Soon after Robert Manley’s arrest, Aggie Underwood obtained an exclusive interview with the suspect and her article was printed in the Hearst newspaper, The Evening Herald-Express on January 20, 1947. The article, as it appeared under her byline, Agness Underwood, is transcribed below:
* * *
I knew Betty Short- sure. I saw her twice. I even kissed her a couple of times. But believe me, knowing her has taught me to walk the straight and narrow. If ever a guy found himself in a mess, I’m it.
With the lipstick of his pretty wife, Harriette, still on his face- implanted there last night when she kissed him and promised to “stand by”- Robert “Red” Manley, a 25-year-old ex-army corporal, today at Hollenbeck Police Station denied any connection with the brutal murder of Elizabeth Short.
A desire to “test myself and see if I still loved my wife,” a few stolen kisses, an unromantic night in a motel with Miss Short all led to his arrest on a suspicion of murder charge, young Manley said today.
Eyes red-rimmed from a sleepless night, but, he said, “with conscience clear,” young Manley told The Evening Herald-Express a detailed account of his two meetings with the “Black Dahlia,” whose brutally murdered body was found last Wednesday in a vacant lot on South Norton Avenue.
“A week or 10 days before Christmas my company sent me to San Diego on business,” Manley said, as though anxious to “talk this thing out.”
“I drove to San Diego after hitting all my sales spots, and arrived there about 5 p. m. I decided to take it slow and see everything I could because I hadn’t been there since the exposition.
“I saw Miss Short standing on a corner across from the Western Air Lines. I looked at her and decided to try to pick her up.
“My wife and I had just had the baby and we had to go through sort of an adjustment period. We had lots to iron out. It was nothing important but just lots of little things.
“I decided to pick her up and make a test for myself and see if I loved my wife or not.”
Here, the fiery red-haired, romance-seeking young father of a 4-month-old baby, lit cigaret[sic] and then continued his story:
“I asked her if she wanted to ride. She turned her head and wouldn’t look at me.
“I talked some more. I told her who I was. And what I did and so forth. Finally she turned around and asked me if I didn’t think it was wrong to ask a girl on a corner to get in my car.
“I said yes, but ‘I’d like to take you home,’ so she got in the car.
“I drove her to the housing project in Pacific Beach where she was staying with some friends. When we got there we sat in the car and talked and I asked her if she would go to dinner with me.
“She said she would but was worried about how she would tell the people she was staying with just who I was so she decided to tell them that I worked with her. She said she worked for Western Air Lines.
FOUND A ROOM
“After I left her I drove down the highway until I found a room. I registered for myself, went to the corner and got a beer.
“Because I was a stranger in town, I asked the people where I bought the beer where would be a good place to get dinner and maybe dance.
“They told me the Hacienda Club, out on University [sic]avenue in Mission Valley.
“I went back to my room then. I’ll admit I was a little worried about my wife, because you see we were just married in November, 1945, and I had never ‘stepped out’ on her before.
“I cleaned up a little bit and picked up Miss Short at 7. I met the people she was staying with and we left and tried to find -” here he hesitated, then said, “no-we started to drive to the club and it took us two and one-half or three hours to find it.
“Boy, it’s sure easy to get lost in San Diego.
“When we got there we had a few drinks and danced a few times then it was 12 o’clock. We went to a drive in, had a sandwich I took her home.
KIND OF COLD
“No, I didn’t ask her to stop at my room,” he said, in response to questions.” We did sit in the car and talk for a short time, and I kissed her a couple of times, but she was kind of cold, I would say.”
Manley admitted he told the girl he was married, during the evening and said she had told him she had been married to “a Major Matt somebody” who had been killed.
“When I walked her to the door, I told her I might be down that way again and I asked her if it would be all right to wire her when I was arriving. She said yes. But she said she did not like San Diego and might not be there.
“I went to my room-with a guilty conscience-and the next morning made my San Diego calls. As I left town I drove through Pacific Beach and stopped where she lived, but they told me she was at work.
“When I got home I didn’t tell my wife I’d been out with her.
