In the days before trucks and delivery vans, LA's shop owners would have to go to the port at San Pedro to buy new stock from whichever ships had arrived. Whenever Finck had to go on a buying trip, he locked up the shop and left the key with the Barics for safekeeping.
One day in 1841, Sophie noticed that Finck's door wasn't open. Finck's door was ALWAYS open during business hours, unless he was down at the port.
But he couldn't be at the port. As the wife of a sea captain, Sophie knew when the trading vessels were in port. And she knew no trading vessels were docked at San Pedro that day. Finck certainly hadn't come by to drop off his key, either.
Three days passed. Finck's door remained shut. Finally, the tiny Frenchwoman decided to cross the plaza and see what was wrong. (Captain Baric was out of town.)
She couldn't see or hear anything through the keyhole. But she smelled something revolting.
The Los Angeles Herald, recounting the story in 1899, colorfully stated that "to her nostrils came an odor at once foul and forbidding that made her limbs to quake, her hair to creep, her gorge to rise, and her blood to curdle."
Sophie went straight to Don Manuel Requena (a member of the City Council), telling him she feared the worst. The councilman called upon Don Ygnacio Coronel. Coronel, an officer of the court, summoned three alguaciles (in modern English, police officers or bailiffs). When three rounds of knocking yielded no response, they broke down the door.
Poor Nicholas Finck. He was lying near his shop counter, still clutching his magnifying glass, in a pool of his own blood. Rigor mortis had set in, and he was already decomposing. The killers had fashioned a gun barrel into a bludgeon and beaten in Finck's head.
Finck had clearly been conducting business when he was murdered. The assailants had ransacked the shop and Finck's living quarters in the back (some items were clearly missing; many were just tossed around the tiny store). Bloody footprints were everywhere.
In the rear of the building, Don Coronel discovered Finck's mastiff - gaunt and weak (the killers had chained him in the rear courtyard with no food or water), but still alive.
The Herald commented:
The discovery of this murder was followed by wild excitement in the pueblo. The resident foreigners - that is, not Spanish-Americans - as usual, acted as if the crime were a result of race antagonism, rather than personal motive, and they called loudly for vengeance, and were not far from creating an incendiary uprising. Guards were posted to watch over the public safety, an ordinance was issued requiring citizens to be within doors by 10 o'clock at night and a volunteer guard was placed over the jail, besides which a small detachment of soldiers were sent thither from Santa Barbara.(Sooo...in other words, LA hasn't changed all that much.)
Finck's mastiff proved instrumental in cracking the case. Don Requena and Don Coronel noticed the dog growling at one particular suspect, Santiago Linares. When they brought Linares close to the dog, the poor creature snarled and leapt onto him (and might have killed him, had he not been pulled away quickly).
Linares attempted to use his mistress, Eugenia Valencia, as his alibi. Which backfired horribly, since the officers sent to retrieve Eugenia discovered quite a few things stolen from Finck when they searched her home. Despite coming from a family of degenerate criminals, Eugenia cracked under pressure and confessed, implicating Linares, her brother Ascencio, Jose Duarte, and herself as the guilty parties.
Had Sophie not checked on her neighbor when she did, Finck's dog probably would have died, and the killers would very likely have gone on to murder someone else.
*Believe me, I have looked and looked for Sophie's maiden name. Even Ancestry.com came up with nothing.