One half of a quirky married couple is found dead, and the other disappears.

A elderly man, Hugh Harlin, with a white hair and beard wearing a grey sweater and cap.

Hugh Harlin

Missing:

Gender: Male
DOB: 7/31/35
Height: 5’8”
Weight: Between 130 & 150 lbs.
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Thinning gray
Defining Characteristics: Missing the thumb and forefinger on his left hand

CASE DETAILS

On the surface, Morro Bay, California, is a picture-postcard seaside fishing village. But this charming town holds the secret to a murder, or perhaps two.

A person walks a large dog and a medium dog along a beach.

Dian was murdered with a dog leash

Hugh Harlin, a well-known resident of Morro Bay, sometimes worked as a fisherman. Hugh fished when the spirit moved him. Morro Bay businesswoman and resident Catherine Cordero knew him well:

“There were a number of times he would stop by our business. We would be unloading fish and he’d roll up his sleeves and pitch in. And six or seven to ten hours later, when we’re finally done, you know, he wouldn’t take any money for his help. He wasn’t just a weirdo. He might have been weird at times, but he wasn’t a weirdo.”

Unfortunately, his wife, Dian, squandered what little money Hugh earned. According to Catherine Cordero, it led to more than one bitter argument:

They weren’t getting along very well, and Dian would do bizarre things, including opening a can of dog food and serving it to Hugh for dinner.”

It seemed Dian cared more for her dogs than she did for Hugh. In fact, around town, Dian was known as “The Dog Lady.”

A car parked on the side of the road with its hood open, a man is bending down to pick something up infront of the car.

Keys found by Hugh’s abandoned truck

On October 13, 1982, the badly decomposed body of a woman was found just off the beach at Morro Bay. Police could not identify her. But they could identify the murder weapon. According to Det. Manny Silva of the Morro Bay Police Department, the victim had been strangled with a dog leash:

“The investigators immediately put out a news media release with a description asking for the public’s assistance identifying this individual. Later in the evening, the department was contacted by a Hugh Harlin. Hugh Harlin was shown several pieces of jewelry, and he identified that jewelry as belonging to his wife Dian.”

Hugh told police that Dian had been away from home for twelve days. He said he wasn’t worried until he heard about the body. First, he told detectives that the night Dian disappeared, the dogs had come home with their leashes on. Then he said the dogs were not wearing leashes when they came home. Det. Silva:

“When Hugh Harlin changed his story, the investigators began to look more closely at him as a possible suspect.”

Catherine Cordero questioned Hugh point black:

“I asked him, I said, ‘Hugh, you know, a lot of people suspect you, and did you kill her? I know she’s bizarre and I know she tried to push your buttons, did you do it?’ He said he didn’t do it. I knew when he answered that question he was telling the truth.”

A man in a plaid shirt, brown pants and a cap walk away from a car parked on the side of the road.

Was Hugh murdered, or did he just disappear?

Police eventually ruled out Hugh as a suspect. The case remained unsolved and four years passed. Then, on November 1, 1986, Hugh went to a friend’s house to borrow some tools for a construction job up the coast. Hugh set off for San Simeon, 27 miles north of Morrow Bay. Hugh’s friend, Steve Mathieu, said he soon received a disturbing phone call:

“The next thing we knew, I had gotten a call from a mutual friend in Cambria, wondering why Hugh’s truck was sitting off the side of the road and had been for a day or so.”

Steve Mathieu said he and a friend, Eddie Grimes, drove to Cambria to check out Hugh’s abandoned truck:

“I got curious as to what was going on. I took a look inside, I saw Hugh’s glasses on the dash, and I saw a couple of tins on the dash. One was tobacco and one was just some ragweed pot that he smoked quite regularly. All of these things weren’t really adding up to me since three days or so had transpired since the last time I’d seen him, and this is basically the way he had left.”

Before Steve and Eddie returned to Morrow Bay, Steve said they did a quick search of the area and found Hugh’s truck keys:

“It was at that point that I had decided that there were just too many elements involved here to be a straight up situation.”

