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Friday, July 5, 2013

Murder LA 000027

by James Cohen

July 4th, 1959.

La Jolla, CA.

Mr. Finch.
From a very annoying
Los Angeles magazine article
that shifts every 8 seconds.
R. Bernard Finch, a West Covina doctor in his early 40's, competes in a tennis tournament. His wife, Barbara Jean Finch, is not in attendance. She has recently filed for divorce.

Mr. Finch's mistress, Carole Tregoff, used to work at his clinic. The young red-head in her early 20's -- reports vary as to her exact age -- got out of town after the divorce and has been working as a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. It was there that she met with Jack Cody, a friend of a friend of a friend, whom she hired on her lover's behalf to kill Mrs. Finch.

Finch has a great alibi in the Fourth of July tennis tournament, and that's when Carole decided the hit should go down. She paid Cody over $300 up front, with a promise of $800 more upon completion.

Yes, Finch has a great alibi. But he doesn't need one.

Cody spends the morning of the 4th drinking in Vegas. Avoiding Carole, he simply drinks himself into a stupor and wakes up the next day. He eventually reports back to her that the deed was done.

Finch, visiting Las Vegas, had just talked to his wife on the phone, though. Cody later paraphrased his reply: "Gee whiz, Doc, I don't know where I went wrong, but I killed some lady in Los Angeles last night, honest I did."

July 18th, 1959

Taking matters into their own hands, the couple confront Mrs. Finch at her West Covina home. Carole will later testify to an incredulous prosecutor that she brought Finch's entire attache case because it had a flashlight in it but was locked. The case contains rope, a butcher's knife, "sleeping potions" and the shaving kit the doctor kept a pistol and bullets in.

When Mrs. Finch pulls into the driveway, she is not happy to see the pair. According to them, she reaches into her car and pulls a gun on Carole. A fight ensues between the Finches. Carole will again testify that the doctor tossed her the shaving kit and then she ran away, stopping briefly to put it back in the attache case which was left at the scene.

By his account, Finch struggles with his wife for the gun. He hits her on the head with it, fracturing her skull, and the gun accidentally goes off as he pulls it out of her grasp, shooting her in the back.

Hearing gunfire, Carole hides in some bushes for about 6 hours, long past the doctor's departure and the arrival of the police. She finally comes to her senses and leaves, completely unnoticed by the cops. She gets back in the car the doctor left behind and drives home to Las Vegas.

On the way the radio reports that Mrs. Finch has been found dead. When she arrives at her apartment she finds Mr. Finch in bed. She has many questions but he simply answers that he's tired. He doesn't know what happened. He doesn't know that his wife is dead. He doesn't know how he got back, simply agreeing that yes, he might have stolen a car.


Authorities visited Carole at work the next day and then arrested Finch at her apartment. The three trials -- two juries deadlocked -- were a three-year media event. Cody, the would-be hitman, was brought in from another state where he was in jail for bad checks. The defense claimed he was lying, that he was hired merely to find evidence that Mrs. Finch was having an affair and, failing that, to seduce her into having one.

The murder weapon was never found and there were two trials that ended with deadlocked juries, but a third convicted Finch of first-degree murder, Carole of second-degree, and both of conspiracy. The death penalty was on the table but in question by the U.S. Supreme Court at the time and the duo were sentenced to life in prison. At least two newspapers specifically mentioned that Carole was "formerly trim" but "now plumpish".

Carole was released on parole in 1969 and went back to work in a Los Angeles hospital under an assumed name. Finch was paroled in 1971, and left prison in a car with his father and "an attractive dark-haired woman identified as a friend with whom Finch has been corresponding."

Upon hearing of his upcoming release, the city of El Dorado Springs, Missouri offered him a job because "Medical people are hard to get in a small town." He was apparently released a month early because of his new job and home. He says in a 1974 article, "I'm not sure society benefited from locking me up for 12 years." He thinks a doctor who "gets in trouble" shouldn't go to jail but that "professional men" should just be sent to practice their trade for free somewhere else.

  • Describing the harrowing experience of prison: "Through every minute there is an incredible tension like a tiger ready to leap. I remember one night when I was watching television and suddenly saw a mouse. I screamed. There was absolute panic in the T.V. Room for five minutes."
  • "My immediate reaction was that God had deserted me and so had humanity. But, when I returned to jail from the courtroom, I found my bunk covered with apples, pears, and small plastic-wrapped pies...presents from inmates and some of the officers who wanted to show their sympathy." -- It doesn't take much to restore a murderer's faith in humanity.
  • "All our other friends were getting married in those days and it seemed the thing to do." -- Explaining why she got married immediately after graduating high school.
  •  "The first time I met Dr. Finch I had been working at the clinic for three weeks. Everyone was apparently scared to introduce me to him. They thought he was a 'big bear' because he sometimes hollered at the girls." -- He sounds so professional.
  • "That day I moved out of the house Jimmy and I shared. When he came home from work there was nothing left in the place but the rugs, draperies and his clothes. Later I was sorry, but I was angry then, and hurt." -- She was angry and hurt because her husband didn't react well to news of her cheating on him. So she stole all of his furniture.