The MASKED MARVEL?
by tom christopher
It was a little after 5 PM on Sunday,12 September 1943, in Venice California. A small English Austin sedan drove drunkenly eastward on Washington Blvd. Mrs B. Waterson observed the car and it’s passenger, a man with dark hair, from her house on Washington.
Moments later 12 year old Lorraine Smith saw the car almost hit a telephone pole before jumping a curb near the corner of Thatcher Street, and crashing into a beanfield. Neither she nor her mother left their house at 1006 Harrison Street because they believed the driver to have been drunk. Probably the mother expressed this opinion. Loraine got her telescope, and running back to the window, watched as a man clad only in swimming trunks staggered out and fell to the ground. She watched as her neighbor, Wayne Powell, of 1022 Harrison ran to the man.
Wayne Powell rushed to the man’s side in time to hear him say “help me, help me”. “Who did it?” asked Powell, but there was no answer. David Bacon was dead.
Gaspar Griswold Bacon Jr. was born 24 March 1914 in Barnstable, Massachusetts. He was the son of Gaspar G Bacon, who had been the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, professor of law at Boston University, and lieutenant colonel in the Air Corps in England. The elder Bacon’s father had been Robert Bacon, Secretary of State for Theodore Roosevelt and Ambassador to France during the Taft administration.
The younger Bacon was a school friend of Franklin D Roosevelt Jr and was a frequent visitor at the White House and Hyde Park. He attended Deerfield Academy, Groton, and Harvard, where he wrote and performed in the annual Hasty Pudding show. He graduated in 1937. Bacon joined the University Players in Fallmouth, Mass, a company which already contained Henry Fonda and James Stewart. He left the company hoping to find movie work in New York, and ended up being a master of ceremonies in a silent movie theatre.
During this time he also pursued an interest in aviation, learning to fly and working as a commercial flyer in Hyannis, Mass, before becoming a U.S. Army Airforce Cadet at Randolph Field in Texas. He was dropped because of health problems, and went to L.A. to break into the movies. Bacon was tall, thin and good looking. Six foot two with brown hair and green eyes. He got a screen test in 1939 with Metro, which was seen by Ginger Rogers, who helped him get further tests. He was signed by Howard Hughes and changed his name to David Bacon
David’s first movie was called Ten Gentlemen from Westpoint, released in 1942. In 1943 David acted in the movies Crash Dive and Gals Incorporated. He also played the roll for which he is best known, The Masked Marvel. The Masked Marvel was a 12 chapter serial from Republic, who produced the best known of the serials. In it the Marvel, a hero dressed in a business suit and a face mask fights the Japanese saboteur Sakima. The hook of the story is that the audience doesn’t know who the hero is until the final reel. The Masked Marvel was a ‘jinx’ role. Bacon got it because four previous actors had injured themselves and were unable to work.
David Bacon married Austrian opera star Gretta Keller in 1942. He and Gretta lived in a mansion called Castle Hill, at 8444 Magnolia Drive on Lookout Mountain in Hollywood, an exclusive area above Laurel Canyon. By Fall of 1943, Gretta was pregnant with their first child.
It was a complicated pregnancy somehow. Gretta’s health was poor, and David enjoyed swimming. He would often swim at the Santa Monica beach house of their friend Geraldine Spreckles, and he and Gretta had been planning to go there on the afternoon of 12 September, 1943.
Gretta had been ill and phoned her doctor who advised her not to go. David didn’t want to go without her. Gretta sat up in bed writing letters and dropped off for a nap. When she awoke David was gone.
David’s death was only briefly noted in the next days papers, but the story took some funny twists and newspaper stories inevitably turned on these mysteries and the name of the Masked Marvel.
Los Angeles Detective Lieutenants Harry Fremont and Lloyd Hurst were assigned to the case. At first they believed Bacon had been killed by a hitch hiker or chance acquaintance, but they immediately made some discoveries.
Firstly, David Bacon had never arrived at Geraldine Spreckles home, and he had not taken his three dogs with him as he usually did. This indicated to the detectives that he had a specific destination or appointment.
Next it was discovered that he had recently rented a cottage in Laurel Canyon, at the bottom of Lookout Mountain. His wife explained it was for the use of a man who was going to do some work on their house, but police noted that there was a trailer on the Bacon’s property that was suitable for that use. The wallet recovered from Bacon’s body contained a key for that cottage.
The owner of the cottage, Dr Charles Hendricks, a retired physician, had met Bacon at the cottage in the company of an unidentified man less than 48 hours before his death. Hendricks and Bacon met in order for them to finalize their rental agreement. Hendricks stated “The friend was rather red in the face and I gathered that they had been quarreling before I came in, though Bacon himself was quite calm”. The man was described as about 35 years old, five foot eight inches, weighing 140 pounds and ‘evidently an Austrian’.