Hugh poses with his wife, Dian. She has straight dark hair and wire rim glasses.

Hugh and Dian Harlin

Did Hugh Harlin meet with foul play or did he just choose to disappear? Det. Bill Wammock of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office:

“There are several possibilities as to what could have happened to Mr. Harlin. Number one, he simply could have staged his disappearance. He knows he had been at one time questioned regarding the homicide of his wife.”

Knowing Hugh, Steve thinks that’s possible:

“I totally believe that Hugh was smart enough and crafty enough to engineer his own disappearance. And just in exactly this manner. The thing that I’ve never been able to decide is, if that’s actually what he did or if there was some foul play here.”

Det. Manny Silva suspects that Hugh had been hiding a secret:

“Hugh Harlin, I knew, I believe, and I think the investigators at the time believed, knew more about the case than he was telling them. And my concern is that he was possibly harmed by some individual who may very well have harmed Dian Harlin.”

The case of Dian and Hugh Harlin remains unsolved. The key to the mystery lies in finding Hugh Harlin, if he is alive.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season six with Robert Stack and in season four with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

SUBMIT A TIP

 

32 Comments

  1. Steve

    A few possibilities:
    1. He vanished and is still alive today (aged 86). However, given he could easily be identified with his missing fingers, I very much doubt he could have escaped undiscovered to this day.
    2. He was murdered or died as a result of an accident, his partial skeletal remains found years later, and authorities were unable or failed to locate or identify the missing bones of the left hand and therefore identify the remains as being of Hugh’s. Given the high profile case, I doubt authorities could have somehow skipped over this one, unless his remains were found on the other side of the country.
    3. He was murdered or died as a result of an accident, and his remains have never been found.

    I believe scenario 3 to be the most plausible. Between murder and accidental death, it’s difficult to know without having more background information on him and the case. Did he have enemies? Who was he in contact with prior to his disappearance? Was the area where his truck was found searched extensively? What was his truck doing there to begin with? Was the area full of cliffs where he could have fallen?

    Although possible, I don’t believe there to be a link with his wife’s murder. The four year lapse is far too long. It also seems very far fetched to draw up a motive for her murder and then his four years apart.

    Reply

  2. Bill Blaski

    All these people that are missing….. was it suicide? Got picked up by a serial killer and killed? Living their best life and evaded law enforcement all this time. I figure these are the most probable.

    Reply

    • Mike Woods

      I love all the random accusations here it’s pure entertainment. My father was Hughs best friend in the 60’s. My mother was friends with his wife. We watched the episode and both my parents were disgusted with it. The couple were odd, because they were hippies and lived an alternative lifestyle. My parents believed Diane was murdered because of something to do with her Job, and Hugh just decided he had enough and either walked into the ocean or as my dad said “disappeared to Kathmandu “ I remember going to his house in 86 and we spent the day with “uncle Huey” down at fisherman’s wharf and then at his house. Even my cousins remember him and have only fond memories. It would have been nice if the show actually found people who really knew the two of them and not just people who wanted their 10 minutes of fame.

      Reply

  3. Emily

    Megan, I too would like to know the name of the guy that played Hugh Harlin. I get the feeling it’s the same guy that played “Sam” in a terrible movie called Werewolf that was on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

    Reply

  4. RL

    It seems pretty obvious he killed her and that he didn’t just disappear on his own.

    Unless he owed loan sharks or a bunch of taxes, he would have no reason to. No one was looking at her death, and he was already living a slow-paced, off-the-grid lifestyle.

    He was a generous man and probably wouldn’t have left his friend’s tools, and like his friend said, he’d give his truck away.
    Most likely he picked up a hitcher who tried to rob him and ended up killing him.

    Reply

  5. Dennis

    Michele thats him! if your telling the truth then that has to be him, he has missing fingers! you should let UM know!

    Reply

  6. Michele

    I was watching this show and when they showed his picture I thought he looked like a friend of my moms from back in the 80’s. I don’t know his real name but his nick name was “fingers”. He was missing a few fingers but I’m not sure which hand. He was also very short… we lived near Los Angeles at the time.. this guy was a rough character. In the show he was not described this way though… so I’m not so sure.

