I have often spoken about a traumatic childhood experience that — as much as anything — is responsible for my lifelong interest in the intersection of crime, media, and culture.
When I was 8 years old, growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of West Covina, our community was stunned by the news that a well-known, respected physician had conspired with his mistress to murder his wife. The doctor, Bernard Finch, was eventually convicted of first degree murder. His mistress, Carole Tregoff, was also found guilty.
The trauma for an 8-year-old kid was the sudden realization that what seemed safe and reliable and true could have a sinister and hidden underbelly, that good people might actually have secret lives that could be horribly flawed and even terrifying.
Today this seems obvious. The digital age has rendered privacy and secrecy almost extinct. It is harder — not impossible, but harder — to hide ominous secrets.
But this revelation about Dr. Finch turned our community upside down and I was immediately and permanently captivated with how frenzied news coverage could overwhelm our small community. In fact, I even began a scrapbook of coverage of the murder trial which, when discovered by my grandfather, set off a major debate in my family. Was it healthy for little Stevie to collect gruesome crime news rather than baseball cards? Ultimately, my grandfather settled the whole business by offering me $10 ( a lot in those days) if I would throw away the crime news and start a Los Angeles Dodgers scrapbook. I took the money, but from that day on I never lost my interest in the impact of a high-profile crimes on communities.
I wanted to share a link to a story about the case in the latest issue of Los Angeles Magazine. An Internet friend of mine growing up at the same time in the San Gabriel Valley, Gary Cliser, is responsible for the story and shares my fascination with the case. Gary is also an absolutely remarkable historian and collector of photographs that tell the visual history of both the Finch case and the larger experience of growing up in a postwar California suburb. You should check out his work.
All I know is that one day I was 8 years old, and then the world turned upside down.
My life was never the same.