Episode 071: Dia Abrams

March 6, 2023

When a wealthy widow suddenly vanishes, her vast estate takes center stage. But the most important question remains: What happened to Dia Abrams?

Episode Media
Lydia “Dia” Abrams (Facebook)
Clinton, Crisara, and Dia Abrams (Dateline)
Dia Abrams and Keith Harper (Dateline)
Bonita Vista Ranch (Wedding Wire)
Aerial view of Dia’s property (Google Maps)
Keith Harper and Diana Fedder (CBS8)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a missing persons case with so many twists and turns. The deeper I researched, the more I uncovered, and I got lost in the details more than once, but I’ll try to lay it out as clearly as possible. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

On the morning of June 6, 2020, 65-year-old Lydia Abrams woke up early to make cinnamon rolls. She paid a visit to her next-door neighbor, who was terminally ill, and delivered the freshly baked rolls with a side of conversation before heading back home. Dia spent the rest of the morning on her sprawling 115-acre ranch near Mountain Center, California.

Later that afternoon, around 2:30, Dia had lunch with her fiance, 71-year-old Keith Harper, then the pair went their separate ways on the massive property. Dia said she might head down to the lower ranch while Harper cut the grass in the meadow.

But when Harper returned to the ranch house that evening, Dia wasn’t there. He tried calling her cell phone, but there was no answer. Assuming she had gone down to the lower ranch like she had mentioned, Harper headed outside, but when he saw Dia’s truck parked out back, he started to worry. The truck was Dia’s only mode of transportation, and the ranch was enormous.

Not wanting to panic, Harper wondered if Dia had maybe decided to go for a walk on the property. By this time, it was around 7:30, and the sun would be going down soon. It would get dark in the mountains very quickly. Harper knew that Dia would have taken her gun for protection. He later told CBS8, “We had an incident out here where she killed five rattlers. So yeah, you carry a pistol when you hike out here.”

Although this reassured him slightly, Harper still decided to knock on neighbors’ doors and organize a search party. Unfortunately, the darkness and rough terrain would hamper any search, so they agreed to start early the next morning.

On Sunday, June 7th, dozens of local residents gathered at Bonita Vista Ranch to search for Dia Abrams. They scoured the entire property, but there was no sign of her. At the end of the day, one of the neighbors called the Riverside Sheriff’s Office and officially reported Dia missing. Again, the darkness would delay their search until the next day.

By this time, Dia’s son Clinton had made the three hour drive from his home in La Jolla, hoping to help with the search. He learned that his mother’s purse and cell phone had been left at the ranch house, indicating that she hadn’t meant to go far. It was seeming less and less likely that Dia had just walked away.

Clinton also got a weird feeling from Keith Harper. According to Clinton, he hadn’t even known his mother was dating someone, and he definitely hadn’t known she was engaged. She had never mentioned Harper, and this was the first time Clinton was meeting him. In an interview with CBS8, Clinton described Harper as “shifty” and said that he kept talking in circles and saying that he had important meetings to get to.

Ranch worker Isidro Garcia noticed the same thing. He had shown up to work around 8:30 on Monday morning and was surprised to find that Harper had packed up his RV and was preparing to leave. “He told me, ‘I’ll be back later. I gotta go.’ He said he’s going for an appointment or something.” By the time the Riverside Sheriff’s Office arrived, Harper was on his way to New Mexico.

According to Garcia, the deputy who arrived on the scene was greeted by Diana Fedder, Dia’s longtime friend and neighbor. Diana let the deputy inside the ranch house, where she presumably answered questions about the investigation.

Over the next two days, law enforcement searched the entire property by land and by air. As helicopters circled overhead, deputies discovered a significant lead: an illegal marijuana grow at the Sky High Ranch, one of Dia’s rental properties.

In a search warrant obtained on June 9th, Investigator Donald Atkinson stated that Dia Abrams had gone missing “under suspicious circumstances and foul play is suspected.” He detailed the discovery of the marijuana grow and his belief that it may be connected to Dia’s disappearance. That night, officers from the Riverside Sheriff’s Office executed the search warrant on the Sky High Ranch, seizing more than 2,300 marijuana plants and over 350 pounds of processed marijuana.

However, there was no sign of Dia at the Sky High Ranch. According to Isidro Garcia, Dia had rented that property out back in 2019, and she never went over there. Whenever something needed to be fixed, she sent Garcia to take care of it. It’s possible that Dia had no idea that an illegal operation was taking place on her property.

