FBI spokesman's final news flash his retirement


It came over the radio one day in 1986, a news flash about a serial killer spotted driving through Maryland on his way to Florida:

"Andrew Manning is wanted for kidnapping and killing young women across the United States," the news flash said. "The FBI says that if you should spot Andrew Manning, take no action but call the FBI."

Andrew Manning got a chuckle out of that. As FBI spokesman, he had given the radio station the information, and it had gotten muddled in the broadcast, with his name being switched with that of the real killer.

"Just another day at the office, being confused with a serial killer," says Special Agent Manning, who retired yesterday after a 29-year FBI career, including nearly a decade as spokesman for the Baltimore office. "But those things happen. I certainly came to accept it."

That's a long way from the FBI drama portrayed in "The Silence of the Lambs," one of Agent Manning's favorite books. But never one to grumble -- everyone could hear him at a news conference if he did -- Agent Manning used his communication skills to become one of the FBI's most respected spokesmen.

He has been the man telling Baltimore-area residents about kidnapped babies, embezzlers, drug lords and bank robbers -- even about a thief who hijacked several turkeys off the back of a truck and drove them out of Maryland.

"Our image to the public is a very important thing. I started with the FBI in the secretive J. Edgar Hoover years, when you were warned to run away from the TV cameras and newspapermen," says Agent Manning, 53. "But we changed all that. We had to. The agency had become a dinosaur."

Born and reared in Arbutus off Maiden Choice Lane, Agent Manning is described by longtime neighborhood friends as the quintessential FBI man.

"He was the only one in our crowd who didn't smoke. He was a straight-arrow, by-the-rules kind of guy," says Ray Montgomery, an assistant warden in the Maryland prison system.

Robert D. Clark, a Catonsville attorney, adds, "Andy showed up outside my house when he was 4 years old, saying, 'I'm Manning. FBI.' "

He fit the straight-laced mold, but Agent Manning also had an artistic side. A big fan of the Kingston Trio and the Mills Brothers, he could play a crisp tune on the guitar, banjo and ukulele, and had an excellent singing voice.

In his days at Mount St. Joseph High School, from which he graduated in 1959, he was a solid first baseman nicknamed "Lou" after Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees. He also lettered in basketball, playing against the likes of John Thompson at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington.

After graduating from the University of Maryland law school, he joined the FBI in 1966, chasing bank robbers and draft dodgers in upstate New York.

He later had stints in the Boston bank robbery squad and helped break up a Rochester-based Mafia crime family in the mid-1970s. But when he had the chance to return to Baltimore in 1978, he took it, even though Baltimore isn't the hottest field office in the FBI.

"Baltimore, thank God, is a town that's never had a Mafia. We looked for Mr. Goodbar -- Mr. Organized Crime -- but he just wasn't here," Mr. Manning recalls.

In early 1982, Dana Caro, then the special agent in charge of the Baltimore-area field office in Woodlawn, summoned Agent Manning to his office and made him the spokesman.

"I still to this day don't really know why he did that," Agent Manning says. "I had no experience with the media."

Mr. Caro, now retired from the FBI and the owner of a Carroll County robotics company, remembers that day.

"He just struck me as the perfect fellow to represent the FBI: very articulate, an outstanding personal appearance, affable, and a very man-to-man kind of guy," Mr. Caro says.

Agent Manning had a hiatus from the public affairs job from 1987 to 1991, when he worked in the FBI counterintelligence squad trying to identify KGB agents. But when the Berlin Wall came down, Agent Manning decided to go from spies back to the media.

In his retirement, he and his wife, Dee, will continue to live in Hunt Valley. He hopes to work for the FBI on a free-lance basis, doing background checks on incoming agents.

"I've done enough press conferences," he says. "Now I'm going to play golf."

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