Bernice Bacharach was a feisty attorney – a pioneer really. She was the first and for a long time, only female member of the Chelan County Bar Association. She represented local people of all stripes, people who she generally described as “people you never heard of.”
Bernice was a lady. But in some respects she defied even that convention. She swore like a longshoreman, never married and once piloted a mahogany speedboat in a race the full length of Lake Chelan.
Bernice’s swan song in Wenatchee came just as she was winding down her long career in the late 70s. Bernice Bacharach took on the self-appointed representatives of “Jeeeezus” himself – the Reverend Larry Titus and his entourage at the Bethesda Christian Temple – Wenatchee’s equivalent of Father Divine’s Mega-Ministry.
She defended the beleaguered Jim Eyre, the church’s business manager and designated scapegoat when he was accused of check kiting – depositing bad checks to cover other bad checks, all to serve a church that was chronically spending more money than it was taking in.
It happened like this: Reverend Titus’s ministry had outgrown its britches. The Reverend and his wife, Devi, had matching gold Cadillac’s in their garage. They repeatedly traveled to the Holy Land and brought back diamonds to sell at a profit. The Congregation, mostly young people rescued from a life on the streets, centered their lives around the doings of the church. The church owned a radio station and planned a massive campus expansion envisioned by Reverend Titus. Some members of the congregation even mortgaged their homes to contribute toward the goal.
But the empire was crumbling from within. Bethesda Christian Temple was chronically overspending. The bubble burst in an avalanche of bad checks, a so-called “check kiting” scheme in which bad checks were deposited to cover other bad checks. This was in the days before instant bank drafts and debit cards. Ill-fated enterprises could be kept afloat, for awhile, by passing bad checks. The death knell for Bethesda Christian Temple came when one too many bad checks got passed to the bank.
In an effort to save the reputation of the Church and save his own skin Reverend Titus blamed the entire debacle on the church’s business manager, a man named Jim Eyre. They threw him under the bus, as we would say today. The reverend chastised him from the pulpit and condemned him in front of his flock.
Arrayed against Eyre were the full potency of Christ’s Anointed on this Earth, at least the Wenatchee contingency thereof. The defrauded devout were convinced that Jim Eyre had stolen the church’s money and was the perpetrator of a villainous scheme that was about to destroy the holy work of many hands.
Bernice Bacharach agreed to defend Jim Eyre.
Like a Perry Mason courtroom drama, the case took a dramatic and unpredicted turn. Bernice’s star witness was the bank Teller who received the kited check from Eyre as he was standing at the Teller’s window. But the Teller, testifying under oath, surprised everyone, Bernice included. In an unexpected moment of candor when she was shown a copy of the damning check, the Teller blurted out, “Oh yes, Mr. Eyre handed me that check… But Reverend Titus was standing right behind him in the line.”
The walls of the temple came tumbling down. That blindside admission blew the case for the prosecution. Jim Eyre was exonerated. Reverend Titus left town. Bethesda Christian Temple closed its doors. The building is now a furniture store. A few veterans of the glory days maintain an online blog. Some still claim that the Temple’s demise was masterminded by Jim Eyre.
Bernice Bacharach, were she still living, would just cackle and shake her head. Some people never give up. But some people, like Bernice Bacharach, are tougher yet.
Contributed by Stan Foster, lifetime Wenatchee resident, retired business consultant and real estate investor and a former board member of WVMCC.