“I found out I had to make the trip again, and on Jan. 7, about 5 p. m., I sent her a wire that I was arriving next day. I covered the same territory and arrived near the Western Air Lines office about 5 p. m. I waited about one half hour but she didn’t come out. I drove to the place at Pacific Beach and she was there to greet me at the door.
“We walked outside and she asked me if I’d take her down to a telephone. She said she wanted to make a call. But, en route, she said she decided not to make the call after all.
“We started back to where she lived and she asked me if I would drive her to Los Angeles. I said yes, but told her I couldn’t leave until the next day. She decided to put her bags in my car that night, so I helped her load them. Then she got in the car and we drove down the highway. I decided it was about time for me to find a place to sleep so we stopped at a motel.
“I told her I thought it would look funny to drive into a motel with a girl in the car and ask for a room for one, so I asked for a room for two. She made no objection.
“We went into the cabin and I washed my face and shaved and changed my shirt. She combed her hair.
DENIES MAKING LOVE
Asked whether he had made love to the girl while this was going on, young Manley, former army bandsman, strongly denied it.
“We decided to go eat,” he said. “So, we ate, then went back to the Hacienda Club and again it took us a couple of hours to find it.
“En route, however, she wanted to stop at a big hotel in San Diego-the U.S. Grant-that was it.
“We went in the room where the music and everything was but it was dead so we had one drink and then went on to the Hacienda Club.
“We danced several times and had several drinks. She was gay and happy and seemed to be having a swell time. We left at 12 and she had mentioned taking a bus to Los Angeles that night and I asked if she wanted me to take her to a bus. She said she thought it wold be better if I got some sandwiches and we went back to the room. She said she was cold and hungry.
RETURNED TO ROOM
“We went to a driven[sic]-in. I got a couple of hamburgers and we went back to the room.
“When we got in, she grabbed my overcoat and put it around her. She said she wanted a fire, so I lit it. We ate the sandwiches and there was no affection between us. We talked for a while and she said she didn’t feel good. Said she was very cold and pulled a chair up in front of the fire and I threw a couple of blankets over her.
“I asked her if I could get her anything and she said ‘yes,’ her suitcase out of my car-her make-up and stuff.
“I got it and then asked if I could get anything at the drug store and she said no. She sure didn’t act sick when we were dancing.
“Pretty soon I looked at my watch and it was late. With her back to me, I took off my trousers, my coat, my shirt and climbed into bed-and went to sleep.
BAD CHILLS ALL NIGHT
“When I woke up the next morning, she was propped up on the other side of the bed, awake. She said she’d had chills all night long.
“I happed[sic[ out and dressed and told her I had to make some calls in San Diego that morning.
“I did. Then about 12:20-12 noon was checkout time at the motel-I went back and picked her up. I had a call to make on the way back to Los Angeles and she waited in the car for me. It took quite some time and when I got back to the car, she was hungry-again.
“We stopped at a small restaurant and had another sandwich.
“Then we drove to Laguna Beach. There we stopped and got gas. En route she asked whether she could write to me. She said she was going to meet her sister from Berkeley, Mrs. Adrian West.
“I asked where she was going to meet her, and without waiting for her to answer I said ‘The Biltmore?’ and she answered ‘yes.’
“She wrote my name and business address in her notebook, so she could write to me.
“When we got in to Los Angeles, she wanted me to take her to the Greyhound Bus Station so she could check her bags before she met her sister. I drove her to the Greyhound bus Station and carried her bags in. I had to go out to move my car, but told her I would drive around and pick her up and take her to the Biltmore. I didn’t want to leave her in that neighborhood.
“When we got to to Biltmore, she said she had to go to the restroom and asked me if I would check at the desk on whether her sister had arrived.
HE CHECKS ON BLONDES
“I checked information and they had no Mrs. West registered. She had told me her sister was short and blonde. So I went up to a couple of short blonde women in the lobby and asked whether they were Mrs. West-but they weren’t.
“It was getting late and I told her I had to leave. I had to get home. I was worried about my wife. She said she had to wait there and I left her there.
“That is the last time I ever saw Betty Short. I’ll take the truth serum or anything they want to give me. And, I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles and tell my minister, too, that was the last time I ever saw Betty Short. I did not kill her.
“But brother! I’ll never cheat on my wife again!”