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Finch-Tregoff Trials

Accused of murdering Barbara Finch in 1959, Bernard Finch and Carole Tregoff were tried before three juries before being found guilty in 1961.

The Crime

(Raymond) Bernard Finch was a married, successful, wealthy, 40-year-old surgeon when 18-year-old Carole Tregoff, who was also married, became a receptionist at the West Covina Medical Center in Los Angeles. The two began having an affair about a year after first meeting, and that affair grew into talk of a permanent relationship. Tregoff had no reservations about divorcing her husband, but Finch's situation was difficult. According to community property laws in California at the time, Barbara Finch was automatically entitled to half of her husband's assets upon divorce, and could obtain even more if it was shown that Dr. Finch had committed adultery.

At 10:00 p.m. on July 18, 1959, the couple arrived at Finch's opulent house on Lark Hill Drive in suburban West Covina. Barbara Finch was not at home. Just over an hour later, she drove up in her red Chrysler. Finch went across to talk to her. A struggle broke out. At some point in the dispute, Barbara Finch was shot dead by a. 38-caliber bullet. For reasons never fully explained, Finch and Tregoff somehow became separated. Finch, after stealing two cars, made his way to Las Vegas, where he was joined early the next morning by Tregoff. That same day, Finch was arrested and charged with murder. Eleven days later Tregoff was similarly charged

The Trials

Prosecutors Clifford C. Crail and Fred N. Wichello
Defense Team Don Bruggold, Grant Cooper, Rexford Egan, and Robert A. Neeb, Jr.

First
January 4-March 12, 1960
Presiding Judge Walter R. Evans

Bernard Finch writes a note while Carole Tregoff confers with one of the defense attorneys prior to the opening of their first trial.
first trial of Finch and Tregoff

The prosecution had a wealth of forensic and circumstantial evidence against both Finch and Tregoff, but most of its case rested on two witnesses. The first was the Finches' maid Marie Anne Lindholm, who testified about running to the garage after hearing Barbara Finch scream and seeing Dr. Finch, gun in hand, standing over his semiconscious wife. Finch had then banged Lindholm's head against the garage wall, apparently in an effort to stun her. Meanwhile, Barbara Finch had broken free and begun running, and the doctor gave chase. Moments later Lindholm heard a shot, whereupon she ran to the house and called the police. The other main witness for the prosecution was John Patrick Cody, an ex-convict who testified that Finch and Tregoff had paid him (twice) to kill Barbara Finch.

During the defense phase of the trial Finch described how his wife had pulled a gun on him and that, in his efforts to take the gun away, he had been forced to club her with it, inflicting two skull fractures. The maid had by then entered the garage, and Finch's attempts to placate her distress gave Barbara Finch the chance to snatch up the gun and take off, with Finch in pursuit. Some way up the drive he saw Barbara Finch taking dead aim at Tregoff with the pistol. A further struggle ensued. Finch grabbed the gun. Barbara Finch began running again. Inexplicably, as Finch attempted to toss the gun away, it went off, sending a bullet between his wife's shoulder blades, from the back.

Tregoff told of watching the scene unfold, then cowering for five or six hours behind some bougainvillea plants, paralyzed with fear, while police turned the house upside down. Later, she had driven back to Las Vegas, alone. Her first knowledge of Barbara Finch's death came via the car radio, information which she passed on to Finch himself before going to work.

One of the most sensational murder trials of the year ended on March 12, when the jury announced that it was deadlocked. It was later discovered that the eight days of deliberation had been hindered by racial tension -- one jury member was black, another Hispanic -- that had led to ugly scenes in the jury room, when neither minority juror would yield to pressure exerted by the other jurors.

Second
June 27-November 7, 1960
Presiding Judge LeRoy Dawson
Result jury deadlock

Third
January 3-March 27, 1961
Presiding Judge David Coleman

Despite the sensationalism surrounding the first and second trials, the media had largely abandoned the Finch-Tregoff case by the time the third trial started. The arguments from both sides had changed very little from those of the first trial, but the lack of media attention allowed the trial to proceed at a quicker pace. This time the jury found Finch guilty of first degree murder and Tregoff of second degree murder. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

Aftermath

Carole Tregoff served eight years in the Corona (California) Women's Prison before being released on parole April 29, 1969. She subsequently changed her name and got a job in the records department at Covina Inter-Community Hospital, eventually becoming a boss there.

Bernard Finch served ten years in several California penitentiaries before being paroled from the California Institution for Men at Chino in late 1971. Wooed by community leaders from El Dorado Springs, Missouri, he relocated to the rural Ozarks, where doctors were scarce. California reinstated his medical license in 1984, and he practiced medicine in the Palm Springs area until his death in 1995.

SOURCES
Los Angeles Magazine www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/murder-in-black-and-white/
Murderpedia
murderpedia.org/female.T/t/tregoff-carole.htm

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This page was last updated on May 20, 2017.