    Reply

  7. Shelayne

    Was he ever found?

    Reply

  8. Megan

    Does anyone know the name of the *actor* who played Hugh Harlin in the recreation segment of the show? He seems very familiar to both my mother and myself (his voice, especially) and we’ve been wracking out brains trying to figure out where we recognize him from.

    Reply

  9. jeff

    I think he murdered her. It’s obvious and annoying that the police took him off the suspect list. He disappeared because he was afraid that they were on him. That or he hired someone to do it and was jumping town so he could avoid paying the person.

    Reply

    • Someone

      He could be jumping town to avoid paying the person, Jeff, but also, it could be a possibility that they could have met to exchange the money and the guy could have murdered him, keeping the money. Or it could be the other way around.

      Reply

  10. Anonymous

    You allegedly feed your spouse dog food and don’t expect something sinister to happen to you? I feel bad enough feeding dog food to my dog!

    Reply

  11. jade nale

    Looks like a guy i knew and worked with missing a thumb and the same finger on the same hand

    Reply

  12. Chanita

    What Happenenend To That Man And His Wife His Was Murdered And Where Did Hugh Go Or He Murdered?

    Reply

  13. Petaa

    I bet he did it. Would have had the motive.

    Reply

  14. Mike

    I met Dian in 1968 in Arcata CA, where she lived in my neighborhood near the university and frequented the local market. She worked at the welfare office in Eureka and lived with a guy who worked out of town most of the time, I think with the forest service. Hugh stayed in an old cabin on Humboldt Bay, just off Hwy 101 between Arcata and Eureka, but occasionally stayed at Dian’s house when the boyfriend was away. Hugh owned property in Blue Lake and payed me to clear the brush off of it so I could by parts for my motorcycle. I always wondered if he ended up back in this area.

    Reply

  15. Elijah

    You’re very welcome

    Reply

  16. Elijah

    Seen a man today look like him don’t know if it was really him Chattanooga Tennessee

    Reply

  17. Trevor

    sadly I doubt that Hugh Harlin is still alive he would be 80 years old by now, unless he is living somewhere else under a different name.

    Reply

  18. ashley

    My step dad is named hugh

    Reply

  19. Greg

    How do I confirm / verify my posting? I guess it really doesn’t matter but I thought I’d share my story here.
    It was frightening at the time but later, fright turned to empathy for each of them. We don’t know what happened. If Hugh did it, he probably already died with unimaginable guilt.
    Take care of your loved ones.
    Greg

    Reply

  20. Greg

    I was the 12 year old boy that found Dian’s body. I’m 44 years old now but I’ll never forget the very scary image of her lifeless body at the base of a tree. When I first saw her I thought it was a fake Halloween prank because it was in October. I didn’t think she was real until I actually stepped over her body and while I was that close to her it hit me that she was a real Woman and obviously deceased.
    When I found this site I saw her face and I was surprised how vivid my memory of that day is. I remember every feature of her face. It is sad and still an unsolved mystery.
    In my 20’s I received a surprising phone call from the producers of Unsolved Mysteries who had tracked me down. They wanted me to describe myself as a 12-year old so they could hire an actor who fit my description. My actor’s part was only a couple seconds.
    I can’t believe people are still talking about this but it is an interesting mystery.
    From time to time I’ll remember Dian’s image and wonder what really happened.

    Reply

  21. Laurie Gilman

    I think he killed and I think he is living in the woods in Alaska. I was watching the Show Alaska State police and they were on a call with a guy that looked like an older version of the of this dude.He wouldn’t give his name and he said he hasn’t

    had a drivers in at least 20 years. He had an ancient truck like the one pictured above. He.was arrested for DUI and a few other things. I know this seems weird but I think it’s worth checking out1

    Reply

  22. randy bailey

    I do think he killed his wife then made it look like he was murdered.But then I think was he that smart to stay hid out like that !

    Reply

  23. unsolved

    He is still missing.

    Reply

  24. Trevor

    Was Hugh Harlin ever found?

    Reply