Not even the Hollywood studios, a few miles down the road, could have come up with a more block-busting scenario than the one which unfolded before Judge Walter R. Evans and an enthralled jury in Los Angeles District Court on a sunny January morning in 1960, when Dr Bernard Finch and his beautiful mistress went on trial for their lives.
No wonder the press and public galleries were jam-packed with celebrities and journalists from over 30 countries. No wonder three Hollywood studios were bidding millions for the movie rights even before the trial had begun. For the case of Dr Bernard Finch was a media dream come true. It had everything: sex, glamour, beauty, wealth, jealousy, intrigue, violence, a do-it-yourself murder kit, and finally a killing which could send two of Los Angeles's beautiful people straight to the gas chamber on Death Row... But most of all, it had love or so 40-year-old Dr Finch, the city's most fashionable physician, was at pains to point out. All the terrible things that had happened to him had, he claimed, resulted from his devotion to his lover, and former secretary, 23-year-old Carole Tregoff.
Not that he regretted for a moment the affair that had destroyed his marriage, alienated his friends and even lost him patients. Carole is the love of my life, Dr Finch declared. "Whatever terrors the future holds, we will face them together, hand-in-hand. And if the worst comes to the worst that includes a sentence of death." Not that Dr Finch, Carole Tregoff and their expensive legal advisers thought it would come to that. The death of Finch's wife, Barbara from gunshot wounds in their mansion in the fashionable suburb of West Covina in July 1959 had been a tragic accident.
At least that was the theory on which the defence hinged when Finch and Tregoff finally came to trial. The socialite tennis playing Finches married in 1952 but it wasn't long before things began to go wrong and Dr Finch's attentions were wandering elsewhere. He had numerous affairs and by the autumn of 1958 the house was a battleground and quarrels grew more bitter and frequent. Marie Anne Lidholm, the couple's pretty Swedish maid, witnessed many of the Finches' battles. Later she would tell the court that in May 1959, Mrs Finch appeared with her head bandaged.
She told Marie Anne: "He banged my head on the edge of the bed when I told him I wanted a divorce. He said he'd kill me first. He was like a wild man." As a result of this row, the Finches separated and Barbara filed for divorce on May 20. They argued bitterly about money Barbara wanted $2,000 a month and a judge ordered Dr Finch to keep away from the family house. He didn't. On June 25, according to Marie Anne Lidholm, Dr Finch broke into the house even though his terrified wife had had the locks change and strengthened the window bars. Once inside, he hit Barbara and threatened her life. Marie Anne called the police but before they arrived, Dr Finch had driven off in the new white Cadillac he had given his wife as a birthday present.
The car returned shortly before midnight on July 18 and Marie Anne heard it park outside the garage. Shortly afterwards she heard Barbara scream for help and ran out to find Mrs Finch lying on the floor of the garage. As she bent over the woman, Dr Finch appeared, seized the Swedish girl and banged her head against the wall. His face was twisted and angry, Marie Anne said. "Mrs Finch got up and Dr Finch grabbed her and tried to force her into the car.
"She managed to escape and ran across the lawn. I ran into the house to call the police and it was then that I heard a shot. I found her body lying on the lawn." How did Barbara Finch die? Pathologist Dr Gerald Ridge, called to the scene, found that death had been caused by massive haemorrhaging produced by a downward-fired bullet that pierced her left shoulder-blade and emerged near the breastbone.
There were other signs of