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Autopsy: Woman died of meth overdose on ranch near Idyllwild

Despite the finding of a meth overdose, the manner of death remains undetermined because there's “no evidence to determine if Newkirk administered drugs to herself."
Credit: CBS 8

SAN DIEGO — Riverside County Sheriff Department homicide detectives have unsealed the autopsy report of Jodi Newkirk, a horse handler who died nearly a year ago under suspicious circumstances on a ranch near Idyllwild.

Newkirk was reported to have died in a rollover ATV accident on the ranch two days before Christmas, 2021.

The autopsy report, however, listed Newkirk’s cause of death as “acute methamphetamine toxicity.” The 46-year-old was a long-time meth user, according to relatives.

Despite the finding of a meth overdose, the manner of death remained “undetermined” because there was “no evidence to determine if Newkirk administered the drugs to herself or if someone else administered it to her,” the autopsy report stated.

Newkirk died on the 117-acre Bonita Vista Ranch in Mountain Center, where the property owner, Lydia “Dia” Abrams, 65, mysteriously went missing in June 2020. Abrams’ remains have not been located.

Keith Harper, 72, was the boyfriend of Dia Abrams when she went missing from the ranch in 2020.  He was the landlord of Jodi Newkirk when she died on the ranch in 2021.

Harper continues to manage and live on the ranch as a trustee, under the terms of trust agreement signed by Dia Abrams, two weeks before she went missing.

According to Newkirk’s autopsy report, Harper called 911 to report the ATV accident on December 23, 2021. CHP officer Hoskins was the first to arrive at 5:19 p.m.

The CHP officer observed Harper “performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on a woman who was lying on the ground, underneath an All Terrain vehicle (ATV). Harper pushed the ATV away from the female and continued CPR” until paramedics arrived on scene.

Officer Hoskins stated, “there did not appear to be any trauma or injuries consistent with a roll-over traffic collision” and “he felt the death was suspicious,” according to the report.

It was “raining heavily and dark out” at the scene of Newkirk’s death, which was described in the report as a “flat, dirt driveway area.”

Officer Hoskins “observed the tire tracks in the wet dirt leading up to the ATV” and the tracks “ended abruptly behind the ATV indicating that it simply came to a stop.” The officer also “pointed out that there were no skid or slide marks and the soil around the ATV was not disturbed.”

No helmet was found on Newkirk’s head or in the vicinity.

“While conducting the body examination, Officer Hoskins informed me that Harper was under investigation related to the missing person report of the property owner of the ranch who disappeared over a year ago,” the report stated. "Harper was living at the property and had numerous law enforcement contacts regarding his alleged involvement.”

Harper previously has denied any involvement in Dia Abrams' disappearance.

At 9 p.m., deputies and a coroner at the scene of Newkirk's death decided to call out the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Central Homicide Unit.

The coroner noted a minor abrasion on Newkirk’s “right-side pelvic area” and collected fingernail clippings.  Her body was transported from the ranch in the afternoon of December 24, 2021, according to the report:

Note: For privacy reasons, the autopsy report PDF posted above does not include five pages of body examination statements, which do not contribute to cause of death findings.

Postmortem toxicology testing revealed the 46-year-old had a concentration of 3.5 mg of methamphetamine per liter of blood in her system.

“Deaths resulting from overdose have been shown with methamphetamine concentrations ranging from 0.09 to 18 mg/L, with an average of 1.0 mg/L,” according to a 2013 research paper published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology.

The same article (entitled Antemortem and Postmortem Methamphetamine Blood Concentrations; McIntyre, Nelson, Schaber and Hamm, 2013) revealed that methamphetamine blood concentrations naturally increase after death, sometimes measuring twice as high during postmortem testing as compared to levels before death.

In a series of journal entries written by Newkirk weeks before her death, she appeared to be in a personal relationship with the ranch manager, Keith Harper, writing, “I loved (love) you anyway.”

In the following undated journal, Newkirk also sounds jealous:

“Dear Harper, So I know I shouldn’t be writing this down & your [sic] most likely not going to read it anyway. Sometimes it really helps to vent. And Boy I have a ton to say about everything obviously. With you being gone it’s very hard for me to feel OK with everything. I need to communicate & in person is always best. I feel like we have gotten kinda on different pages lately. Probably because I feel like you’re a computer dog like a high class gigilo (sp?). Anyhow you really do sleep with as many females as you can & you tell all girls what they want to hear & you tell them all basically the same thing. I listen to you & I really am feeling very strange about the always going to miss me comment in the text a few days ago? What the hell was that about & you never did elaborate? Anyhow I don’t like the way that sounds. Not a bit. It’s weird. With you gone tho I do miss you but I’m thinking things are going to be different when you are back. Not sure who will initiate it but I’m feeling it big time.”

Newkirk was renting a home on a different property in nearby Garner Valley, owned by Dia Abrams.  Harper was collecting rent from Newkirk as her landlord at the time of her death, according to the woman's relatives.

In a June 2022 deposition, Harper testified that he was not in a relationship with Newkirk, and that to his knowledge, her death was the result of the ATV rollover accident.  The deposition came during a lawsuit, where the adult children of Dia Abrams are seeking to have Harper removed as trustee of the Abrams estate.

WATCH: Journal entries written by Jodi Newkirk to Keith Harper:


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