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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Fiancé of missing woman takes over as trustee of ranch near Idyllwild

A former ranch worker detailed the timeline of events surrounding Dia Abrams’ disappearance for News 8.
Credit: KFMB

MOUNTAIN CENTER, Calif. — The man claiming to be the fiancé of former La Jolla resident Lydia “Dia” Abrams took over as trustee of the woman’s estate, shortly after she went missing four months ago.

Keith Harper now co-manages Abrams’ 117-acre, Bonita Vista Ranch in Apple Canyon near Idyllwild with a neighbor named Diana Fedder.

Harper, 71, has been acting as first trustee of the estate, and Fedder, 53, assumed her role as second trustee days after Abrams’ went missing on June 6, News 8 has learned.

Harper and Fedder also claim to have power of attorney over the estate.

Abrams, 65, transferred ownership of her ranch, along with two other nearby properties, into the restated Dia Kenshalo Abrams Trust two weeks before she went missing.

Details of the trust remain private, however, and the names of the beneficiaries have not been made public.

Harper acknowledged in an interview with News 8 that he could assume ownership of the ranch in five years if Abram’s is not found alive; although he said he remains focused on establishing an animal reserve on the property.

“Dia spelled it out that it was to become a reserve.  And that is what our intent – both me and Diana -- is to make that into a reserve,” Harper said in a recent telephone interview.

Harper said he plans to bring in burros from Arizona to be part of the reserve.

“A reserve in memory of her. It is to never be sold and always remain as a reserve for animals,” Harper said.

Isidro Garcia worked as a ranch hand for Dia Abrams for 14 years, before leaving employment a few weeks ago.

Garcia, 58, recalled riding horses with Abrams’ and looking after her animals, which included three donkeys and a miniature horse at the Bonita Vista Ranch, and two horses located at a smaller ranch in nearby Garner Valley.

“She liked to ride the horses on Fridays, and I go with her. She always liked to ride with me,” Garcia said.

Those trail rides occasionally would be canceled, according to Garcia, because Harper would want him to work on the ranch.

“Because he wanted me to work, he [didn’t] let me go with Dia to ride the horses. She wasn't happy with that because she likes to ride the horses,” Garcia said.

Garcia’s work schedule changed after Abrams went missing, according to the Anza resident, and he soon parted ways with Harper.

“He cut my hours. I only worked like 28 hours a week. He treated me like a slave,” Garcia said. “He's a mean guy. He's not a nice person, I'll tell you that. I don't trust him anymore. I never trusted him. He’s not a nice person.”

Reached by cell phone, Harper responded that Garcia, “hasn’t worked with us for probably a month.”

“You're talking about somebody who left and is probably a little disgruntled. I have never treated him that way ever,” Harper said.

But Garcia continued to work at the ranch for months following Abrams’ disappearance, and he recalled Harper making a statement about getting ownership of the property.

“He told me, 'I hope I can live five more years,'” Garcia said.

Harper denied making that statement and said plans for future ownership of the property have not been decided.

“I never said that and I'm not sure that that's even in the cards,” Harper said.

During a 90-minute interview with News 8, Garcia detailed the timeline of events in the days following Abrams’ disappearance.

Harper previously told News 8, he had lunch with Abrams at the ranch on the afternoon of Saturday, June 6; and last saw her around 2:30 p.m., when he went to mow the grass and do some ranch work.

“I was down on the meadow, which is probably 100 yards down,” Harper said.

When Harper returned from his ranch work around 7:30 that evening, he said, Abrams was gone. She had left her cell phone, purse and Ford truck behind.

Garcia said Harper called him the next day, Sunday, to tell him Abrams was missing, as friends and neighbors were searching for her at the ranch.

The ranch worker was off for the weekend, and he assumed Abrams would be found, so he did not show up until Monday morning at 8:30 a.m.

Garcia said both Harper and Fedder were at the ranch when he arrived Monday morning.

“When I went there, she [Fedder] was by the door and she don’t let anybody in. And, she was wearing a gun, too,” Garcia said.

Harper had packed up his RV, which he kept on the property near the meadow, and was getting ready to leave, according to Garcia.

“He [Harper] was ready to go. He told me, ‘I'll be back later. I gotta go.’ He said he’s going for an appointment or something,” Garcia said.

Fifteen minutes later, Harper drove away, Garcia said. Then, within a couple hours, a Riverside sheriff’s officer arrived. Fedder was there to meet the officer.

“Only one cop showed up, probably 10 or 11 a.m., and she let him in. She went inside,” Garcia recalled.

Then, on Monday afternoon, deputies arrived and told friends and neighbors to leave the property. Garcia said he was allowed to stay at the ranch in order to care for the animals.

A team of search and rescue experts from the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit spent the next two days looking for Abrams on the ranch and surrounding countryside but did not locate her.

