For Larkin, however, this book is about more than just a murder mystery; it’s personal. Her father, Bob Holt, was the reporter on the beat who covered the story for the Ventura County Star Free Press.
In this podcast, Larkin talks about the sad demise of Olga Duncan at the hands of her mother-in-law, and the grueling trial that ensued.
“The reality for women is that most women who are murdered are murdered by a family member, and in Olga’s case, it was the mother-in-law,” Larkin said.
Elizabeth Ann Duncan so disliked her daughter-in-law, Olga, that she hired two clumsy hitmen to kill her. She reportedly had shopped the job around to multiple people in Santa Barbara before she found her killers.
“Olga didn’t need to be murdered,” Larkin said. “If those people in Santa Barbara who Mrs. Duncan had talked to had spoken up this wouldn’t have happened,” Larkin said. “I think the lesson is when we know someone is in danger, we need to speak up.
The mother-in-law, Elizabeth and the two killers, were eventually executed for their crimes. Elizabeth Duncan is the last woman in the California to be executed.
The hired killers were originally going to shoot Duncan and bury her in Mexico, but their car sputtered and even broke down on Cabrillo Boulevard. They eventually made it onto Highway 101, but when they started having car trouble again, they took Highway 150 toward Ojai.
Larkin said the contract was for $6,000 — money the killers never received because they were arrested. Larkin said that Duncan did not have the money to pay anyway.
Near Casitas Dam, which was under construction at the time, they killed their victim by burying her alive. A month later, Duncan’s body was found.
Olga Duncan was married to Frank Duncan, a criminal defense attorney in Santa Barbara.
The book also is part memoir. Larkin recalls the days growing up with her father and the stories he would tell about his job and covering the Duncan trial.
Larkin was just 10 years old when Olga was killed, searing a chilling memory into her soul. At the time, she loved mystery books. She wondered if what happened to Olga Duncan could happen to her.
“I was already an anxious kid,” Larkin said. “This just fed into that anxiety.”
Larkin has a bachelor’s degree in American literature from UC Davis, and served as a high school principal in Julian. But to write a book, she went back to school, enrolling in a creative writing program at UC San Diego and taking about 35 units.
She initially thought she would fictionalize the story, but along the way realized that the story was too weird to be fiction, and if she wrote it as fiction, a publisher might say it was unrealistic.
So she wrote it in the creative nonfiction genre.
Consider a contribution to this podcast by clicking here. Subscribe to this podcast by clicking here. Josh Molina has been a journalist in Santa Barbara for 20 years. He also covered City Hall for the San Jose Mercury News. In addition to working as a reporter at Noozhawk, he teaches journalism at Cal State University, Northridge and Santa Barbara City College. Please subscribe to his You Tube channel for more content.