Black Dahlia Suspect – Robert “Red” Manley

In his 1991 autobiography, “Reporters”: Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman, Will Fowler recalled that one of his colleagues, Baker Conrad, had noticed a telegram among Elizabeth Short’s effects. The Examiner’s editor, Jim Richardson, dispatched Fowler to the address on the telegram, 8010 Mountain View Avenue in South Gate.

When Fowler arrived at the bungalow court he was greeted by “A strikingly beautiful red-haired young woman.” Fowler may not have actually said he was a cop, but he let the woman, Harriet Manley, believe he was law enforcement.

Robert "Red" Manley with his wife Harriette. [LAPL Photo]

Robert “Red” Manley with his wife Harriette. [LAPL Photo]

During her conversation with Fowler, Harriet said that Red had phoned her from San Francisco after seeing his name in the newspapers in connection with Elizabeth Short’s murder. Red tried to reassure Harriet that he’d had nothing to do with the slaying and told her that he “loved her more than any man ever loved his wife.”

At about 10:00 pm on January 19th a couple of LAPD sergeants, J.W. Wass and Sam Flowers, were staking out the home of Red’s employer in Eagle Rock where the wanted man was expected to arrive shortly. When Red pulled up in his sedan the officers approached him with their guns drawn. An Examiner photographer was there to capture the arrest. Red looks like a deer in the headlights as Sgt. Flowers handcuffs him.

Robert "Red" Manley busted in Eagle Rock. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Robert “Red” Manley busted in Eagle Rock — handcuffed by LAPD Sgt Sam Flowers. Photo courtesy LAPL.

Aggie Underwood interviewed Red early in the morning of January 20th at LAPD’s Hollenbeck station. She recalled the interview in her 1949 autobiography Newspaperwoman:

“You look as if you’ve been on a drunk,” I said in sizing up the suspect. I was ready to talk sympathetically about hangovers. That approach won’t work always, but Red looked like a guy reporters might meet at a bar and find a congenial drinking companion, possible criminal or not.

“This is worse than any I’ve ever been on,” he replied. Perry Fowler, the photographer assigned to the case with me, caught the cue we had used repeatedly in softening subjects and stepped forward with a cigarette, which Manley took gratefully.

“Look, fella,” I continued as he inhaled. “You’re in one hell of a spot. You’re in a jam and it’s no secret. If you’re as innocent as you say you are, tell the whole story; and if you haven’t anything to hide, people can’t help knowing you’re telling the truth. That way, you’ll get it over with all at once and it won’t be kicking around to cause you more trouble.”

Red didn’t need any further encouragement to unburden himself to Aggie. He told her how he’d initially picked Elizabeth up on a San Diego street corner. How they had spent an “erotically uneventful” night in a motel and how he had eventually dropped her off at the Biltmore Hotel on January 9th.

Red finished his tale with: “I’ll never pick up another dame as long as I live.”

Robert Manley in high school c. 1940. Photo from Ancestry.

Robert Manley in high school c. 1940. Photo from Ancestry.

Aggie believed Red was innocent, and shared her gut feelings with the police. Red had been forthcoming in his interview and Aggie knew right away that he wasn’t a killer. Red was just a frightened man with goofy ideas about love tests.

If there was one thing that Aggie detested it was a sob sister. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a sob sister is a female journalist who writes overly sentimental copy. That sort of journalism was never Aggie’s thing. She said: “A sob sister could have wept with and over Manley, interpolating, editorial gushes to prove what a big bleeding heart beat in her breast. To hell with that. I’d rather have a fistful—an armload—of good solid facts.”

Aggie at her desk c. 1949. Photo courtesy LAPL. [Yes, that it a baseball bat on her desk. Aggie had a way of dealing with overzealous Hollywood agents.

Aggie at her desk c. 1949. Photo courtesy LAPL.  Yes, that’s a baseball bat on her desk. Aggie had her own a way of dealing with over zealous Hollywood press agents.  Concealed in her desk drawer is a starter pistol which she used to gain the attention of dozing reporters. She’d fire it at the ceiling and shout, “Don’t let this paper die today.”  Aggie had a flair!

It was the armload of facts that made Aggie’s interview with Red Manley so compelling. In fact her city editor, who normally cautioned her to keep her copy short, let the entire interview run without a ton of photos. He knew a good interview when he read one.

Why, then, in the midst of covering of the murder was Aggie unceremoniously yanked off the story? Without any warning or explanation Aggie suddenly found herself benched. The city editor had pulled her off the story and let her cool her heels in the newsroom without a thing to do.

Aggie spent a couple of miserable days at her desk bored out of her mind. Then she got pissed-off enough to fight back. She didn’t get huffy or raise her voice. She brought in an embroidery project. Shortly the other newsroom denizens were snickering. One of the other newswomen, Caroline Walker, said: “What do you think of that? Here’s the best reporter on the Herald, on the biggest day of one of the best stories in years—sitting in the office doing fancy work!”

