Whitfield was born in New York in 1896. He spent part of his childhood in the Philippines with his father, the civil servant William H. Whitfield. In 1916, Whitfield fell ill and was returned to the U.S. for treatment. After recovering, Whitfield travelled to Hollywood and worked as a silent-film actor. Later, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served in the Flying Cadets in the last months of World War I.
Whitfield began writing for pulp magazines in 1924, and first appeared in Black Mask in 1926. Black Mask would become Whitfield's main market; the magazine's editor Joseph Shaw described Whitfield as a "hard, patient, determined worker". Whitfield became best known in the magazine for his stories about Jo Gar, a Filipino detective. These stories, set in the cosmopolitan boiling pot of inter-war Manila, were published collectively in 2002 as Jo Gar's Casebook'.
Whitfield's debut novel, Green Ice, was published in 1930. In the New York Evening Post, Hammett praised Green Ice: "Here are 280 pages of naked action pounded into tough compactness by staccato, hammerlike writing".
Whitfield ceased writing fiction and moved to Hollywood in the late 1930s. Although he was fairly wealthy, by the 1940s he had lost most of his money. Later, Whitfield contracted tuberculosis and had to be hospitalized. He died from the disease in January 1945.
- Encyclopedia Mysteriosa, edited by William L. DeAndrea. MacMillan, 1994, ISBN 0-02-861678-2 (p.374)
- The American private eye: the image in fiction. David Geherin, F. Ungar Pub. Co., 1985, ISBN 0804422435(p. 30)
- Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian. Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-510353-X (pp. 65–66)
- 'Jo Gar's Casebook' Crippen & Landru, Norfolk VA 2002
- A Dashiell Hammett Companion by Robert L. Gale. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000, ISBN 0-313-31095-5 (pp. 274–5).
- The Black mask boys: masters in the hard-boiled school of detective fiction by William F. Nolan. William Morrow, 1985 (p. 131)
Victor A. Berch. Biography at Black Mask Magazine.com .