Friday, March 17, 2017

Iowa: Nicole Finn ran an animal rescue while she tortured and starved her daughter to death, say court records.

IOWA -- Natalie Finn, the West Des Moines teenager who starved to death in October, was wearing an adult diaper and lying on the linoleum floor of her bare bedroom when police and medics discovered her, according to newly unsealed court documents.

The 16-year-old "appeared to have been laying on the floor ... in her own waste for some time," West Des Moines police Det. Chris Morgan wrote in an affidavit. She died a short time later at a hospital.

The home reeked of both human and animal waste. Blankets that were "heavily soaked" in what officers believed was urine covered the floor of the room Natalie shared with two of her siblings, according to the documents. The room had no beds or furniture.

"Many animals roamed freely, including well over a dozen kittens and cats," Morgan wrote. "There were numerous kennels with dogs scattered inside the residence."

Details into Finn's death became public Tuesday when a judge's order to keep search warrant documents under seal expired. The search warrant application filed by Morgan describes investigators' interviews with three surviving Finn children, two of whom were found to be underweight and suffering from bedsores after medics took their sister to a hospital.

Nicole Finn (aka Nikki Finn), 42, is facing a charge of first-degree murder for Natalie's death and several other felonies for her treatment of two of Natalie's siblings, a 15-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl. All three children were adopted.

Finn's ex-husband, Joseph Finn, 46, is facing several charges of kidnapping, neglect or abandonment and child endangerment.

Natalie Finn died from emaciation because of the denial of critical care, according to the Polk County medical examiner's office.

Both parents have remained in the Polk County Jail since their arrests in December and are awaiting a trial scheduled for October.

The teen's death has prompted increased oversight from Iowa legislators, including at a hearing Monday where state Sen. Matt McCoy, D-West Des Moines, questioned whether staff reductions at the Iowa Department of Human Services have affected the safety of children. The Iowa Citizens Aide Ombudsman has launched its own investigation in hopes of improving services and processes to prevent future child deaths.

"What happened to not only Natalie but her siblings was preventable," McCoy said Wednesday when contacted by a reporter about the documents.


McCoy, who received a confidential briefing on the case and has spoken to a DHS investigator who was fired after Finn's death, told the Register in January that a principal at West Des Moines' alternative high school, Walnut Creek, had reported to child protective workers that Natalie Finn would come to school dirty and hungry.

According to Morgan's newly unsealed affidavit, police and child protective workers found "ample" food in the house during a previous visit to the Finn home in August. They found decided that Natalie Finn was making her own choice not to eat — despite a report that her mother was not feeding her, according to the affidavit. The DHS workers and police determined the allegations of abuse were unfounded, but they never sought physical examinations of Finn's health, McCoy has said.

McCoy, who represents parts of West Des Moines, said that he believes the fired investigator had genuine concerns about the children that weren't reflected in the detective's affidavit. The senator said the worker told him that it was apparent during interviews with the siblings that they feared Nicole Finn, but that there wasn't enough evidence found to remove them from the home.

"I think she believed that there was something going on and that these kids were being food deprived," McCoy said.

Officers and medics returned to the house for an emergency call Oct. 24. Finn was found not breathing and unresponsive, according to the warrant application.

Nicole Finn told investigators she had attempted CPR on her daughter after a younger sibling found Natalie on her back with vomit coming out of her mouth around 7 p.m., according to the application.

The mother claimed that Natalie and her siblings woke up around 9:30 a.m. Natalie had a peanut butter smoothie fed to her by her younger sister, the document said.

Finn described her late daughter as a troubled teenager with a mental health disorder, telling the investigators that Natalie and two of her siblings would go to the bathroom on the floor in the home "out of spite and defiance," Morgan wrote. Joe Finn confirmed in his own interview with investigators that he had recently removed carpeting in the bedroom where Natalie was found and replaced it with linoleum "because it was so soiled by the bodily waste from the children," the application said.

The father admitted to investigators that he helped to nail shut a window on the bedroom after the siblings were caught sneaking out to beg for food at a convenience store near the home. Joe Finn said the children lived full time with their mother, but were allowed to visit him and had greater freedoms when they were with him.

"Joe stated that when the kids came to his residence they were allowed to use the restroom and eat food unsupervised, which was contrary to the rules in Nicole's home," Morgan wrote.

Morgan wrote that the investigators determined Nicole Finn controlled how much food the three siblings received.


Natalie Finn was being home-schooled by her mother at the time of her death, and two of her siblings were also not attending school that day, according to the warrant. Both Nicole Finn and the 15-year-old who was home told police that the children were napping from around 2 p.m. that day until around 7 p.m., while the mother worked on her computer promoting the animal rescue that she operated out of the home.

The 14-year-old daughter told investigators that Natalie "often refused to eat" and was so weak that she needed help eating, Morgan wrote. The sister reported trying to feed Natalie on the morning before her death, but claimed that the 16-year-old could not sit up on her own. The girl also claimed that Natalie had been "moaning" in her sleep in the nights before her death and complained of being so cold that she needed extra blankets and a space heater in the room.

According to the affidavit, another 15-year-old son living with the family had greater privileges than his three siblings. He was allowed by Nicole Finn to cook for the family and slept in a bedroom "typical for a teenager" that had a bed, TV and other furniture, Morgan wrote.

Investigators collected a wide range of potential evidence from the home, including Nicole Finn's iPhone, two iPads, another tablet device and computers, according to an inventory unsealed with the other documents. Morgan wrote in his affidavit that investigators were looking for any evidence that could show what the two parents knew about the health conditions of their children and whether any medical appointments had been made for them with professionals.

Morgan wrote that he believed there could be messages exchanged between Joe and Nicole Finn about the "declining health and obvious undernourishment" of the three siblings.

