The Unsolved ‘Masked Marvel’ Murder
Actor from 1946 serial mysteriously dies from stabbing after a car accident; Killer never caught.
A struggling actor meets a bizarre and unexpected in 1946 after he was seen driving erratically before crashing and dying moments later. A sweater which didn’t belong to him is among the few clues found in his car afterward.
David Bacon born in Barnstable, Massachusetts to a family who was one of the prominent and politically active Boston Brahmin families at the time. His father, Gaspar G. Bacon, was on the board of Harvard University, and later served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in the 1930s.
Born into privilege and wealth, Bacon graduated from Harvard. During summers he spent time with his family at Woods Hole on Cape Cod. It was at this point, during the early 1930s, that he became involved with the “University Players,” at West Falmouth. There, he met James Stewart and Henry Fonda (a.k.a Jane Fonda’s father), both of whom were relatively unknown at this time. Later on during this time, Bacon shared accommodations both Stewart and Fonda as he struggled with establishing his acting career.
At a point in his life when his career in acting was failing to progress, Bacon drifted for the next several years, eventually moving to Los Angeles where he met and later married an Austrian singer named Greta Keller.
Years later, Keller disclosed that she and Bacon were both gay and got into a “lavender marriage” for the sake of their reputations and respective burgeoning careers in Hollywood. According to Keller, Bacon’s type was tall, blond men a point of which will come up later.
In 1942, Bacon met Howard Hughes. It is with Hughes that Bacon got into an exclusive contract with the intent of getting cast as Billy the Kid for the film The Outlaw in 1940. However, he ultimately did not get the role. Despite this, Hughes kept Bacon to the terms of his contract, casting him in several smaller parts. During this point, Keller alleged that Hughes and Bacon were in a secret relationship, and it was this alleged secret relationship that prevented Bacon from getting the role. Hughes’s widely known status as a womanizer at the time put considerable doubt into this rumor though. Rumors aside, Hughes later gave Bacon a role in the Republic Pictures serial The Masked Marvel (1943). As for the serial itself, it was produced with a low budget and consequently regarded as a low point in Bacon’s career. Bacon himself went on to express regret in his involvement in the project. For better or worse, the serial remains the best-remembered out of all his work. Aside from that, there’s arguably one other aspect about him that remains memorable.
On September 12, 1943, witnesses observed Bacon driving erratically in Santa Monica, California, before running off the road on Washington Boulevard near Thatcher Avenue and crashing into a bean field. After the crash, Bacon climbed out of the car, before collapsing. As bystanders rushed to his aid, Bacon was said to have asked for their help only to succumb to his injury before he could say anything more.
During his subsequent autopsy, a small puncture wound was discovered in his back which punctured his lung and was the determined cause of his death. Although the murder weapon was never located or identified, it’s suggested have been a 6-inch knife with a handle that would have made it a foot long. Later, it was determined that he had been stabbed 15–20 minutes before the crash.
Investigator also learned during the investigation that Bacon had rented a small cottage nearby.
At the time of his death, Bacon was wearing a swimsuit. During a search through his car, his wallet and a camera were found inside. A robbery motive was soon ruled out as nothing appeared stolen. One rumor surrounding the case is that a single image was found on the camera after the film from it had gotten developed. According to the rumor, the alleged photograph depicts Bacon in the nude while smiling on a beach; no such proof has been found to suggest the photo is real, however.
Other items also found in Bacon’s car were a wool sweater that notably did not belong to him, several short blond hairs, and a feather from a waterfowl. The sweater was later determined to have come from Venice High School, of which had only was given to student-athletes from the school six years earlier. Also, Keller stated Bacon went to the beach frequently, and always took his three dogs along when he did so. From this, authorities believed Bacon had met with someone, as he had left his dogs at home that day.
Bacon was allegedly seen with an unknown man and woman in his car earlier in the day by several witnesses. Another witness alleged to have seen an unidentified man with black hair and a dark complexion with Bacon in the latter’s car, moments before the crash. Whomever this man was, it is assumed that they were either the mystery person Bacon had arranged to meet up with that day, or merely a hitchhiker. The mystery man and woman mentioned by other witnesses have similarly not been identified.
In a strange twist, a friend of Bacon later claimed of being blackmailed, only to recant their statement the following day. As mentioned earlier, several rumors arose of a secret affair between Hughes and Bacon, and that Bacon was planning on releasing a book about their secret relationship to blackmail the former. When asked about this, Keller stated she had no idea of the friend’s alleged blackmail. She also believed that her husband was in a secret relationship with Hughes. To date, there has been no proof to these rumors.
Sadly, despite the publicity it generated at the time, the case remains unsolved, and the many questions surrounding it still unanswered.
Who killed the Masked Marvel?
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon around 5 p.m. on Sept. 12, 1943, in Venice, Calif., when 12-year-old Lorraine Smith…
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