Chapter 17 ~ Robert “Red” Manley

Robert Manley was a tall, good looking, 25 year old traveling salesman from South Gate with a beautiful wife and a young son at home at the time of the murder.

When he registered for the draft in 1942, he was 5′ 10 1/2″ tall and weighed 140 lbs, had red hair, a light complexion and a scar on his left elbow. At the time,  he was working for the Montgomery Ward Company.

Seven months after his discharge from the army air corp on April 17, 1945, Bob Manley married Harriette Cooper on Nov 28, 1945. Harriette, three years younger than her husband, gave birth to their son, Steven, on September 8, 1946.

By 1947, “Red” was, “employed as a sales engineer by Baker and Company in Huntington Park,” according to investigators. His territory stretched from the Bay Area to San Diego. He took orders for plumbing supplies, traversing his route in his black 1939 Studebaker coupe.

In San Diego, visiting his accounts, he recalled, “I saw Miss Short standing on a corner across from the Western Air Lines I looked at her and decided to try and pick her up.”

“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 and she got in the car.”

Red drove her to the home of Elvera French, where they sat in the car and made plans for him to take her out to dinner. Beth said she would tell the Frenches that she worked with Red at Western Air Lines.

He had a date with her again at the airline office where Beth said she worked. Manley showed up, but she wasn’t there. “I asked two or three people and they didn’t know her and I didn’t think she worked there then.”

They stayed in contact and on January 7 they agreed to meet. Red told Frank Jemison,

“She asked me to drive her to Los Angeles. I told her I had to make some business calls. But she put her baggage in my car and said she would take a bus that night.”

He took her out for drinks that evening and later got a motel room for the night.

The Los Angeles Times quoted a witness saying, “Both Miss Short and her companion were in a ‘jolly mood,’ joking as the companion loaded the valises into the automobile.”

Jemison asked Red if he knew how she got to San Diego. He said, “No. I don’t remember her saying how she got down there.”

“Did she talk about any murders you had been reading about in newspapers — anything about that?”

Manley replied, “No, in fact, she talked very little on the way in to Los Angeles and I wasn’t in a very talkative mood. I don’t know what was the matter with her. It didn’t make any difference to me. I was just glad to get rid of her.”

Red dropped her off at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on January 9 under the assumption that she was to see her sister, Virginia West, at the hotel. He waited briefly, and at about 6:30 pm, he drove off to resume his life.

Manley’s fabled trip from San Diego to the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles with Beth Short has been told and retold over time, but years after the murder, Red added new touches to the story.

He said that, to his knowledge, Beth never made a telephone call after they departed the French home. “No, not one,” he said. It was Red that used the payphone just before leaving San Diego. “- I called my wife from San Diego,” he said. He agreed that it was possible that she did make calls while he was conducting business in Encinitas or Oceanside, but he never observed her using a telephone.

A newspaper reported days after the murder that Manley said of Beth, “She had bad scratches on both her arms above the elbows on the outside. She told me she had a boyfriend who was intensely jealous of her.” He said he was “an Italian with black hair,” and that he lived in San Diego. Jemison asked him if she complained of a toothache or a headache. He didn’t remember her saying one way or the other. He gave him a list of doctor’s names, including De Gaston, Ahrens, Scott and Brix, asking if she had mentioned any of them. Again, Red answered no.

She was sick in the Mecca Motel before they left. “Well, she didn’t even care to have me do much talking after we got back to the room, after we had been dancing. She just took a blanket off of the bed, propped her legs up against the wall by the heater and I asked her what was the matter with her and she said she just didn’t feel well and for me to leave her alone so I did, and she didn’t talk much more after that.”

“She said it was just that time of the month and she wanted to be left alone.” They had been at the Hacienda Club in Mission Valley, where she danced with him and with the band vocalist.

During the motor trip to Los Angeles, Red said she was constantly looking back at “Cars that passed on the right, and then, if I’m not mistaken, cars that would pass us, but I noticed mainly on cars I would pass. She would strain her neck and look, like this toward the rear of the car.”

Red drove his Studebaker from San Diego, with a stop in Encinitas, where he had a new account, and where they had hamburgers. The next stop was Laguna Beach, where Beth used the restroom and Red purchased gasoline.

From the beginning, before they left San Diego, Beth told Red that she would be meeting her sister, Mrs. Adrian West from Berkeley, at the Biltmore, but when they reached Los Angeles, she wanted to check her things at the Greyhound bus station first. According to newspaper reports, Beth’s luggage “consisted of a hat box, a suitcase and a small bag.”

She told Red he could leave her there.  “She led me to believe she hadn’t been in Los Angeles before and I told her it was a bad part of town and I better take her to the Biltmore and I told her to stay away from that part of town.”

He dropped her off at the Biltmore, where she used the restroom while he checked at the desk for her sister, Mrs. Adrian West. There was no record. He said goodbye and left.

LAPD Sergeants Sam Flowers and Jerry Wass took Manley into custody, soon after his return from San Francisco, where, he said, he read about the murder. “I turned sick inside,” he was quoted in newspapers.

Red and associate Harry Palmer of Eagle Rock were on a business trip to San Francisco on Friday, January 17 when Manley learned of the murder of Elizabeth Short.

Red said he, “turned sick inside.” He told Palmer he was,  “in a heck of a mess and didn’t know what to do.”

He called his wife Friday night,”but I didn’t mention it to her, of course, because she didn’t even know I knew the girl. Saturday afternoon, when I was out on calls, my wife called me. I returned the call Saturday night and when I finally got her the first thing she said was, ‘Did you do it?’

“The cops had been at our house in South Gate that afternoon and told her I was connected with Betty. Then I knew I was in for it.”

Red Manley served in the Army Air Corps from June 24, 1942 until his discharge on April 17, 1945. He was a corporal and a bandsman in the Army Air Force Marching Band and played the saxophone. His education while in the service was listed as “musician, teacher, music.” He served in Santa Ana, and Lemoore, California. Red received the Service Lapel Button and the Victory Medal. He was separated from the service from Dibble General Hospital in Menlo Park, California.

Red died on January 9, 1986, thirty-nine years to the day after leaving Elizabeth Short at the Biltmore Hotel.

One Response to “Chapter 17 ~ Robert “Red” Manley”

  1. Katrina Mallory Says:

    Why would Harriet Manley ask her husband “did you do it?” if she had an alibi for him?

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