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Slaying in High Desert Baffles Officials

A retired Beverly Hills surgeon had lovingly tended his Lancaster ranch for decades. It's now a crime scene after he was found dead there.

July 08, 2006|Lynn Doan and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

For decades, Esfandiar Kadivar would escape the rigors of his job as a plastic surgeon at an Antelope Valley hospital by retreating to the solitude of his sprawling high-desert ranch.

There, on nearly 200 acres, Kadivar tended to his varied crops, cattle and goats, labors that recalled the fondest memories of his youth spent growing up on a farm in his native Iran.

"When he came to look at this area, it reminded him of where he was raised," said his wife, Parvaneh Kadivar. "He loved the animals. He loved the trees. He loved picking the fruit and vegetables that he grew."

But late Wednesday, ranch workers found the 64-year-old dead in a field near his animal pens, shot as he was feeding hay to his livestock.

Now, detectives are trying to solve what they describe as a murder mystery.

Lt. Dave Smith of the sheriff's homicide division said the very qualities that made the ranch so attractive to Kadivar -- its rugged and remote location far from neighbors or traffic -- could work against detectives as they try to find out who was responsible for the slaying.

"This investigation is wide open at this point," Smith said. "Nobody saw or heard anything."

Kadivar, who retired from his practice three years ago, left his home in Beverly Hills midmorning Wednesday and drove out to the ranch.

His whereabouts between leaving Beverly Hills and his death are unknown.

Parvaneh Kadivar said it was not uncommon for Kadivar to make the trek up to the Lancaster area.

While he had full-time ranch hands, she said he loved to pick fruit himself.

"He believed we should not buy store food," she said. "He liked to do the work himself. He liked the exercise."

As news of his death spread, stunned former colleagues at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster recalled the doctor who would arrive at the emergency room in a plaid shirt, jeans and cowboy boots looking like a cowboy who had just walked off the range.

Dr. John Lynn, medical director of the hospital's emergency department, said Kadivar was adored by patients.

"He was a very, very good plastic surgeon technically," he said. "But he was also just a very gracious and gentle, kind soul."

Friends said Kadivar didn't talk much about himself -- unless the topic was his ranch.

The apples, peaches, watermelons and other crops that Kadivar grew were a source of pride. But it was the pistachios that held special symbolism. Lynn said Kadivar would often tell his colleagues how much the ranch was similar to the pistachio farm that he and his father owned in Iran before he made his home in the United States.

During the harvest, he would bring in the nuts to share with hospital staff and patients.

"He sort of re-created his childhood experience, I think," Lynn said.

Kadivar's wife said her husband immigrated to the United States in the late 1960s, first settling in Cincinnati, where he became a surgeon.

He first visited Southern California to participate in a fellowship program in Pasadena.

But he decided to stay in the area when a colleague and friend, Dr. Alexander Villicana, told Kadivar he was going to take a job at Antelope Valley Hospital.

Kadivar and Villicana started a plastic surgery practice in Lancaster, Lynn said. Villicana left for Pasadena less than 10 years later, he said.

Although Kadivar performed some cosmetic surgery through his private practice, Lynn said, his patients at the hospital were a different challenge.

"A lot of people hear 'plastic surgeon' and think 'cosmetic surgeon,' " he said. "But in the ER, these surgeons are dealing with traumatic injuries. It's reconstruction."

Lynn said he didn't know the exact reasons for Kadivar's retirement but suspected that he wanted to spend more time on his ranch.

"He really enjoyed the farm. I think that had a lot to do with it," he said.

Colleagues had only seen Kadivar a few times since he retired.

"Everybody liked him. There were no enemies. That's what makes his death so puzzling," Lynn said. "This seems quite personal, premeditated. It's hard to imagine anybody not liking this man."

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