I`m staring at a black and white photo taken inside the Citrus Courthouse in the early 1960s.
A defendant is sitting at the counsel table. His chin rests on clenched fists. Cameras are in his face.
In the photo, press photographers surround Dr. Raymond Bernard Finch. After three sensational trials, a jury has convicted the West Covina doctor and his mistress, Carole Tregoff, of killing Finch’s wife, Barbara.
The verdict has just been read – the cameras and reporters are there to record everything, just as they had from Day One.
In July 1959, Barbara Finch turned up dead on Larkhill Drive. Someone found her body stuffed between shrubs lining the long driveway leading up to her split-level home above the South Hills Country Club. Finch had been shot to death.
Cameras in the courthouse were part of the scenery.
It’s something you will never see in a local newspaper again.
Just last week, one of our photographers took a photo of attorneys having a discussion in the lobby of Pasadena Superior Court.
A terse letter from Alan Parachini, county court spokesman and onetime ACLU flak, followed. It noted that our photographer was in violation of local rule such and such.
This from a guy who represented the ACLU.
We took the photo off the Web. Times have changed.
It’s been almost 50 years, but this week another woman turned up dead on Larkhill Drive. Her name was Susan Molina. The home
where she lived and died overlooks the back yard of the Finch split-level.
Investigators believe someone bludgeoned Molina to death then stuffed her body in a closet.
That’s about all we know, obtaining that much information from police was a struggle.
It’s interesting to compare media coverage and police techniques of 50 years ago. Especially fascinating is seeing in black and white the much closer and far more trusting relationship cops and reporters had in 1959.
In the Finch case, press photographers got a shot of the body with the help of a cop who illuminated the crime scene with a flashlight.
In the Molina case, cops faxed a dry, tersely worded four-paragraph press release several hours after they had wrapped up their investigation.
When Finch’s husband was arrested, a photographer and reporter interviewed the doctor in his jail cell.
By contrast, West Covina police announced the arrest of two persons in connection with a homicide that occurred Wednesday night and tried to withhold the names.
Forget about a jailhouse interview. Times have changed.
Film has been replaced by microchips. Newspapers are rapidly dwindling in readers and stature.
Cops who once worked homicides because they had a passion for justice have been replaced by cops who are concerned about their clearance rates.
A cop who would have held a flashlight now has to worry about how evidence will withstand the scrutiny of a DAs office concerned about getting convictions. They dot I’s and cross T’s to appease appelate judges willing to put cold-blooded killers back on the street because of a technicality.
Times have changed – maybe for the better …
They don’t trust us. Why should we trust them?