Although investigators didn’t find Dia at Sky High Ranch, the search warrant gave them access to all of Dia’s properties, including all living spaces and vehicles. It also allowed them to search any electronics or cell phones found on the property or in the possession of anyone on the property.

At the Bonita Vista Ranch, investigators entered multiple items into evidence. According to CBS 8, the list included a bed sheet with possible blood, two spent bullet casings, an internet router, and two handwritten letters.

While some detectives searched the ranch, others traveled to New Mexico to find Keith Harper. On June 12th, they seized Harper’s RV in San Juan County. According to the inventory report, they removed “a section of the front driver seat”. They also searched his storage business, American Storage Complex, but the list of items taken was not released to the public.

Keith Harper claimed that he was in contact with the sheriff’s office the entire time he was in New Mexico, and he cooperated with the searches. But Dia’s son Clinton was not convinced. “It’s unsettling to me that on the morning that the search and rescue team arrived, and the homicide unit arrived, Harper was not there. He had fled.”

If investigators agreed with Clinton, they never said. And they never made a move to arrest Keith Harper. But they continued to dig, and what they uncovered sent them down a whole new path. In the weeks and months prior to her disappearance, Dia Abrams had been locked in a tense legal battle with her two adult children.

For this part of the story to make sense, we need to go back in time a bit and look at how the Abrams family got to this point.

In 1979, 25-year-old Dia met 39-year-old Clem Abrams. Clem was a land developer in La Jolla and was already a multi-millionaire by the time he met Dia. Dia was a college graduate with a degree from San Diego State University, and she was gainfully employed, but when she and Clem married in 1984, everything changed.

On their wedding day, Clem presented Dia with a prenuptial agreement: Any income made by Clem would belong to him, and any made by Dia would be hers. Dia was shocked, but she didn’t have much of a choice. She was four months pregnant, and if she walked away from Clem, she would be an unwed mother with no financial security. Dia signed the papers.

Over the next three decades, Clem kept a tight fist on their finances and on Dia. Clem insisted that Dia leave her job and stay home with their two children, Crisara and Clinton. Dia had no access to their bank accounts, and because of their prenup, she had no way to make money of her own.

Clem’s business continued to grow, and in 1998, the family moved to the Bonita Vista Ranch property in Mountain Center, where they resided for the next 20 years. When Clem eventually passed away in 2018, his estate was worth over $10 million. Dia was provided for through a marital trust, but Crisara and Clinton inherited the bulk of the estate.

In 2019, six months after Clem Abrams died, Dia filed a petition to have their prenuptial agreement dissolved, saying that she had been forced to sign it. She also requested that $6.7 million be transferred from Clem’s estate to her marital trust. In her petition, Dia alleged that Clinton and Crisara had not fulfilled their duties as the trustees of Clem’s estate. In other words, Dia’s children were not providing for her as Clem had intended. “Dia brings these claims before the court to preserve her rights to Clem’s estate, and to avoid any possibility of losing what is rightfully hers.”

Crisara and Clinton filed their own petition in response, claiming that Dia had known exactly what she was doing when she signed the prenup in 1984 and that they hadn’t been neglecting their duties – Dia had plenty of assets through the marital trust and was able to live quite comfortably on what she had.

Over the next year, Dia and her children went back and forth in probate court, each side refusing to budge. In May of 2020, just two weeks before she disappeared, Dia transferred all of her property, including the ranch and rental houses, into her own personal trust. She also made a significant amendment to the trust itself – she removed her children entirely. The document now read, “Trustor leaves nothing but her love and affection to her son, Clinton Abrams, and daughter, Crisara Abrams.”

The new trustees were none other than Keith Harper and Diana Fedder.

In my research for this case, I found the relationships Dia had with Keith Harper and Diana Fedder to be the most confusing. I’m going to share what I learned and attempt to piece everything together.

Dia met Diana Fedder in 2015. Diana was a retired special agent with the Secret Service and had 30 years of experience in law enforcement. She lived on a property near the Bonita Vista Ranch, and she and Dia became fast friends. Diana told Dateline, “I loved her the minute I met her.”

According to Diana, Dia chose to give her power of attorney when she was transferring properties into her trust. Harper was named the first trustee, and she was the second. But Diana also told a reporter for CBS8 that she didn’t know Harper, and had only met him once in the years she had known Dia. It strikes me as odd that a close friend like Diana wouldn’t have been more familiar with Dia’s fiance. In all honesty, I don’t know what to make of this.

