In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2000, author-critic Tom Nolan (Ross Macdonald: A Biography) recalled “16-year-old … Linda’s hit-and-run accident in 1956: Her car struck two boys on a dark street with no sidewalks and one of the boys died. The tragedy so traumatized the girl, Nolan said, that she attempted suicide and was institutionalized [at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital].
“‘[Macdonald] stayed awake sort of on suicide watch through the nights and that’s when he wrote this long, probing autobiographical piece where he is trying to understand what had happened to his daughter and how they had come to this dreadful pass,’ Nolan said.”
The Los Angeles Review of Books elaborated on that painful episode in a piece about Millar’s wife, author Margaret Millar:
Linda, meanwhile, grew up troubled. Her public school classmates considered her odd, so her parents sent her to a private school. But the rich kids snubbed her. By age 15, Linda was drinking with older boys; when she was 16, dad gave her a new car. The word “teenager” had just been coined but not yet “parenting.” As I think about Maggie and Ken during this time, I wonder--how could such keen observers of human nature not realize what they were doing to their child? In 1956, her problems became heartbreakingly clear. Linda snuck out of the house one rainy night and purchased two bottles of 20-proof port. She drank the bottles alone in a suicidal state. As rain fell, Linda started her car and sped along the slick streets until she hit three pedestrians. The impact was so hard it threw two of the youngsters 70 feet into the air. Linda continued and slammed into an idling Buick, knocking its driver 60 feet away. By the time her car had rolled to a stop, the inebriated girl had killed one 13-year-old boy and seriously injured two other people.During an interview with California’s Santa Barbara Independent in 2007, Nolan recalled a subsequent incident: “In 1959, [Millar’s] daughter Linda disappeared from UC Davis and was missing for about 11 days. It was a huge story; it made front-page headlines all over the state for at least a week. Ken Millar hired private detectives and worked closely with the police in an attempt to find her.”
There was an arrest, followed by weeks of tabloid-style articles. Linda was treated with Thorazine, diagnosed as “schizoid,” and locked away in what the wags called a “looney bin” until she could stand trial for manslaughter. During the long, drawn-out trial, Maggie sat in the courtroom every day, grief stricken and sometimes sobbing. Finally, a verdict was read. “Linda Millar Guilty in Hit, Run Fatality,” the headlines blared. But in a surprise twist that not even Maggie could have written, Linda was given probation instead of being sent to prison. That triggered cries of favoritism, and the Millars left town for a while.
Her 11-day disappearance in 1959 caused Millar to be hospitalized and treated for hypertension.
And in an interview with January Magazine from 1999, Nolan explained: “What finally drove him to the analyst’s couch were difficulties with his daughter Linda, who in 1956 was involved in a vehicular homicide and three years later--on parole and under psychiatric care--disappeared from her college dorm, setting off a widely publicized police hunt that led Millar to appeal through the media for his daughter to return home. (Linda Millar was finally located in Nevada, and subsequently told a harrowing tale about her days on the run.)”
Linda Millar died in her sleep on November 4, 1970. She was only 31 years old.