DHS officials have said that the agency has made changes and is doing new training for employees in the wake of Finn's death.

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According to Secretary of State records, Nicole Finn owned and operated a pet rescue organization out of her West Des Moines home. 

CARE Pet Rescue had been active on social media through Dec. 5. The non-profit had several Go Fund Me campaigns requesting money to pay for animal care. 

A description of the organization on says its mission is “ to place dogs into loving homes, but also to educate dog owners about responsible pet ownership.”

CARE Pet Rescue


Nicole Finn

Mission Statement
To rescue companion animals in Iowa and throughout the Midwest who are in danger of being euthanized due to shelter overpopulation, and those dogs and cats who are homeless, abused and abandoned. To provide needy pets with necessary medical care before adopting them into loving, permanent homes. To work with shelters and other rescues to educate the community on responsible pet care and greatly reduce the number of companion animals who are euthanized every day.

CARE Pet Rescue is a volunteer-run, animal rescue that saves stray and abandoned dogs and cats from euthanasia or further abuse and neglect. With no boarding facility or shelter of our own, CARE pets live in local homes where they receive medical care and rehabilitation to get them ready for their forever homes. CARE Pet Rescue seeks not only to place dogs into loving homes, but also to educate dog owners about responsible pet ownership.

We are a 501(c)3, non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing homeless and abandoned animals, primarily dogs from high-kill shelters and owners who can no longer care for them. By working with committed volunteers, foster homes, local veterinarians, trainers, and boarding facilities, we are able to about one hundred animals every year, provide them with loving care, and find them well-matched, carefully screened, forever homes. We also serve as a resource to our community and all pet owners by providing education and information on responsible pet ownership, including the importance of spay/neuter, positive behavior training, and good nutrition.

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Nicole Finn
Rescuer, Writer, Creator
Des Moines, Iowa Area
Arts and Crafts

CARE PET Rescue, Inc., CARE Pet Resuce, Inc.

Upper Iowa University
Company Website

CARE PET Rescue, Inc.
July 2015 – Present (1 year 9 months)
Rescue abandoned, stray and abused dogs and cats. Rehabilitate pets, spay and neuter pets and get immunizations up-to-date. Find temporary homes before placement. Find permanent homes for pets through application, veterinary reference checks, personal reference checks, and home checks. Conduct general social media and public criminal background checks to ensure potential adopters have no criminal background related to animals or a dog fighting history or following. Hire volunteers and board members. Create documents and applications for rescue use. Organize and implement fundraising efforts. Organize veterinary visits and medical files on individual animals. Keep detailed records on original seizure of animals and new placements whether temporary or permanent. Provide rehabilitation and training for animals to prepare them for a permanent home. House animals in homes rather than a shelter environment. Conduct organization for Trap Neuter Release (TNR) programs for stray and feral cat communities. Transport animals for other rescues. Work with other rescues to help with placement and rescue of animals in need.

CARE Pet Rescue, Inc.
July 2015 – Present (1 year 9 months)

Volunteer Experience & Causes
Art Instructor
Battered Women's Shelter
January 2004 – June 2005 (1 year 6 months)Children

Causes Nicole cares about:
Human Rights
Social Services
Animal Welfare
Poverty Alleviation

Upper Iowa University
Bachelor's degree, Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Administration
2003 – 2005
Activities and Societies: Graduated Summa Cum Laude

Des Moines Area Community College
Associate of Arts (A.A.)
1997 – 1999

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Abbi & Family Veterinary Costs
$260 of $620 goal
Created April 25, 2016
Abbi, a 6 week old beauty who has been battling a tummy ache is now suffering from severe dehydration. Abbi is currently at IVRC undergoing treatment and fighting for her life. She made it through her first night in the hospital, but now her bill will be upwards of $450 because she requires IV fluids, nutrition, blood sugar and CBC monitoring, and tests and medication for parasites and Coccidia. Coccidia is a parasitic infection found in cats and dogs that can severely, and permanently damage a pet’s intestinal lining, if not treated promptly.

By morning, Little Miss Abbi was eating on her own this morning. Now that she is hydrated, they were waiting to see if her tummy has calmed down. After 24 hours in the care of the staff at IVRC, little improvement has been made to stop her diarrhea, and the veterinarian is keeping her at least another night. Abbi was sick along with her four brothers and her mama. Her tiniest brother, Max, is starting to show the same symptoms of dehydration as she did, and we are doing our best to keep him drinking and eating. Max remains active but could take a turn for the worse just like his sister did at any moment.

Treatment costs continue to climb. IVRC already holds a balance for CARE Pet Rescue of $220 for another sick kitten a couple of months ago. It is unknown how much the current treatment will end up costing the rescue to keep the kittens and their mama alive, and how much more it will cost if the whole family of six ends up being diagnosed and treated for Coccidia, or if any of them end up needing hospital care. Please help and keep those well wishes coming. Thank you!

It has been a couple of months since Abbi's passing. Having her ashes, here at home, has helped with the healing some. A huge thanks to Jim Johnson of LOVING REST Pet Cemetery, for offering to do the cremation free of charge for the rescue.

Abbi's brother, Max, is finally beginning to gain weight and not make me worry so much about him. All four of Abbi's brothers have survived, but not without challenges. They all had sick tummies and lost weight for different periods of time. They are all about to start a round of Albon to help with their intestinal issues. A bottle of Albon will likely cost us an additional $100 so that we can treat all eight of the kittens in the foster home together, and who are all having the same symptoms and fighting to keep on weight.
A special thank you to HEARTLAND Humane Society, in Ottumwa, for the generous donation, to assist with Abbi's medical bill.

(USA Today - March 15, 2017)

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