Then there’s Keith Harper. He told Dateline that he and Dia met on an online dating site in 2016 and got engaged in 2019. “We hit it off from the moment we met. Probably within the next 60 days, I moved in with her.” However, Dia was still married to Clem in 2016, so what was the situation there? Were Harper and Dia carrying on an affair under Clem’s nose?

Also of note was Keith Harper’s criminal history. Harper was convicted in 2000 on domestic violence assault charges. In 2011, he was convicted of groping two women and was ordered to register as a sex offender. Three years after that, he was given additional jail time for violating his probation. Harper told CBS8 that Dia absolutely knew about his past crimes, but can that be believed?

So now we’re back to June of 2020. Dia disappeared on June 6th, she was reported missing on the 7th, and Harper drove his RV to New Mexico on the 8th. After executing their search warrants, detectives gave Clinton and Crisara the keys to the ranch. According to Isidro Garcia, they immediately changed the locks and hired a private security guard. “[They] didn’t want Harper and Diana to go into the house.”

But Diana showed up at the ranch with the document that said Dia had given her power of attorney. Clinton and Crisara were forced to hand over the keys to the ranch and head back to La Jolla.

In the months after Dia’s disappearance, Harper and Diana managed her properties together. Harper told reporters that they planned to turn the ranch into an animal reserve like Dia always wanted. But her children were not having it. In March of 2021, Crisara and Clinton filed another petition, this time seeking to remove Keith Harper and Diana Fedder from Dia’s trust. The petition argued that Harper was a person of interest in Dia’s disappearance, and that his criminal history posed a significant risk to the estate.

Clinton released a statement to the press, saying, “Our first priority is unequivocally locating Dia and ensuring her welfare. By filing the petition in Riverside, we simply seek the appointment of a neutral, professional third party fiduciary who can step in to manage and protect Dia’s trust and her estate for her benefit while she is missing and the investigation into her disappearance proceeds. We pray for our mother Dia’s safe return, and humbly ask others to do the same.”

But Diana fired back, telling CBS8, “If something happened to her it was the children… she made me promise… that the children would not be allowed in the home, because the first thing that would happen if she was gone is that they would come in and take everything.”

To be honest, there are so many rumors flying around this case that it’s hard to keep track. The amount of mudslinging between everyone involved is overwhelming – who can we actually believe?

Clinton and Crisara allege that Harper and Diana were in a romantic relationship and plotted to kill Dia to get her properties. Harper and Diana claim that Dia was scared of her kids and believed they wanted her dead.

The wildest thing about this case is that there is no clear answer. It seems as though everyone has a motive, and there’s certainly evidence to back up any theories we can come up with.

Clinton and Crisara clearly had a contentious relationship with their mother, one that likely goes even deeper than legal battles. They both stood to gain financially from Dia’s death, but they were both already quite wealthy on their own without Dia’s part of Clem’s estate. Why go through all that trouble? Were they just angry that she had cut them out of her trust?

Even if they did have motive, the fact remains that both Clinton and Crisara were nowhere near the ranch at the time of Dia’s disappearance. Some have speculated that they may have hired someone, but there is no real proof of that.

So that leaves Harper and Diana. As co-trustees of Dia’s property, they stood to gain the most from Dia’s death. There is speculation that either one or both of them manipulated Dia into signing her trust over to them, then took over the ranch immediately after she disappeared. Although they claim that they didn’t even know each other beyond their duties as trustees, it still seems odd that Dia would change her trust to remove her children and add the two of them, then vanish just two weeks later.

Keith Harper admits that he was the last person to see Dia alive on June 6th, and he recognizes that he is a person of interest. He had the motive and the opportunity to make Dia disappear, and there seems to be evidence pointing in his direction – the seat taken from the RV and the items taken from the ranch – but investigators have never charged him with anything, even after another woman mysteriously died at Bonita Vista Ranch. But we’ll talk about that case next week.

Tragically, Dia Abrams is still missing, and is presumed dead. There are no new leads in the case, and the legal battle rages on in her absence. In 2025, Dia will be legally declared dead if she is not found before then, and her estate could potentially be split between her children and Keith Harper. The next court hearing is scheduled for March 23, 2023.

It makes me sad to think about how Dia has been lost in this whole debacle. It seems as though everyone is more concerned about her money than about her. It is difficult to find any information about who she was as a person outside of her properties and her “value” to others. But we do know that Dia was kind and thoughtful. She loved animals and found great joy in the mountains. She was spirited and brave. Wherever she is, I hope she can come home soon.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Dia Abrams, please contact the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office at 951-955-2450. And please share Dia’s story on social media – someone out there knows something.