The next day Aggie was reassigned to the story—only to be pulled off a second time. What the hell was going on?

NEXT TIME: Will Aggie get off the bench?

Spree Killer, Conclusion

In 1984 Dean Phillip Carter was sentenced to 59 years in prison for the rape of a Ventura County woman. His defense, that the sex was consensual, failed to convince the jury.The victim testified that she was awakened, shortly after midnight on March 29, 1984, by the sound of someone entering her apartment through her kitchen window. By the time she sat up in bed a masked man holding a butcher knife was standing in the doorway of her bedroom. Even with a bandana tied around his face she recognized him as Dean Carter, an acquaintance of her roommate.

carter convictedFor over five hours Carter forced the woman at knife-point to orally copulate him three times and then he vaginally raped her once. Twice he choked her into unconsciousness. Once because she tried to escape, and the second time because she attempted to scream for help. When he took her car keys she feared that he would take her somewhere and kill her. She testified: “I took hold of his face and I talked to him. I told him to try to remember what he was doing and who he was and who I was and that he didn’t have to do this. . .I was trying to reason with him.” She also tried to keep him off-balance. After the final sexual assault she hugged him, told him he was “beautiful”, and then casually got up and began to dress for work.She gave him directions to the bus station and, unbelievably, he left.

Because Carter was held accountable for murders and rapes in multiple jurisdictions there were numerous legal delays, much to the anger and frustration of the families of the victims. It took several  years to get him into a courtroom to face charges for the murders of Jillette Mills, Susan Knoll, and Bonnie Guthrie.

In January 1990 a panel of seven women and five men deliberated for 3 1/2 days before they recommended execution at San Quentin for Carter for the slayings of the three L.A. County women. Family members of the victims applauded the penalty and nearly all of them expressed a desire to witness his execution. Carter was removed from the courtroom in leg irons. He didn’t make eye contact with anyone. Deputy D.A. Marsh Goldstein said: “He (Carter) never said that he was sorry. He never said anything. He’s one of the most evil people I’ve ever seen–an absolutely awful, non-human being. If you believe society has the right to impose the death penalty. . . then this is the case where it should be applied.”carter_DA

A year after he was sentenced to die for three murders Carter was on trial for the rape and murder of Janette Cullins. Janette’s body had been found in a closet in her Pacific Beach apartment on April 14, 1984. San Diego County Deputy D.A. Robert Eichler spent three hours in his opening statement describing in great detail to the jury Carter’s “…path of destruction that went through the state of California” during a three week period in 1984. The evidence against Carter was overwhelming.

Carter was convicted in May 1991 for the first-degree murder with special circumstances (which meant another death penalty) of Janette Cullins. Cullin’s mother, Helen, said: “I think he should be strangled. That’s the way he killed my daughter.”

Dean_Phillip_Carter_mugFollowing Carter’s sentencing the woman he had raped in Ventura County wrote a first person account of her attack for the L.A. Times–it was gut wrenching. She had survived the attack, but for the next seven years she was called to testify against Carter.  Each time she had to re-live the events of that night.

What set Carter off on a three week long rampage? His attorneys pointed to his lousy childhood and his failed marriage. They attempted to characterize him as the loving father of twin boys. The truth was that he was an absent dad and a miserable husband.

It has been 25 years since Dean Phillip Carter was sentenced in the Cullins case. The families of the murder victims who wanted to watch him die in San Quentin’s gas chamber still have not had justice. In fact several of the family members have passed away over the years.

In 1995, Carter began writing an internet column, “Deadman Talking”. I’ve read a few of the entries and, frankly, he sickens me. He claims in some of his posts that he does not to want to discuss his case, although he manages to plead his innocence either implicitly or explicitly as frequently as possible. He continues to deny committing the crimes that brought him to “The Row”.

The Los Angeles Times covered the presence of inmates on the internet in 2000:

In 1996 it was news when mainstream media discovered that Dean Philip Carter, on California’s death row for killing four women, was posting the column “Dead Man Talkin’ ” with the help of a San Francisco disc jockey.

Today, Carter’s column is available in six languages–“Un homme mort vous parle” is the French version–and is one of scores of death row journals. The father of one of Carter’s victims has his own site, “Justice Against Crime Talking,” that includes a link to Carter’s site–a photograph of a burro.

Because he has refused to admit his guilt he is compelled to adopt the mantle of a grievously wronged innocent. It fits him poorly. He is capable of sorrow, but only for himself, and self-pity informs most of his writing. As far as I am concerned he is an evil man who has outlived anything that may have approximated real justice for the murders and rapes he committed over 30 years ago.

When will he be executed? Don’t hold your breath. He’s more likely to perish from old age.