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Attorney’s death delays hearing over missing woman’s estate near Idyllwild

Depositions in battle over estate reveal new information in the disappearance of Dia Abrams.
Credit: CBS 8

MOUNTAIN CENTER, Calif. — Earlier this month, court proceedings were delayed again in litigation over the estate of Lydia “Dia” Abrams when the attorney representing the missing woman’s ranch manager suddenly passed away.

The Palm Desert attorney, Dennis Healey, 78, died “unexpectedly,” according to an obituary in the Desert Sun newspaper.

Contacted by telephone at Healey’s law office, his sister and office manager, Nancy Healey, declined to elaborate on her brother’s cause of death, saying only he died of natural causes.

The death resulted in a four-month delay in the ongoing court battle over Abrams’ estate near Idyllwild, which includes the 117-acre Bonita Vista Ranch and two additional parcels with residential homes.

Healey represented Keith Harper, 72, Abrams’ boyfriend and ranch manager, who took over as trustee of the estate after Abrams went missing on June 6, 2020.  She has not been found.

Abrams’ adult children, Crisara and Clinton Abrams, filed petitions last year in Palm Springs probate court to have Harper removed as trustee, alleging financial elder abuse and undue influence in his handling of Abrams’ estate.

Abrams, 65, had transferred her estate properties and assets into a restated trust two weeks before she went missing, naming Harper a trustee and disinheriting her adult children.

“The same day (Abrams) was reported missing, Mr. Harper fled the State of California for New Mexico.  Mr. Harper is under criminal investigation in connection with (Abrams’) mysterious disappearance,” Crisara Abrams’ probate petition claimed.

Harper responded in March 2021 to the probate petitions.

“Respondent did not flee the State of California for New Mexico.  After being notified that the Riverside County Sheriff's office was going to lock down the property he took off with their knowledge to do business in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.  While he was gone he kept in touch with the Riverside County Sheriff's office.  Respondent, as well as her son, CLINTON ABRAMS, have both been under investigation by the Riverside County Sheriff's office because of DIA ABRAMS’ disappearance,” Harper’s response said.

Healey, the deceased attorney, testified in a June 2022 deposition that he had not been paid to represent Harper, but took on the role in probate court because he had drawn up Abrams’ trust documents.

“It was just basically trying to protect Dia's interest,” Healey testified.

At the time of Healey’s death, settlement talks were underway in the case. Insiders said the settlement negotiations focused on the sale of estate assets, and the funding of a large reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

The status of the settlement agreement is now unclear in the wake of Healey’s passing.

At a hearing on Sept. 19, attorney Jacquetta Bardacos represented Harper in Palm Springs probate court.  The hearing was continued to Jan. 5, 2023. Bardacos did not respond to a message seeking comment for this report.

In recent months, depositions in the case have revealed new information related to Abrams’ disappearance.  An attorney representing Crisara Abrams questioned Harper during a deposition on June 30, 2022.

Harper testified he had contacted a missing persons nonprofit in Chandler, Arizona, called Find Me Group, in an effort to locate Abrams.  He claimed the group had produced an investigative report and it was delivered to Riverside County Sheriff’s detectives.

“They identified who the killer was, I believe. They identified where she was and the cause of her death, how she died,” Harper testified.

Based on information contained in the Find Me Group report, the sheriff’s department searched Lake Hemet for Abrams’ remains in November 2021, according to Harper’s testimony.

“They did a search. They did one dive. The dive was from the shore,” Harper testified.  Nothing was found in the lake, according to Harper, who also claimed he witnessed the search effort from afar.

In January 2022, CBS 8 contacted the founder of Find Me Group, Kelly Snyder.  He said his investigation relied on experienced psychics, who are members of his group.

“I have a total of 93 psychics in the group.  I give them the information as to the person missing.  And then they send me back what they say happened, who was responsible for the missing person, or the circumstances surrounding why the person is missing,” said Snyder.  “I take the information and create a report that I send to the police department.”

Based on GPS coordinates provided by the psychics, Lake Hemet was identified as a possible location for Abrams’ remains, according to Snyder.

“There was probably 35 (psychics) that responded out of the 93.  I require all of the members in the group to provide me GPS coordinates instead of something that’s generic,” Snyder said.

Riverside Sheriff's detectives would not confirm whether a search of Lake Hemet took place in November 2021.  “We are unable to provide any additional information on this open and active investigation,” a sheriff’s spokesperson wrote in January via email to CBS 8.

