Cold Case: Escondido police arrest 1986 murder suspect

Cold Case: Escondido police arrest 1986 murder suspect
Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter speaks to the media about the arrest of Mathis on Tuesday in Escondido. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram

The Escondido Police Department held up its end of a promise to the family of Richard Finney it would find the 75-year-old’s killer.

On April 23, Chief Craig Carter announced the arrest of Nathan Eugene Mathis, 62, of Ontario, for stabbing Finney 31 times on Nov. 13, 1986, at his apartment on 326 E. Mission Ave.

A bloody hand print left at the scene of a 1986 homicide was linked to Nathan Mathis, who was arrested at his residence in Ontario, in San Bernardino County, on April 18. Mathis was booked into the Vista Detention Facility on one count of murder; he is being held on a $3 million bail. Courtesy photo.

Through improved technology, fingerprints and DNA, the cold case team of a retired Escondido Police detective and former FBI agent and the crime lab cracked the case.

“That’s the best part of this job is when you have a family that recognizes that you don’t give up,” Carter said. “What we were able to get back in 1986 was two different blood types … it wasn’t enough to get a hit.”

The scene, he added, was gruesome but enough evidence was preserved at the scene to allow for Mathis to be arrested 32 years later. Carter said Mathis was arrested at his Ontario apartment on April 18 and appeared April 20 for his arraignment.

He was living with his wife and two grandchildren.

According to Carter, Mathis showed no emotion during the arrest and was transported to the Vista Jail where he is being held on $3 million bond. Police also believe two knives were used in the murder.

Nathan Eugene Mathis, 62, was arrested for the 1986 homicide of Richard Finney. Courtesy photo

The break came when now-retired fingerprint expert Cassuandra Barnes was able to photograph and enhance original crime scene photos of a fingerprint on a bathroom sink faucet, Carter said. From there, the DNA and fingerprint were uploaded into national databases.

The fingerprint, which was pulled in 2016, unveiled Mathis, who spent much of his career as a security officer. DNA testing, though, caused a delay before the police department was able to confirm the identity of Mathis to make the arrest with the assistance of Fontana and Ontario police. At the time of the murder, Carter said it is believed Mathis was living in Escondido. He also spent time in Texas, the chief added.

As for a motive, Carter said the department is withholding to avoid jeopardizing the case for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office.

The victim was 75-year-old Richard Finney of Escondido. Courtesy photo

Finney is survived by some family including three grandchildren.

“It means everything to us that you continually worked the case for 32 years. I don’t know how to repay someone for their efforts other than I will never forget what you did for our family,” said Finney’s granddaughter, Catherine Turi Hollis.

Retired Escondido detective Chuck Gaylor and retired FBI agent Normal Wight are the two former law enforcement officials who reopened the case in 2007. Gaylor said he relayed to Finney’s family the team would do whatever they could to bring the killer to justice.

Gaylor was on duty on Nov. 11, 1986, although he was a sergeant in the patrol unit. Still, he said it was his duty in 2007 to work for victims and their families in cold cases, specifically Finney’s murder.

“We made a promise to that family several years ago that we would do everything we could within this police department … to solve the brutal slaying of their 75-year-old grandfather,” Gaylor said.

 

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