Director David E. Durston And The Mysterious Deaths Linked To Him

History is filled with a lot of really bizarre coincidences, and sometimes, it's a case of someone just having the worst luck in the world. And yes, sometimes those incidents involve experiences that turn deadly.

Look at the case of the identical twins who died on the same day, on the same road, each riding their bikes in completely different incidents. Before the family even found out that the first one was gone, the second was gone, too. That's some seriously weird stuff, and so is the life of David E. Durston.

Durston was a writer and director of some "love-em-or-hate-em" films in the 1960s and 70s. The Hollywood Reporter credits him for some pretty ground-breaking work in horror and science fiction, and those genres probably wouldn't be the same without him today. Someone has to break the mold, after all, and when they do, it's never without some kind of outrage from someone. But when that mold is broken with some incredibly gory movies, exploration into the era's drug counterculture, and a few pornographic films, it's safe to say that everyone knew his name.

But here's the super weird thing: David E. Durston is not only remembered for his incredibly bloody movies, but for his connection to two deaths. They happened years apart, and in both cases, he was among the last to see a woman alive. Weird? Absolutely. Let's look at what we know about both tragic incidents.

Who was David E. Durston?

At the center of this rather weird chapter in entertainment history is David E. Durston, who, as Snopes says, sometimes went by his middle name, Edward (or Ed). He might not be a household name today, but fans of old-school grindhouse horror will undoubtedly be familiar with him and his most famous film, "I Drink Your Blood."

The movie got a shout-out in Durston's eventual obituary in The New York Times, in which it was described it as a "sanguinary cult classic." It's basically the story of what would happen if a kid decided to get rid of a Charles Manson-like cult by feeding them all meat pies made with a healthy helping of the rabies virus. With some predictable horror-movie logic, the cult members turn into rabid, townsfolk-eating monsters, and things go sideways from there.

The movie was a staple of 1970s drive-in double features, and his fans often mention it in the same breath as "Night of the Living Dead." The Hollywood Reporter says that Durston's other films — like "Stigma," which features a future "Miami Vice" star in a movie about a town hit with a mysterious syphilis outbreak — were pretty groundbreaking for the time, and that he waded into topics that others were giving a hard pass.

From horror films about the effects of LSD to fighting to get his X ratings down to R and finally breaking into gay porn, it's safe to say that Durston was well known for pushing boundaries in the film industry.

Who was Diane Linkletter?

Diane Linkletter was a young, aspiring actress with an incredibly famous father. Art Linkletter was a Canadian comedian born in 1912, and while he had an incredibly long career in show business, there's one project that nearly everyone will be familiar with, even if they don't know his name: he's the one behind "Kids Say The Darndest Things." According to Fox News, Art was one of the pioneers of reality television, helmed some of the longest-running variety shows in American television history, and — when it came to his own children — knew heartbreak.

Art died in 2010 at 97 years old, tragically after surviving three of his own children. In 1980, he lost one son in a car accident, and in 2007, he lost another son to lymphoma. And in 1969, his daughter, Diane, died under incredibly suspicious circumstances. It wasn't long after the father and daughter had recorded a spoken-word piece called "We Love You, Call Collect" together. The recording was released after her death, and earned them a Grammy.

Diane had had high hopes for her own career in show business. She had already made television appearances, and about a year before her death, she told The Pittsburgh Press that she was grateful for all the help and advice her father had to offer. She was focused on being punctual, prepared, and easy to work with, saying it was all practice "for when I become a star." Unfortunately, she'd never realise her dream.

How did Diane Linkletter die?

Scott Michaels is a celebrity death researcher, and according to the official documents posted on his Find A Death site, Diane Linkletter died on October 4, 1969, of severe injuries including a skull fracture, cerebral contusions, and multiple fractures of extremities. Her death certificate noted that she had "jumped from window to street," and had been pronounced dead at the hospital. 