Food, 3 women’s purses, towels, linens, personal effects, a booklet titled Facts of Life and two books, Noel Coward’s To Step Aside, and Deliah by Marcus Goodrich were found in the cottage and removed as evidence, but discounted when a man named Wilfred V Buckland Jr, who’s name was found in the books, stepped forward and told police he had lent the items to a friend, Harry Frazee who had stayed briefly in the cottage while in Los Angeles.
Detectives Fremont and Hurst found four persons who recognized Bacon as someone who often frequented a certain stretch of Venice Beach, either alone or with his dogs. Gretta Bacon expressed surprise at this news stating that David would never let her go to Venice, nor accompany her there.
Gretta revealed that Bacon kept a secret diary written in code. She did not know it’s location and the police searched the house for a couple of days before her deteriorating health led them to call off the search.
Bacon was killed by a single knife wound that pierced his lower heart. According to Dr Frank R Webb, county autopsy surgeon, a person could live for twenty minutes with such a wound. The interior of Bacon’s car was soaked with blood, and there was no blood on the outside. It was never clear whether Bacon was stabbed inside or outside the car. The knife was never found, despite the beanfield being thoroughly searched and local businesses questioned.
Mrs Watterson, one of the witnesses claimed to have seen a passenger in the car. Lorraine Smith had claimed to have seen a man and woman. Donald Roberts of 15 Clubhouse Street, while at a gas station on Washington Blvd claimed to have seen a man and woman with Bacon. “I saw them pass at 4:30 PM Sunday driving toward the beach and return about 35 minutes later. The man was about five feet four inches and dark complected.”
A heavy blue wool sweater was found in the back of Bacon’s car and later identified as a type given to Venice High School athletes about 6 years previously.
The blade of the knife that killed Bacon was about 6 inches. With a handle that would make it a foot long. Medical Experts doubted that such a knife could have been used so lethally in the small car. Had Bacon driven his assailants around for as much as twenty minutes while he bled to death?
One strange turn occurred on 20 September when the Los Angeles Examiner was contacted by Blakely A Patterson, identified as a band singer and actor. Patterson, a recent arrival from Hibbing Minnesota claimed to have known Bacon for about 2 months. He said he had met Bacon while swimming at Santa Monica Beach, and they exchanged names and addresses after a casual conversation. Patterson allegedly had dinner with Bacon a couple of times, once in the company of another man. On the day of his death, Patterson claimed that Bacon had told him the man they ate with was blackmailing him for an unspecified reason. He said Bacon asked him to go and meet the man but that he was unable to do so.
The next day Blakely recanted his story, saying he had met a man named David who he mistakenly identified as David Bacon, and admitted the part of his story about the extortion was a fabrication. He claimed to have had a nervous breakdown as a medical student before coming to Los Angeles and having made up the story to get his photo in the paper. Patterson was arrested and released the next day, along with Glenn Shaum, an AWOL sailor who was arrested when his phone number was found in Bacon’s address book. He stated Bacon has hired him to do yardwork, but then canceled the deal a few days before the murder.
Detective Captain Thad Brown revealed on 20 September that Gretta Bacon had been hospitalized and that her condition had worsened. Later that week it was revealed that the baby had been still born that day at Hollywood Hospital. Detectives Hurst and Freemont had been quoted in the press as saying that the investigation was being delayed because of Mrs Bacon’s ill health. The newspaper report of the baby’s still birth mentions Mrs Bacon was expected to be in the hospital for another ten days and then travel to her husband’s family, and after that, the story slips off the pages, except for a brief time weeks later when Charles While, a 23 year old from Santa Monica confessed to the police of committing the murder, but he knew so little of the circumstances that the police never took him seriously.
And that’s how the story will probably end. Wealthy playboy David Bacon, who as the Masked Marvel saved America’s war industries from the sabotage of the insidious Dr Sakima was killed by a mysterious stranger who committed the perfect murder. Recent requests to the Los Angeles Police Dept and the FBI have revealed that all files pertaining to this case have been destroyed.
(unknown source) 4 line biography, David Bacon
Pic (magazine) 15 Feb 44 page 47, following
Biography of David Bacon. Promotional Press Release, 20th Century Fox, circa 1941
Who Was Who on the Screen (E.M. Truitt)David Bacon entry
To Be Continued… (Weiss and Goodgold) Masked Marvel entry
Revenge of the Creature Features Movie Guide (Stanley) Masked Marvel entry
Los Angeles Examiner:
13 Sept, 14 Sept, 15 Sept, 17 Sept, 18 Sept, 20 Sept, 21 Sept, 24 Sept 1943
14 Sept, 22 or 23 Sept 1943
Correspondence with FBI, LAPD re: destruction of files, 1996 – 1998
All Text Copyright tom christopher
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