In October 1926, Agness ‘Aggie’ Underwood began her newspaper career as the temporary switchboard operator at the Los Angeles Record.
It was at the Record that Aggie fell in love with the newspaper business. She was a quick study and worked hard; she assisted Gertrude Price who wrote a woman’s column under the pseudonym of Cynthia Grey. Grey became Aggie’s mentor.
Aggie’s first major crime story began on May 20, 1931. Los Angeles was shaken by the murders of Charles H. Crawford and Herbert F. Spencer.
Crawford was a former saloon keeper and a power behind the scenes in the city’s government. Spencer was a former police reporter who was associated with the Critic of Critics, a political crusading weekly.
The day following the murders thirty-three-year-old David H. Clark, a former deputy District Attorney and candidate for municipal judge, surrendered himself to the District Attorney and admitted to the murders.
Aggie noticed gaps in the coverage of the murders. She thought it odd that no one had interviewed Clark’s parents. She located them and they gave her an exclusive interview and photographs. Aggie’s interview with Clark’s parents appeared in the paper under the headline “Mrs. Clark Says Son is Innocent”, earning her a double column by-line.
In 1935, the Record was sold and Aggie joined William Randolph Hearst’s Evening Herald & Express. Her first assignment was to interview world famous aviatrix, Amelia Earhart.
In 1947, Aggie was the only Los Angeles reporter to get a by-line in the murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. In the midst of the coverage Aggie was pulled off the story and promoted to city editor.
When Aggie retired from the newspaper business in 1968, the Herald’s crosstown rival, the Los Angeles Times, ran a full-column tribute to her written by Jack Smith.
In it he quoted Hugh “Bud” Lewis, who had been city editor of the Times and had once said of Aggie, “Too many of you guys in this business forget one thing. Aggie Underwood isn’t just a great woman city editor…She’s a great city editor, period. I get sick and tired of the people who have to include the feminine angle when they talk about Aggie. Male or female, she’s one of the best the business has ever had.”