As helicopters circled the property, deputies spotted a couple of marijuana greenhouses on the Sky High Ranch, a rental property owned by Dia Abrams, located a mile and a half west of the Bonita Vista Ranch.

On the evening of Tuesday, June 9, Riverside detectives served a search warrant on the Sky High Ranch and seized more than 2,300 marijuana plants and 357 pounds of processed marijuana, according to court records. Nobody was arrested.

The search warrant revealed that investigators believed Abrams went missing “under suspicious circumstances and foul play is suspected.”

Garcia said the man who was renting the Sky High Ranch had signed a one-year lease with Abrams through December 2020, and the man had two workers assisting in the marijuana grow.

Garcia does not believe the pot operation had anything to do with Abrams going missing.

“Dia never goes there. She only sees the guy when they signed the papers. She never goes to the [Sky High] Ranch. I'm the one, whenever fixing stuff, I am the one going there,” Garcia said.

On Thursday, June 12, detectives served two more search warrants, this time in Aztec, New Mexico, as News 8 previously reported.

RELATED: Detectives serve search warrants in Dia Abrams missing person case

New Mexico investigators seized Harper’s RV and took a "section of front driver seat" as well as evidence from Harper’s storage business, American Storage Complex in Aztec.

Meanwhile, back at the Bonita Vista Ranch, Abrams’ son and daughter, Clinton and Crisara had arrived, in an attempt to secure the ranch and gain access to a truck used by Dia Abrams, according to Garcia.

“The police gave the keys to Clinton and Crisara. We went inside. Crisara was recording everything where she walked,” Garcia recalled.

“Crisara was checking her mama’s purse and we found some keys, and I told her this is for the truck,” Garcia said.

Ownership and possession of the dark-green, Ford pickup previously had been a point of contention between Abrams and her adult children, Garcia said.

Court records showed Abrams had been involved in a multi-million dollar probate case involving her children and her late husband’s estate.

RELATED: Woman missing near Idyllwild was in court battle over multi-million dollar estate

Since the Ford truck was titled to Abrams’ late husband, Clem Abrams, the children wanted the vehicle returned.

Garcia believes the efforts made by Abrams’ family to obtain the Ford truck may have led Abrams to transfer her properties into the trust.

“The kids trying to take her truck led Harper to tell her to transfer the trust. That’s what I think,” Garcia speculated.

Garcia recalled Clinton Abrams was given control of the Bonita Vista Ranch for several days after his mother went missing, while Harper was still in New Mexico.

“We changed the locks on all the houses and, Clinton, he tried to put up some cameras,” Garcia said.

Clinton also hired a private security guard to keep an eye on the ranch during evening hours, Garcia said.

“He didn’t want Harper and Diana to go into the house. Security came in the night and he was watching the property,” said Garcia.

The Bonita Vista Ranch was deserted during those days following the search for Abrams, and Garcia admitted he was a bit nervous when he showed up to feed the animals.

“I was there in the day and nobody was there. I was scared to get in - afraid. I was kind of hiding when I get in to feed the donkeys. It was scary. I thought somebody maybe [would] shoot me from the trees or somewhere,” he said.

Eventually, Diana Fedder showed up with a power of attorney and took back control of the ranch from Clinton Abrams, according to Garcia.

The Ford truck went back to La Jolla with Clinton, and Fedder got the keys to the ranch, he said.

“That's when they took the truck. When they gave the keys back to [Diana], they just got the truck and left,” Garcia said.

Harper, meanwhile, wanted his motorhome back.

On July 24, Harper attempted to recover his RV from sheriff impound by self-filing a civil complaint in San Juan County Magistrate Court in Aztec.

In his lawsuit, Harper sought “an order to compel San Juan Sheriff Dept. to release a 2000 Ford motorhome that has been held by S.J.S.D.” and $10,000 in damages “to cover rental expenses generated by this vehicle.”

A New Mexico judge dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice on Aug. 13 for lack of jurisdiction because Harper improperly filed the complaint in Magistrate Court instead of District Court.

Garcia, Abrams’ ranch hand, said Harper’s RV has since returned to the ranch, “probably a month ago.”

He said Diana Fedder now manages Airbnb listings for the Bonita Vista Ranch, where tourists can rent small cabins and a guest house on the property.

“She's the one doing all the work,” Garcia said. “Actually, I was good with her.  She treated me good. She's the one who paid me every two weeks.”

Garcia recently returned to his childhood home in Guadalajara, Mexico, to vacation, spend time with family and do some fishing. He has a wife, four adult children, and five grandchildren.

The former ranch hand said he enjoyed working for Dia Abrams.

“She was a nice boss. I'm kind of sad because I got no job now and I got bills to pay. But she was happy with me all these 14 years,” he said.

Garcia believes Abrams is dead.

“Yeah, now it's almost four months, I think she's dead. Probably she’s dead by now,” Garcia said.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department wrote Wednesday to News 8 saying it had no update regarding the Dia Abrams missing person case.