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Murder Suspect Described as Childlike, Shy--but Has a Temper

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Diana J. Haun, 35, arrested Thursday on suspicion of murder, may seem an unlikely suspect.

The product of a stable Port Hueneme family, she is often described as polite, soft-spoken and shy--but also as a woman who harbors a fascination for the odd and occult who can flash a sudden temper.

From her days at Hueneme High School through her current job at the deli counter at Vons in Port Hueneme, teachers, friends, co-workers and roommates characterize Haun as naive, even childlike, in her demeanor.

As a high school sophomore in 1977, she was struck a glancing blow on the head by a collapsing basketball backboard. That trauma left her in a coma for three days with a bleeding brain and ended in a lawsuit settlement that provides her $1,077 a month until age 65. She still sees a psychologist regularly.

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Even as Haun grew older and worked a series of jobs--clerk, waitress, bank teller, vending-machine stocker and postal worker--the world saw a surprisingly consistent image of her.

“She was nice, very quiet-speaking, she talked in very low tones,” said George Pirie, whose son, John, worked with Haun at the post office in the late 1980s and who operated a vending machine company as a side business with her for several years.

And a co-worker when Haun was a waitress at Bakers Square restaurant recalled:

“Diana was like a strange person in that mousy way--that’s what everybody thought. You don’t run into people who are so shy and timid to the point where they’re background, but she was. She would just look at you and she seemed kind of innocent and childlike.”

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A property manager who once rented Haun a house said his tenant was reliable, always making her payments on time. “But she was a little off-center,” he said. “Not a lot, but enough that you would notice.”

In an interview with The Times, Haun said she sees herself as shy until she gets to know a person well, but not particularly vulnerable.

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“I’m just a normal, average person,” she said in a June 26 interview. “I go to work, I went to school, I mind my own business.”

Despite her brain injury in high school, she said her intellect is above average--citing as evidence a B average at Hueneme High, two semesters on the dean’s list at Oxnard College and a high score on an exam for a post office position.

Yet, she said: “Memorywise, I guess you could say I don’t have as much RAM as the next person, random access memory.”

Co-workers, however, say they remember a less commonplace side of Haun, who sometimes embraced seedy characters unquestioningly and who had personality quirks of her own.

Over the last two years, while working the night shift behind the deli counter at Vons on Rose Avenue, Haun would bring up the subject of Satanism, talking about being a witch who practices black and white magic, a worker there recalled.

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Haun said that neither she nor Dally believe in occult practices. But it is true, Haun said, that she and another employee would tell stories about Satanism and witchcraft because a co-worker had a relative who was interested in it.

“I told a lot of people at work, just don’t take me seriously, because I joke around a lot.”

She described, for example, an April Fool’s joke she played on a co-worker at Vons this spring--sending the woman a fake letter from a men’s magazine that ridiculed the woman’s body. The woman complained to superiors, thinking a male employee was behind the prank.

There were also times when Haun and Dally would joke about vampires, she said. “We would have vampire jokes and that kind of thing . . . being vampires because you work nights and sleep in the day.”

Haun and Michael Dally first met, she said, soon after she took a clerk’s position at the Oxnard Vons on Rose Avenue in December 1993. They began an affair about six or seven months later, once Haun was convinced that Dally did not love his wife and the marriage was irretrievable, Haun said. They lived together for five months last year until Michael Dally returned home to be with his sons, she said.

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Haun said she was drawn to Dally because he treated her with respect--unlike some men who had apparently considered her a “trophy” to be shown off in public.

Haun and Dally are similar in some ways. Both are the children of U.S. military men who married Japanese wives and brought them home to Ventura County.

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Haun lives with her mother, Kiku, in the same small house across from Parkview School bought decades ago by her father, Fred, a Pearl Harbor survivor who died three years ago of cancer. Haun’s nearby $80,000 condo was repossessed last year when she declared bankruptcy.

Haun describes her relationship with Dally as simply a love affair. But a Vons colleague who worked with them both said she pities Haun.

“She’s just basically a person with low self-esteem and that’s how she got in this predicament,” the worker said. “He’s a jerk. I feel so sorry for her. She was looking for someone to love her and she picked the wrong kind of a man.”

In the interview, Haun quietly professed her innocence, saying she had been set up by Sherri Dally’s real killer. She said she still loves co-suspect Michael Dally, and she does not think Dally killed his wife then implicated her.

“Everybody tells me that--co-workers, friends,” she said. “They say you’ve been set up in a big way. . . . He [Dally] told me he would never hurt me like that.”


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