Snopes details what happened on that day. David E. Durston had gotten to Diane's apartment hours before. He told the LAPD that she'd called him around 3 am, that she had been "very upset," and he'd gone right over to console a friend who clearly needed a confidant. They'd made cookies, talked all night, and it was about six hours later that she walked away and didn't come back. Durston said, "She went over to a window. I tried to grab her and she went out."

And that, Durston had said, was the entirety of what happened. But other accounts add two other important details, which may or may not be true. Diane's brother, Robert, claimed that she had called him just before she died, but it's unclear what they talked about, or if the phone call ever happened. It was also widely claimed that Diane had taken a dose of LSD before her death, and the oft-repeated "fact" led to the widespread belief that her death had been drug-related.

Diane Linkletter's family insisted it wasn't suicide

Diane Linkletter's death became synonymous with LSD, and the oft-repeated story was that she had taken it, then fallen to her death. Just a few days after she died, her father, Art Linkletter, went on public record and told the media, "It wasn't suicide, because she wasn't herself. It was murder. She was murdered by the people who manufacture and sell LSD." (via The Morning Record).

Art claimed over and over again that the reason that she had died was the drug, saying that yes, she had all the normal problems of a 20-year-old woman, but that she wasn't suicidal. She was trying to find her way in life, figure out her career, learn to manage this weird, weird world we live in, but, Art said, "Diane was very loving and happy — but very emotional. You add LSD to a girl who is somewhat emotional and dramatic and it can be dangerous."

He also claimed that she had told him of a bad LSD trip that she'd gone through so he knew what impact it had on her. But here's the thing: Snopes says that not only did no one else know anything about this supposed bad trip, but David E. Durston — the only person who saw Diane the night she died — never said anything about her taking LSD. And it's Durston's version of events that was ultimately supported by the autopsy. A toxicology report found that there were no drugs or alcohol in her system.

Art Linkletter's anti-drug campaign

Snopes says that even after Diane Linkletter's toxicology resorts came back clean, the Linkletter family changed their story a bit, but still blamed the whole thing on LSD. Even though David E. Durston had described a woman struggling with depression and made no reference to any substances she had taken in the past, the narrative became the story of her struggles with LSD and flashbacks to a previous bad trip.

Art Linkletter was the only one who knew about this trip, and he said that Diane had told him about it approximately six months before she died. He continued to blame that, and doubled down on his activism. He became such a staunch anti-drug crusader that in 2002, the National Endowment for the Humanities presented him with a National Humanities Medal.

Linkletter also blamed the influence of the nation's blossoming counterculture scene. Variety says that two weeks after his daughter's death, Art was at the White House giving a talk about how Diane had died "while in a depressed, suicidal frame of mind, in a panic believing she was losing her mind from recurring bad trips as a result of LSD experiments six months before."

His speech had so much impact that the Nixon administration boosted financial support to drug abuse awareness and educational programs, Linkletter became an advisor to the program, and he spearheaded the movement to blame everything up to and including musicians like Jefferson Airplane for influencing kids to take LSD.

Urban legends and LSD

Strangely, the death that David E. Durston witnessed — or, at least, was close to — has since passed into the realm of urban legend, and his eyewitness accounts have been completely overlooked.

Snopes reports that Durston described Diane's state of mind to the investigating police: she was struggling, depressed, and overwhelmed by life. Yet bizarrely, that somehow morphed into the story that she jumped while not only high on LSD, but fully believing that she could fly because of the drug's hallucinogenic properties.

The legend was originally (it seems) attributed to "some girl," but combine Diane's tragic death, her father's anti-LSD campaign, and Durston's testimony being widely overlooked, word of mouth did its magic, and her tragic story was reduced to urban legend.

There's another footnote to this, too: Diane's story sort of has a double urban legend. When her father started blaming her experience on a flashback to a bad acid trip, that put the idea of an acid flashback firmly among the reasons not to drop LSD. The term "flashback" was used to describe recurring drug experiences the same year she died, and according to Popular Science, it's still debated on whether or not they're real. Some psychiatrists record treating patients who suffered from LSD flashbacks, but according to studies — including one from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology — there's no hard evidence of a relationship between LSD and long-term hallucinations.

