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McIver ranch sold for $1 million at auction

EATONTON — Put a million-dollar exclamation point on the McIver saga. 

 The tragic tale that began nearly two years ago when high-powered corporate attorney Claud “Tex” McIver fatally shot his wife, Diane, reached a crescendo of sorts on Saturday when the couple’s 85-acre ranch was sold at auction. 

 During a short but spirited bidding period that took place at high noon in a white tent on the property’s rolling grounds, Joe Bakhtiari emerged with the winning $1 million bid. A resident of the Smoke Rise section of Stone Mountain, Bakhtiari said he envisioned the ranch as a relaxation spot for his large extended family, which includes five brothers. 

 “When we looked at (the ranch) we fell in love with it,” said Bakhtiari. “We’re going to make it a vacation house.”

 

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The Eatonton, Ga., ranch where Tex and Diane McIver had lived was auctioned off for $1 million on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

While Bakhtiari said he knew “very little” about the drama surrounding the home’s previous occupants, his brother, Majid, said he’d “followed it from the beginning. ” In fact, along with a main house and “saloon,” two ponds and acres of lush pasture, the property comes with an undeniably emotional backstory. 

 “This is very sad,” attorney Mary Margaret Oliver, the court-appointed executor of Diane McIver’s estate, said on Saturday. The real estate property auction had just concluded and the tent had been taken over by hundreds of people bidding in a separate auction of much of the ranch’s contents and personal items of the couple. “She didn’t deserve for her life and the lovely lifestyle she had out here on this property to be cut short.”

Diane McIver. (AJC file photo)

“This is very sad,” attorney Mary Margaret Oliver, the court—appointed executor of Diane McIver’s estate, said on Saturday. The real estate property auction had just concluded and the tent had been taken over by hundreds of people bidding in a separate auction of the ranch’s contents and the couple’s personal items. “She didn’t deserve for her life and the lovely lifestyle she had out here on this property to be cut short.” 

People sit among items ready to be auctioned off at Tex and Diane McIver's ranch in Eatonton, Ga., on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

It was on Sept. 25, 2016, that Tex McIver shot his wife in the back as they were riding in their SUV near Piedmont Park. She died early the next morning at Emory University Hospital. 

Tex McIver claimed the shooting was an accident, but he was convicted of felony murder in Fulton County and sentenced to life in prison on May 23. On Saturday, his siblings, John “Spike” McIver and Dixie Martin, released a statement about the auction in which they described the McIver family as being “heartbroken.” 

Tex McIver was sentenced to life in prison for the death of his wife, Diane McIver. (AJC file photo)

“A dream is coming to an end,” the statement said in part. “Our dear sister-in-law has passed and our brother is in prison for a horrible accident. This ranch was their happy place … These memories cannot be taken away by the selling of a piece of property.”

In fact, the auctions were merely the centerpiece of a three-day undertaking that began on Friday with a tag sale that runs through Sunday.

RELATED: Photo gallery from Saturday’s auction

On Saturday, the doors to the main house and saloon opened at 10 a.m. to allow groups of about 30 people inside at a time to study furniture and paintings and even a gumball machine (still two-thirds filled with gumballs) that would soon go on the auction block outside. They could also pay on the spot for tagged items like the pair of boot-shaped leather bags selling for $40 apiece — and Glenda Phillips made a beeline for them. 

 “I saw these yesterday,” said Phillips, who had indeed made back-to-back round trips from Smyrna to check out the sale and hope for prices to go down on some items from one day to the next. Lamenting that a $495 mink fur wrap from the day before was no longer there, Phillips explained that it was the hunt — rather than the history of the house and its previous occupants — that drew her to this part of Putnam County.

Juan Carlos holds up an item that is being auctioned off at the 85-acre McIver ranch before the start of the auction Aug. 4, 2018. (Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

“It’s a sad story,” Phillips said. “But it’s a good way to get stuff.” 

Not so for Randy Fenley. A collector of Elvis Presley memorabilia, he’d been so excited about the sale, he’d had trouble sleeping on Friday night. Unfortunately, he wound up not buying the $25 Elvis whiskey decanter he’d been eyeing because it was broken in one spot. But he did have the honor of being the very first person let through the door of the main house on Saturday morning, while hundreds waited their turn outside and a fellow helping with crowd control mentioned there were a limited number of “McIver Ranch” hats and T-shirts for sale at $20 apiece. 

“I just like estate sales,” Fenley explained. “It’s not about the notoriety.” 

Still, it was somewhat about the notoriety on Saturday. Lou Dempsey, who runs the company that handled the real estate auction, acknowledged as much. 

“Absolutely, the notoriety and the name recognition helped us to promote this,” the president of Dempsey Auction Co. said after he’d watched the ranch’s ownership essentially change hands in the space of 15 minutes. 

RELATED: AJC podcast “Breakdown” examines the McIver case

“Folks, we can’t make any promises, but there could be a book or movie down the road,” Robert Ahlers, whose company, Ahlers & Ogletree, handled the personal property auction, told the crowd right after a copy of “Dead Man’s Walk,” written by Larry McMurtry and signed by Tex McIver sold for $45. 

Among the biggest-selling items were furniture ($2,500 for a king-sized timber log bed), artwork and Native American artifacts ($700 for a hand carved peace pipe). Still, it was hard not to notice a few people nudging each other in the ribs or smiling ironically when certain items like a pair of dueling pistols or an “Honest Lawyer” sign went on the block (they sold for $200 and $250, respectively). 

“This (sale) is different because of all the publicity,” Putnam County’s veteran sheriff Howard Sills observed with a chuckle. “It’s just because people are Southern that they’re too polite to say.”

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