Oxygen Insider Exclusive!

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, breaking news, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up for Free to View
Crime News Mastermind Of Murder

California Ranch Hand Convinced People To Murder Plastic Surgeon And A Fellow Worker

 After a retired doctor, Dr. Esfandiar “Steven” Kadivar, was murdered on his California ranch, investigators discovered there were multiple people involved in the grisly shooting.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

Shortly before midnight on July 5, 2006, a call came into the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

How to Watch

Catch up on Mastermind of Murder on Peacock or the Oxygen App.

Dr. Esfandiar “Steven” Kadivar, a retired Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, had been shot on his 200-acre pistachio and alfalfa spread in Lancaster, a town in Antelope Valley.

The call was made by ranch-hand Nicolas Cordoba and his daughter Piadad, according to “Mastermind of Murder,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. 

Investigators determined that Kadivar, who grew up in Iran and studied medicine before coming to the U.S., had been shot to death by a high-powered rifle. His house was searched for evidence, but there were no apparent signs of the home being ransacked as the residence was dusted for prints. Authorities did learn through the victim’s wife that a safe reportedly holding $250,000 was missing. 

Cordoba, then 63, said he’d last seen his boss around 4 p.m., which gave detectives an approximately seven-hour window for the slaying.

Dr. Steven Kadivar featured in Mastermind of Murder

But investigators had little else to go on, and no solid leads were found. Six months into the investigation, the Kadivar family announced a $50,000 reward. The strategy proved unsuccessful. By March 2007, there were still no suspects.

After the doctor’s death, Cordoba negotiated a lease of the ranch and brought in Efrain Soto to help finance the lease, theavtimes.com reported.

“It just made sense for us,” said David Kadivar, the victim’s son.

The Cordobas hadn’t raised suspicions at first. But when detectives asked Cordoba and his 16-year-old daughter to come in to discuss their original statements, a red flag arose.

Piadad told investigators about an incident she hadn’t brought up earlier. She said her father tried to destroy his cell phone by driving over it before they returned to the ranch on July 5. She prevented him from doing that.

Why would Kadivar’s right-hand man want to disable his phone hours before discovering the body? Cordoba initially claimed to police that the phone was hot. But eventually, he alleged that the phone contained the number of the person who killed Kadivar: Efrain Soto

“He said Efrain loved guns,” Gary Sica, now retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, told producers. “He carried a high-powered rifle with him all the time. He had disdain for the doctor and his money.”

Soto also had a stake in the lease to the ranch, detectives learned. Had he stolen the money in the safe to secure it? Or was Cordoba throwing him under the bus? 

Investigators didn’t know, nor did they have enough evidence to obtain search warrants.

The case took a twist on May 2, 2007, shortly after Cordoba had dropped Soto’s name. Soto was found dead in his truck on the outskirts of the ranch. 

An autopsy revealed the presence of “multiple projectiles,” said Sica. “It was indeed a homicide.”

Two victims connected to the same California ranch had been gunned down in less than a year. What was going on?

Sheriffs questioned Soto’s family members. His son Jose said his dad loved working the ranch. He also stated that Cordoba said that the man who killed his father was Antonio Martinez, 51. Jose had encountered Martinez, along with Arturo Verdin, 47, at the ranch. He said that the men carried guns.

When questioned, Martinez denied any guilt and stuck to that story. But Verdin admitted that he was present when Soto was slain, according to Sica. He named the shooter in the slaying as Marco Garcia, 38. 

The men had all come together because they hung out on the ranch, where they drank and shot off guns. After a falling-out with Soto, Cordoba had arranged to have him eliminated, the AP reported. 

Garcia, who was deep in debt, agreed to kill Soto for $5,000. He admitted that he shot Soto on the ranch on April 28. Martinez and Verdin helped him dump the body.

A photo of Efrain Soto featured in Mastermind of Murder

Garcia never received the $5,000 and only got $1,000. He felt that he’d been used because of his dire financial straits, said Sica. 

Garcia agreed to help bring down the men who’d put him in that position by making recorded phone calls. He called Martinez, who told him to call Cordoba. Martinez then contacted Cordoba, whose instructions telling him to come to the ranch to collect were taped. 

A meeting was set up for July 28, 2007. They exchanged money and talked about the murder, which was all covertly recorded.

Sica called this “the turning point in the case.” Cordoba was caught paying for the murder of Soto, his business partner. But investigators still needed to tie Cordoba, Martinez, and Verdin to Kadivar’s murder.

Investigators met with the doctor’s family, suggesting that it was time to cut their ties with Cordoba, and the family distanced themselves from the once-trusted ranch hand.

Using Garcia’s statements, sheriffs obtained a warrant to search Martinez’s residence. They found an “unsettling” altar to the patron saint of death. They also discovered several guns, including a high-powered rifle matching the kind of firearm that killed both Soto and Kadivar. Bullet fragments matched the ones that killed Soto, but were inconclusive for Kadivar.

Cordoba, Martinez, and Verdin were all arrested.

Cordoba maintained innocence. But Martinez caved. He knew that investigators had a solid case against him for Soto’s slaying and admitted his involvement in both murders.

Martinez was devoted to Cordoba, Dr. Michelle Roberts, a psychotherapist, told producers. They were longtime friends, and Martinez relied on Cordoba for work. Cordoba, she added, capitalized on Martinez’s feelings of indebtedness.

Cordoba had fed Martinez the story that Kadivar “worked him like a dog,” explained Sica. Cordoba said that if Martinez would get rid of this abusive man then he would take care of him for life, according to Sica.

The investigator had Martinez re-enact the July 5 murder in a videotaped walkthrough. Martinez admitted stealing the safe and burying it after finding nothing of value in it. 

Martinez, said Sica, made it clear that the mastermind behind the murder plot was Cordoba. He also initially manipulated the Kadivars by convincing them only he could run the ranch.

In August 2014, trials for the murders of Soto and Kadivar began. Martinez and Verdin were found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. They were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Garcia pleaded guilty to the murder of Efrain Soto. He was sentenced to 28 years to life in state prison.

Cordoba was convicted of conspiracy in the murder of Soto, but the jury deadlocked on his part in Kadivar’s murder. He was sentenced to life without parole. 

To learn more about the case, watch “Mastermind of Murder,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen or stream episodes here.

Read more about: