Agness “Aggie” Underwood, the queen of the LA crime beat

Agness "Aggie" Underwood at her desk in 1949, two years after becoming the city editor for the Los Angeles Herald and Express. She kept a baseball bat handy in case she needed to keep overzealous Hollywood press agents in line.
Agness “Aggie” Underwood at her desk in 1949, two years after becoming the city editor for the Los Angeles Herald and Express. She kept a baseball bat handy in case she needed to keep overzealous Hollywood press agents in line.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the city of Los Angeles was seen by many as a dangerous place. And newspapers were full of lurid details of bizarre crimes.

For years, the queen of that crime beat was Agness Underwood. “Aggie,” as she was known, covered some of the city’s most sordid murders for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. By 1930, Aggie had worked her way up from switchboard operator to reporter.

Aggie once hid a wanted murderess in her home while her daughter’s Girl Scout troop met, in order to keep the criminal—and her story—away from other reporters. The last story Aggie reported was the infamous 1947 slaying of Elizabeth Short, aka “The Black Dahlia.”

new exhibit celebrates Aggie’s legacy. The show is called “The First with the Latest! Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City”. It’s on display at the Los Angeles Central Library through January of 2016.

Joan Renner curated the show and writes the blog Deranged LA Crimes. She spoke to KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis.