15 Law Enforcement Officers Murdered By Domestic Extremists Since the Oklahoma City Bombing
Since the Oklahoma City bombing, domestic extremists have murdered 15 law enforcement officers. Each of their deaths was a unique tragedy.
By Susy Buchanan
Traverse City, Mich., Police Department
May 13, 1998
"Let the good times roll," Dennis Finch was fond of saying. "The bad times will take care of themselves."
Sgt. Finch was murdered by John Clark on the porch of a home in Traverse City, Mich., on May 12, 1998, after a two-hour standoff. Finch tried his best to talk Clark into putting his gun down while Clark expounded upon his right to bear arms and his perception that mafiosos were running rampant in the small town on the shores of Lake Michigan. Clark ended the argument with gunfire.
Deputy Scott Heller was the first to reach Finch as he lay on his stomach on the porch where he had fallen. Heller said Finch's final words before losing consciousness were, "I can't die, I don't want to die." Dennis Finch called for his wife as he slipped away, a spreading pool of blood soaking his uniform.
Heller grabbed Finch under the arms and pulled him to an ambulance. Finch was taken to the hospital where he died the next morning.
Finch died in front of the large Victorian house Clark had inherited. Inside, investigators would find 58,000 rounds of ammunition, plastic explosives, a number of semi-automatic rifles and handguns and even an anti-tank gun.
Prosecutors argued that given Clark's animosity toward police and government and his vast inventory of weapons, the death of an officer was just about inevitable. That's not much comfort to his widow, Agnes.
Agnes, who has remained in Traverse City, says she still suffers from frequent flashbacks to the hospital after Dennis was shot. Driving by the house where it happened — since converted into a bed and breakfast — Agnes says she can see her husband's blood on the carpet. Still, it's getting better.
"It took me three years to get through and go through everything I had to go through and get to the other side," Agnes says.
But she remembers her man well.
Dennis Finch was born the fourth of twelve children into a family that struggled financially. Dennis moved around a lot as a kid, wherever his father could find work, and quickly learned to be industrious. By the time Dennis was 8, he was selling blueberries and blackberries he'd picked for extra money.
The young couple met when they were 17. He was the only man she ever dated, then or since.
Agnes also remembers a few conversations with Dennis that would come back to haunt her. On the way to Dennis' funeral, Agnes told her daughters that their father had had a premonition that his life would be cut short. "He would say things like 'I'm going to die young,' or, 'I have a feeling I'm going to die tragically,'" she told the Intelligence Report. "Well, when you're 17 or 18 and your boyfriend says something like that, you think about a car accident." Murder was beyond her imagination.
They were married in 1965, both of them 19. He was drafted soon after, and joined the Marines just five months after the wedding. Their first daughter was born on the last day of boot camp, and Dennis shipped out the next day to Vietnam. He wouldn't see his new family for another 18 months.
When Dennis became a police officer, money was always tight, although the family did manage several vacations. But some of the best times were much simpler outings, camping in the summers near a lake, fishing, swimming, laughing and lazing about with a family they were close to. Agnes' children remember those camping trips well, she says, and that comforts her some.
Clark was sentenced to life in prison. At sentencing, Agnes addressed him directly, telling him she hoped he would burn in hell. "What have you done with your life, John Clark? Where have you worked? Who have you helped?"
"You were born into a family of wealth. You had money, you spent it on guns," she told her husband's murderer. "You took my dream for a retirement with my husband. I have to find a way to build a new life now without the man I've known and depended on for 33 years."