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Crime News Dateline

Woman Vanishes From California Ranch as the Men in Her Life Point Fingers at Each Other

Those who knew Lydia “Dia” Abrams insist the 65-year-old never would have abandoned the beloved animals on her 116-acre ranch.

By Jill Sederstrom
How Do Investigators Handle Adult Missing Person Cases?

There’s one thing the men in Lydia “Dia” Abrams’ life can agree upon—it’s likely something bad has happened to her. 

The owner of a sprawling ranch outside Idyllwild, California, Dia disappeared more than three years ago at the age of 65 under mysterious circumstances and hasn’t been seen since.

Her son, Clinton Abrams, insists the avid animal lover never would have left her beloved farm animals behind, including a dog named Ruby, miniature donkeys and a miniature pony. 

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“My mother wouldn’t leave the property when there was a large fire surrounding three sides of her land,” he told the Dateline: Missing in America podcast. “She refused to leave because she felt that if she left, the fire department would let the structure’s burn.”

Yet, on June 6, 2020, with no obvious threats to the land she loved so much, something did cause Dia to leave the animals behind. 

Dia Abrams holding a dog.

Keith Harper, a 74-year-old man living on the ranch who describes himself as Dia’s companion, told the podcast that he got an ominous text from Dia at around 4:20 p.m. that afternoon.

“And she says to me, Harper, you cannot save me from all things. You believe you can, you cannot,” he said. 

Harper had been out mowing the meadow at the time, and although he said Dia told him she had “something” she needed to talk to him about, he pushed their conversation off until later that night. But, when he returned to her home around 7 p.m. that night, there was no sign of Dia.

“I look around, I don’t see her there. So, I call her. When I call her, that ring goes upstairs to the bedroom. So, I think, hmm, she must be upstairs. So, I go upstairs. Her phone is plugged in. I cannot find her anywhere,” he recalled. 

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Dia had also left her truck, keys and purse behind, leaving Harper to conclude she was just somewhere out on her 116-acre property. 

He told Dateline’s Keith Morrison he spent the rest of the night searching the ranch.

When he still couldn’t find her the next morning, he said he called the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office to report her missing.

Before Dia disappeared, Harper said the pair planned to get married and recounted proposing to her on the ranch. 

But others close to her question that story and said Dia never mentioned any plans to tie the knot with Harper, the former owner of a recreational outfitting business in Colorado. Harper said he and Dia had met on a dating website called “Farmers Only.” 

When Clinton was told by one Dia’s neighbors that she was missing, he gathered some friends and drove up from his home in La Jolla, California to help search for his mom.

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“I thought that it’s—that it was extremely likely that she met with foul play,” he said of the panic that soon set in. “I didn’t know if she was actually deceased or not, but that something was awry. Something was amiss.” 

Her friend Julie Stanford, who joined the initial search effort the day after Dia disappeared, agreed.

“She would never leave her animals, never leave her precious little dog, Ruby. She would never do that,” Stanford said.

The searchers were surprised when Monday morning, less than 48 hours after Dia vanished, Harper left the property, saying he had a meeting he had to attend in another state.

“We were kind of, like, flabbergasted about that. And I remember him standing behind the camper sobbing and saying ‘I’ll never see her again,’ and I had thought at the moment ‘Why would you say that? Why would you say never?” Stanford recalled.

Dia Abrams.

There were other things about Dia’s supposed love interest that gave those who knew her concern, including his criminal past. Harper had been convicted of two counts of unlawful sexual contact while living in Colorado. He said the charges stemmed from an incident when he reached around a woman on a snowmobile to try to gain control of the vehicle. 

According to court records obtained by the podcast, he also pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in 2002 in connection to allegations made by his second wife. Harper, however, insisted the charges had been dropped due to lack of evidence, despite the apparent guilty plea. 

Clinton also said that when he arrived at the ranch after his mother vanished, he discovered that it looked like one of the doors to her bedroom had been smashed. 

“The trim was all cracked and it was clearly kicked in from the outside,” he said. 

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He later found a handwritten note inside the bedroom suggesting that she had been afraid for her life.

Police also discovered two shell casings on the front porch and drops of blood on a sheet in the bedroom, according to the podcast. Harper told Morrison that the blood was likely his from a skin condition he had that caused him to bleed easily and believed those shell casings were from firing a .22 to frighten a coyote away. 

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment, other than to say it was an active investigation and they were “fully aware of conflicting statements given by Mr. Harper.” 

They have named him “a person of interest.” 

Yet, Harper believes there’s another person who might have wanted to do Dia harm, her son Clinton. 

Clinton himself described the relationship he had with his mother as “troubled” and said he hadn’t spoken with her much since his father, successful developer Clem Abrams, had died. 

“I would say it was troubled. I don’t think any moreso than any other kind of, uh, you know, mother-son dynamic of that sort,” he said. “There’s a lot of good points and some—some negative points. But in general, there’s always a—a sincere reciprocity and reservoir of love between us.” 

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Before her death, those close to Dia said the pair had been at odds about money. Harper says he told police that Clinton had threatened his mom and that she believed her “life was at risk and in danger.”

“I think there’s enough evidence to suggest Clinton was involved,” he said of the disappearance.

After their father’s death, Clinton and his sister had gained control of a family trust, and they were supposed to use to portions of that to pay their mother’s bills. Dia had filed a lawsuit in which she claimed the bills weren’t getting paid. Clinton has denied that, saying the bills were up to date. 

“I think it was a misunderstanding on both the children’s and her part that they didn’t know what was going on with her financially,” Stanford told Morrison.                                    

Just two weeks before she vanished, Dia also seemingly signed over her legal decision making, including a power of attorney, to Harper and a woman named Diana Fedder, who calls herself a friend of Dia.

“She trusted me, without a question,” Harper said. “She no longer trusted her children and felt a change was in place.”

Stanford also says that Dia told her she planned to change her will and write her kids out of it because “of the way they were treating her.”

Clinton insists, however, that he would never threaten or harm his mother, and had nothing to gain from his mom’s disappearance.

“Keith Harper’s accusations are desperate attempts to throw mud at the wall in hopes that something will stick,” he said.

Both men say that they have been consumed by her disappearance in the years that have followed, but there are still so many unanswered questions.

At the time of her disappearance, Dia was described as 5’6” tall, 135 pounds, with blue eyes and blond hair. Her family says a $300,000 reward will be offered for any information that leads to Dia’s location. 

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office at 951-791-3400