Who was Carol Wayne?

So here's where David E. Durston's story gets even stranger, and it involves another young actress.

Way back in ye olde days when "The Tonight Show" was both run by Johnny Carson and had an hour and a half of variety-show-style laughs each night, the show featured a regular named Carol Wayne. Wayne played the Matinee Lady on one of the regular sketches — among other roles — and she was wildly popular. Blonde and beautiful, she had a gift for making the most innocent statements sound so suggestive that they could make anyone blush, but when the show was reduced to an hour, her regular characters were among those that got the cut.

According to "More of Hollywood's Unsolved Mysteries," Wayne struggled after having her steady job vanish. Friends and family said that she grew more and more despondent, and turned to both alcohol and cocaine. The jobs dried up, and by 1984, she agreed to pose nude for an issue of Playboy.

She was bankrupt and struggling with addiction. Things were so bad that even when old friends came forward with offers to help, it didn't seem to work out. Around the same time as the Playboy shoot, Richard Pryor made a serious effort to help her get her life back on track, promising to cast her in his next film if she checked into and completed a stint in rehab. He even offered to pay for it, but she had other plans.

What happened to Carol Wayne?

Instead of taking Richard Pryor up on his offer to pay for her rehab, Carol Wayne headed to Manzanillo, Mexico. She departed on her trip on January 4, 1985, and with her was none other than David E. Durston.

They stayed at a hotel called Las Hadas, and later, employees would remember that they were having a grand old time (via "More of Hollywood's Unsolved Mysteries"). Wayne had reportedly headed there in an attempt to get away from everything that was pushing her to drink, but those who saw them at the hotel said that booze was flowing pretty freely. They drank, they danced, then, they drank some more — until it was time to leave on January 10. That was when things took a tragic turn. 

When Wayne's body was discovered floating in the shallow waters of Santiago Bay, she had no alcohol or drugs in her system, and no outward signs of what had led to her death. She had been dead for somewhere between 36 and 48 hours before she was found, and while there wasn't enough evidence of foul play to rule her death a homicide, law enforcement — and the investigating American Consulate — called it "unusual."

Why was Carol Wayne's death ruled suspicious?

There were a lot of things about Carol Wayne's death that just didn't make sense, and things seemed to start going sideways when she and David E. Durston had a massive argument. According to "More of Hollywood's Unsolved Mysteries," witnesses later told law enforcement that there had been some kind of disagreement about where they were staying, so Durston just left. The investigation into Wayne's death found that Durston had checked out of the hotel they'd shared, and — at the same time she went missing — checked himself into another hotel. The following morning, he took all their luggage to the airport, left hers there (with a note that she'd pick it up when she flew back to LA), and then got on a plane. No missing persons report was ever filed.

In 1990, police reopened the investigation into her death. It was officially ruled "accidental," with the most likely explanation being that she had been walking along the water when she slipped, fell, and drowned.

However, skeptics think there was more to it. Wayne — who couldn't swim — had no bruising or other signs of violence, a struggle, or a fall. Investigators in Mexico have said that questioning Durston might have been hugely helpful, but he never returned to Manzanillo so they never could. The circumstances that led to her death have never been satisfactorily explained.

What happened to David E. Durston?

By the time David E. Durston headed to Mexico with Carol Wayne, he had already made his major movies. According to The New York Times, he had gone on to become a "freelance director and script doctor" in the latter part of his career, while The Hollywood Reporter adds that he kept working on original screenplays until he was well into his 80s.

Durston's death was announced on May 18, 2010, with the official cause being complications from pneumonia. It was also announced that the 88-year-old Durston was survived by his nephew, Jack Damon — who was also known as John DiBello — and was living as his companion at the time of his death.

Strangely, it was only a few days later — May 26, 2010 — that The New York Times announced the death of the 97-year-old Art Linkletter. Art's death was confirmed by his son-in-law, and he was survived by only two of his five children. His obituary mentioned both the suicide of his daughter, Diane, and his subsequent anti-drug crusade.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.