Dr. Bernard Finch apparently forgot the oath he took the day he graduated from medical school, or at least he figured it only applied to his patients and not to his wife, Barbara.
His story begins strangely in 1951 when he divorced his first wife, Frances, and wedded Barbara, who had been previously married to a man named Lyle Daugherty. Shortly after Finch and Barbara married, Frances and Lyle also married each other. It must have been interesting when the couples met to exchange the children that Frances and Finch shared.
Perhaps Finch was financially burned in that divorce, because when his marriage to Barbara began to fall apart in the late 1950s, the 41-year-old doctor ruled out divorce in favor of murder.
Finch operated a successful medical practice in West Covina, California, and in 1955 he hired an attractive, 18-year-old auburn haired beauty named Carole Tregoff Pappa to work as a receptionist in his clinic.
The clinic provided Finch with ample opportunity to meet attractive women. Not only did he meet Barbara when she was a patient, it was where his relationship with his co-conspirator blossomed.
Carole had been a fashion model while she was in high school and aspired to be an interior decorator. Soon after she began working for Finch, Carole was promoted to medical secretary and then to the position of personal assistant to the doctor.
Barbara was a 33-year-old beauty in her own right. She was outgoing, gregarious, and was nearly Finch’s equal as an athlete (they both loved tennis). The newspapers later described her as a “lithe, brunette socialite…posessing a vivid personality along with bubbly beauty.”
By 1958, Finch and Carole were romantically involved. The relationship quickly came to Barbara’s attention and she took steps to end it. In July of that year, she contacted Carole’s husband, James, to discuss their options.
“They had been seen together in Palm Springs and other places,” James said later. “(Barbara) asked me to come to her home so we could talk about it. But we couldn’t come up with any definite solutions.”
Carole, however, had an idea. In January 1959 she divorced Pappa, her high school sweetheart, and took her maiden name. With Finch’s help she rented what the papers referred to (of course) as a “love nest” and Finch was a frequent visitor.
In May of that year Barbara sued for divorce, alleging adultery and extreme cruelty. On at least one occasion the Finches’ maid, a Swedish exchange student named Marie Anne Lindhelm, saw her mistress with a bandaged forehead. Barbara claimed Finch had struck her.
“My husband tried to kill me last night,” Barbara told the Swede, showing her a bloodstained sheet.
Finch allegedly told Barbara (according to Marie Anne’s statement to police) that he would kill her by putting her body in a car and pushing it over a cliff. He also told her that he had hired someone who was willing to kill her.
Shortly after that threat, Barbara visited a private detective, told him of her fears, and asked about a bodyguard and the process to receive a concealed handgun license.
“I’ll probably won’t be alive by Christmas,” she told the PI.
She underestimated her life span by seven months.
At the same time that Barbara told Finch that she was suing for divorce, Carole moved to Las Vegas, where she became a cocktail waitress. She later said that she left because she did not want to be named as a co-respondent in the divorce case.
Finch joined Carole in her apartment near the Las Vegas Strip and according to the police who would investigate Barbara’s killing, tried to hire an ex-con to kill her for $1,400. As is often the case in matters like this, the ex-con, Jack Cody, simply took the money and ran. He would resurface during the murder trial, however.
As a result of Cody’s betrayal, Finch and Carole returned to West Covina and on July 18, 1959, they showed up at the Finches’ sprawling home there.
With a “Do It Yourself Murder Kit,” they stalked out the house until Barbara returned from an evening at the local tennis club. The kit contained sedatives, a hypodermic needle, clothesline, a knife, and a .38-caliber pistol.
Finch accosted his wife in the garage and she screamed. While Carole watched nearby, Finch knocked out his wife.
“She yelled for help like something terrible was going on,” the maid said.
Marie Anne, hearing the scream, ran into the garage where she was shot at by Finch. He then grabbed her head and smashed it into the garage wall, leaving a grapefruit-sized hole. The blow rendered the maid unconscious. When she regained consciousness, Finch ordered her into his wife’s red convertible, where Barbara, also revived was sitting.
“I was crying and crying,” Marie Anne testified. “Dr. Finch entered on the left and demanded the car keys.
“She was looking for something,” the maid continued. “He said, ‘If you don’t do it, I’ll kill you, and I mean it.’”
Barbara leapt out of the car and ran, with Finch pursuing. Meanwhile, Marie Anne managed to get into the house and called police.
“I heard the second shot and I heard her yell ‘Help.’”
That second shot entered Barbara’s body just below her shoulder blade and exited below her heart. She died on the spot.
In the six or seven minutes it took police to respond, Carole and Finch fled, returning to Las Vegas, where they were arrested.
Finch took the stand in his own defense, as did Carole. They each claimed that Barbara was the one who drew the gun, and that she was shot during a scuffle for control of the weapon.
In the spring of 1961 — after the first trial ended in a hung jury over the question of the degree of the offense — Finch and Carole were both convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Carole served 8 years of her sentence before she was paroled. She changed her name.
Finch served 10 years in San Quentin before he also received parole. He moved out of state, had his medical license reinstated, remarried, and died in 1995 at the age of 77. Carole lives under an assumed name and resides in the West Covina, California area (2012).