Blue Angel stripper faked kidnapping
On a Wednesday night, October 9, 1962, Sheriff Taft Faust of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office got a call from Trooper Frank E. Miller of the Louisiana State Police. Miller had picked up a half-naked girl walking down a gravel road near Watson, Louisiana with her hands tied behind her back.
State Police had set up roadblocks to trap two Italian men who Sandra Manente, 23, said abducted and raped her an hour earlier. Miller called Faust, requesting that LPSO take over the investigation.
Deputies Odom Graves and James Lott met Miller and Trooper Ralph B. Powers with the victim at the Baton Rouge General Hospital. Manente, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, told the deputies she had started classes at LSU in the spring, but quit in July to take a job in New Orleans. She said the business where she worked had since closed.
She was driving w
“They drove alongside me, flirting,” she said. “I ignored them and turned right towards Watson. After a few miles, I got scared and tried to turn around on a gravel road when they laid on their horn. Somehow I lost control and hit a sign.”
With her face badly bruised and briar-like abrasions all over her body, Manente told the officers the two men chased her into the woods, where they tackled her and tied her hands with fishing cord, before cutting off her clothes and sexually molesting her.
Deputy James Lott interviewed a man in Denham Springs who admitted to meeting Manente in New Orleans and inviting her to visit, but he said he knew little about her. He had no idea, he said, who the assailants were or why they accosted her.
The following Saturday afternoon, October 14, Deputy Odom Graves interviewed Manente again. This time, she told a different story. “I lied,” she said. “Just trying to get attention.”
Deputy Graves asked how she got the bruises and scratches. Manente told him she checked into a motel in Denham Springs and used curlers and razor blades on her body. Graves asked why she left the motel and wrecked the car, and then he asked how she tied her hands behind her back and why she cut her clothes. Manente replied saying she could not remember. “I had a big drink of whiskey,” she said. “Anything’s possible.”
In 1962, the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office did not have the luxury of being able to search newspaper archives as investigators can today. If they could have done so, they would have known the rest of the story.
On July 19, 1962, Sandra Manente worked as a burlesque dancer at 225 Bourbon Street, in a club called the Blue Angel. That night, New Orleans police arrested 23-year-old bartender Milton Rafael for shooting and killing strip-teaser Jane Hernandez, 22, in the back as she left the club walking down Bourbon Street.
Rafael told Police that Hernandez was walking down Bourbon Street in the direction of Bienville Street when his .22 caliber semi-automatic accidentally discharged, killing the dancer. Police found the body lying face-down approximately 28 feet from the front door of the Blue Angel lounge.
Police Sgt. Cornelius “Connie” Drumm told patrol officer James Webb of NOPD’s Homicide Division that he suspected club-owner Vito J. Sortino shot Hernandez, so they collected both men, leaving stripper Sandra Manente to close up the bar.
Drumm had arrested Sortino two years earlier for wounding bar customer Wilbert Batiste using the same .22 rifle, but the District Attorney’s office refused to prosecute him.
Manente told investigators that she was on stage when she heard the shot and did not witness the crime.
Two months later, the office of District Attorney James “Big Jim” Garrison raided the Blue Angel lounge and arrested Sandra Manente, charging her with “B-drinking”—convincing bar patrons to buy bottles of cheap champagne at premium prices.
The following week, the DA’s office led a total assault on Bourbon Street vice. From the Times-Picayune, August 14, 1962:
“The crackdown on Bourbon Street continued at full steam Monday night with the arrests of 14 on charges ranging from improper lighting to conspiracy to commit prostitution. Undercover agents of the NOPD vice squad and the district attorney’s staff, working separately, combed the blocks known as ‘stripper’s paradise’ in the new DA’s effort to rid the French Quarter of vice. Jim Garrison added emphasis to the drive by personally leading the inspections of each club.”
Judge Paul Garofalo set Sandra Manente’s trial for October 25, 1962—two weeks after her reported assault in Livingston Parish.
At the New Orleans court, she failed to appear, forfeiting her fifty-dollar bail. The judge said he would not issue an attachment for her arrest “since there would be no point to it if she has left town,” he said. “But if she comes back and I hear about it, I will send the police after her.”
On October 20, 1962, East Baton Rouge Sheriff Bryan Clemmons and Livingston Parish Sheriff Taft Faust jointly asked the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner to sign forms transferring Sandra Manente to a hospital in Whitfield, Mississippi—the Mississippi State Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
One week earlier, Manente told Deputy James Lott she wanted to remain in police custody for her own protection. She said she would be killed if doctors released her from the hospital too soon.
When interviewed by the coroner, Manente said, “I think I need to go back to Mississippi, but some strange things have been going through my mind. I wonder if driving home and killing my parents might convince you doctors to keep me locked up.”