing odd jobs here and there. He often did not charge for his services, and it probably comes as no surprise that the couple often had money problems. People who knew him described him as a very nice person who was willing to help everyone, without expecting anything in return. Dian was someone who seemingly lived for her dogs. According to villagers, she probably loved her animals more than her husband. A pure dog person, who often spent way too much money on her four-legged friends. The couple would regularly quarrel about money.

Missing of Hugh Harlin
Four years passed after Dian's murder, and Hugh had resumed his life. He still sometimes worked as a fisherman, and also still did odd jobs for people without asking for payment. Since he had a two-day construction job in San Siemian, about 27 miles away, on November 1, 1986, he went to a friend's house (one Steve Mathieu) and borrowed some tools from him. It was the last time anyone was known to see him alive. Friends of the bearded man found his abandoned pickup truck on the side of the road near Cambria a few days later. There was no trace of Hugh anywhere... The keys to the wagon were found on the ground a few feet away, and a number of Hugh's belongings were found in the vehicle, including his glasses, backpack, sleeping bag and a quantity of tobacco and ambrosia pot. After an inspection of the vehicle, the friends discovered that a fuel line had been removed from it. Hugh Harlin was never seen or heard from again.

Had he been the victim of a crime? A kidnapping? Or had he disappeared of his own accord, out of guilt over his wife's murder? They were questions that everyone wondered, and that were never answered. Several people thought that Hugh was killed by the same killer of his wife, because he may have had information about the perpetrator. According to them, Hugh would never have left his truck on the side of the road. Especially not with the pot still in it.

The chances of him leaving on his own accord seem slim. He had long since ceased to be a suspect in the murder case, and had little money to start a completely new life somewhere else. He also had a striking appearance, and there would be a good chance that he would be recognized. Not only because of his unmistakable appearance, but also because his left thumb and forefinger were missing. All those involved can do is speculate. The man is missing to this day.

Tips and Information
Dian Harlin's murder is still unsolved after all these decades. The disappearance of her widower has also never been solved. Are they two mysteries that merge into each other, or are they separate from each other? The police are still eager to solve the cases, and we hope that there are people who know more. Is that you? Do you think you know what happened to Dian, Hugh or both? Then let us know now. Don't hesitate and get in touch now (anonymously) using the form below.

This goes without the interference of the police, and entirely through our editors. If you would like to remain anonymous, do not enter your name and e-mail address. We ensure that your information ends up in the right place with the appropriate cold case team. 

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