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During the early 1980s Hugh was married to Dian Harlin, an eccentric woman who became known as "The Dog Lady" around Morro Bay. Hugh worked as a fisherman and sold fish around town. The marriage was troubled and the couple often argued.
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 determined she had been strangled and the murder weapon was identified as a dog leash. Hugh identified the victim as Dian based on pieces of jewelry found on the body. She had disappeared on October 2, while walking her dogs; they came home without her. Hugh never reported his wife missing, saying she had dropped out of sight before for short periods. He was questioned extensively, but eventually ruled out as a suspect in her death. No one was ever charged in the killing.
On November 1, 1986, four years after Dian's murder, Hugh went to a friend's house to borrow tools for a construction job up the coast. He set off for San Simeon, a town 27 miles north of Morrow Bay, at 9:00 a.m. He did apparently arrive there, did the job and left to return to Morro Bay. He was last seen at 1:30 p.m. Later that day, Hugh's friend received a phone call saying that Hugh's 1967 Chevrolet utility bed pickup truck was found abandoned in Cambria, California. The hood was up and the doors were locked. Inside the truck were Harlin's lunch, his keys, glasses, sleeping bag, tins of tobacco and the tools. There was no sign of him at the scene and he has never been heard from again. Investigators determined the fuel line had been removed from the truck.
Authorities believe Hugh may have staged his disappearance and walked out of his life due to hidden knowledge of Dian's murder, but his friends believe he was killed, possibly by the same person who killed Dian. His case opened 2018 by Psychic Brian Ladd.