During Harper’s deposition, he also claimed to know the name of a person he believed was involved in Abrams’s disappearance.

“The name is Patrick Griffith. He lives 22 miles from Clinton. All of his information was found almost on the ranch property. His camping supplies, his medical reports were all found there where he camped,” Harper testified in June 2022.

CBS 8 previously had looked into Griffin’s background after a neighbor reported finding his name on medical paperwork and other belongings near the Bonita Vista Ranch in Mountain Center.

The neighbor, who asked not to be identified, found the strange mix of personal belongings along a roadside, one day after Abrams went missing on June 6, 2020.

The items included a computer-printed prescription drug list, a man’s cap, a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, Monster energy drinks, Starbucks coffee drinks, and Coors beer cans, according to the neighbor.

The man’s cap was found upside-down and in the middle of the road, the neighbor said, with a stick next to it pointing to a large boulder on the side of the road.  Beside the bolder, the other items were found in and around a white bag, which had a stick on top of it.

The belongings were found at the intersection of Apple Canyon Road and Bonita Vista Road, less than a quarter mile from the entrance to Abrams’ Bonita Vista Ranch, according to the neighbor.

The find was reported to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department -- the agency investigating Abrams’ disappearance -- but no one followed up, the neighbor said.

Eventually, the items were thrown away, according to the neighbor, who provided CBS 8 with a photograph of the prescription drug list.

Credit: CBS 8

The Rx list was dated May 5, 2020, and included the patient’s name, Patrick Griffin, along with his date of birth, San Diego address and cell phone number.

Some of the prescriptions on the list already had been filled, others were scheduled to be filled at a future date.

Aripiprazole was on the list.  It is classified as an antipsychotic drug used to treat mood disorders and schizophrenia, according to the WebMD website. Gabapentin is prescribed to prevent seizures and nerve pain.  Prazosin, Propranolol, and Amlodipine Besylate treat high blood pressure.  Lansoprazole and Pantoprazole Sodium are used to treat heartburn and acid reflux, according to WebMD.

Patrick Griffin died of natural causes on April 17, 2021, according to his autopsy report.  He had declined medical assistance twice that same day before he was found deceased in Oceanside, the report said.  

“The decedent was a 51-year-old, never married White male who resided in a sober living home in the city of Oceanside.  On 04/17/2021, a resident at the home called 9-1-1 to request assistance for the decedent who was found collapsed and unresponsive in the home’s front yard; the decedent also had two separate interactions earlier that day with law enforcement and paramedics secondary to presenting with bizarre behavior,” the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s report stated.

Griffin’s cause of death was hypertensive cardiovascular disease with obesity listed as a contributing factor.  Griffin was 6-foot, 2-inches tall and weighed 258 pounds at the time of his death, according to the autopsy report.

In early April 2021, CBS 8 spoke on the telephone with Griffin’s mother, two weeks before her son died.

A reporter asked why her son’s belongings might have been found on the side of a road near Idyllwild. She responded Griffin had no connection to the mountain area.

“He’s got mental problems. He's been in and out of a psychiatric unit,” the mother said.  “He doesn't have any means.  He doesn't drive or anything.”

CBS 8 is not identifying the mother for privacy reasons.

The mother speculated that her son may have left his belongings at the home of an Escondido woman, where Griffin had been staying about a year earlier, after his release from a hospital.

“I forget the name of this woman. She was living in Escondido. And he was living there. She told him to take her dog for a walk. And when he took the dog for a walk, the dog got loose and ran away. And she got after him screaming and yelling all kinds of stuff. So, he just left. He ran and left his clothes there, you know, a bag with clothes in it,” according to the mother.

The mother insisted her son did not know anyone named Dia Abrams, or any woman Abrams’ age.

CBS 8 contacted the mother again in July of 2022.  She declined to discuss the matter further, as she was still grieving the loss of her son.  The mother reiterated that Griffin had no ties to the Idyllwild area and did not know Dia Abrams.

On Dec. 23, 2021, another woman was lost on the Bonita Vista Ranch. Jodi Newkirk, 46, had been working as a horse handler and ranch hand under Harper’s supervision. Just after sunset, Harper called 911 to report Newkirk had died in a rollover ATV accident. Riverside Sheriff homicide detectives responded and later posted a news release that called Newkirk’s death “suspicious.”  Her cause of death remains under investigation.

WATCH: Keith Harper interview with CBS 8, September 2020:


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