The ‘Masked Marvel Murder’ – Part 1

'The Masked Marvel'
David Bacon in “The Masked Marvel.”

Sept. 13, 1943, David Bacon Murder


D
avid G.G. Bacon died on the afternoon of Sept. 12, 1943, at the age of 29 with many secrets: A secret diary kept in code, coded annotations in his address book and most of all a secret hideaway about a mile from his home. Bacon appeared in Republic’s Masked Marvel serial, so I’ll call it the “Masked Marvel Murder.”

Sept. 14, 1943, Lowell Sun

The area of Los Angeles where he died was fairly rural in the 1940s,  with little besides bean fields and roadside watermelon stands along Washington Boulevard, so Lorraine Smith, who lived at 1006 Harrison St., had a clear view of the maroon-colored British auto (apparently with right-hand drive, which will be important later) weaving east on Washington.

She said:

I saw the little car wavering along the street. First it nosed into the curb on the south side of the street. Then it went diagonally across the street, over the north curb and into the bean field.

Another neighbor, Wayne Powell, 1022 Harrison St., went to the car after it crashed. A man “in blue denim shorts and with the upper portion of his body bare” staggered about 15 feet from the car, “blood streaming from a wound in the left side of his back,” The Times said.

image 

David Bacon, right, as Dr. Gil Page in “The Boss of Big Town.”


Powell said:

I knelt beside him and he whispered “Please help me” two times and then he died…. He was just lying there between two bean stacks, kicking and squirming. I told him to lie still and save his energy. Before he died, I asked him who had done it but he couldn’t say.


L
ater investigation showed that the wound was 5 inches deep and 3/4 of an inch wide, probably made with a commando-style knife, according to police. From the position of the wound, police believed “he was struck without warning as he leaned forward in the car, possibly to close a door,” The Times said.

United Press writer Frederick C. Othman noted in a Sept. 14, 1943, story:

Only surmise of the police was that Bacon may have picked up a hitchhiker, who stabbed him when he leaned forward, possibly to release the parking brake. This theory sounded phony, even to the officers who propounded it, and they urged reporters to think up a better one — or page Inspector [Ellery] Queen.

According to a Sept. 15, 1943, story by the Associated Press, Dr. Frank R. Webb, county autopsy surgeon, said the wound 5 1/2 to  6 inches deep, had struck the lower sac of the heart and caused a hemorrhage of the left lung.

“A man with a wound like that might have lived 20 minutes,” Webb said.

A third witness, Mrs. B. Watterson, 2335 Washington Blvd., said she had passed the car just before the crash and had seen a man in a dark suit sitting next to the driver. Watterson’s comments in Othman’s story are particularly interesting: “She noticed them particularly, she said, because the driver appeared to be naked. His companion, she reported, was dark-clad.”

A man at a service station about a half-mile west of the crash told police that he had seen a man and woman in the car.

Sept. 18, 1943, Mystery Sweater

Items found in the victim’s wallet identified him as movie actor David G.G. Bacon, 28, 8444 Magnolia Ave., The car was registered to his wife, singer Greta Keller, who was about five months pregnant.

According to news reports, the interior of the car was soaked with blood, but there wasn’t a drop on the exterior, supporting the idea that he had been stabbed while in the vehicle. A bathrobe found in the car was also soaked with blood but there was no knife mark, so investigators believed Bacon hadn’t been wearing it when he was stabbed.

“The various parts of the interior bore many fingerprints — all Bacon’s,” according to an Associated Press story. “The upholstery was smeared with blood and there were a few smears on the steering wheel.”

“Officers said Bacon’s shorts were dry, indicating he had not been in the water, but said some sand clung to them as though he had been lolling on the beach,” the AP said.

Police discounted robbery as a motive, noting that there was  $13 in his wallet and that he was wearing two valuable rings.

The only clue was a crew-neck sweater with several blond hairs, which Powell took from the car and placed under Bacon’s head as he was dying. Investigators found that the sweater was too small to fit Bacon and speculated that it might have belonged to the killer.

To be continued.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1943, Crime and Courts, Film, Hollywood, LAPD. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The ‘Masked Marvel Murder’ – Part 1

  1. Eve says:

    I had read about this in Variety obits–wow, what a mystery! Poor guy, I will have to see if he is on YouTube. It could be anything: blackmail, sex, drugs, psycho acquaintance, even that poo-poo’d hitchhiker.

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    • lmharnisch says:

      He had a very modest career. The newspapers claimed he played the Masked Marvel but in reality he was way down the cast list.

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    • aryedirect says:

      In the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, I read both trades every day. And the first thing I turned to in Daily Variety were the obits. They had color and respect. For most of those years my career goal was to have the biggest obit in Variety that day. Alas, though I still live, my goal has long since perished from this Earth… Now my goal is Impermanence.

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  2. aryedirect says:

    Wondering if some sort of war time espionage was in play?

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  3. William Desmond Taylor says:

    Can’t wait for the next installment. So many weird and unfathomable unsolved murders from LA / Hollywood in the 20th century. Thanks for sharing!

    What was the rate of conviction for murders in the period, Larry? Talk about getting away with murder!

    Back in the day it must have been an extremely small percentage of crimes solved. Along with getting away with murder, the question seems to be *why* they got away with it. Some was obviously protecting the movie industry from scandal. Mostly, it seems you could get away with murder in LA thanks to questionable police and city governments always drifting somewhere between negligence, graft and incompetence.

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  4. Eve says:

    Variety obits were rarely accurate, but often colorful. Before Peter Bart ruined Variety, they covered everyone: if the mother of a secretary of C.B. DeMille’s assistant died, she got an obit.

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  5. Don Danard says:

    Bacon was doubled by stuntman Tom Steele for all the fights and action stuff and actor William Forrest was placed up in first billing. I once asked him about that and he confessed he’d never seen the serial and was unaware of the billing situation. And, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a dandy serial, one of Republic’s best. And that’s despite the four weak actors who played the various Masked Marvel suspects. We never found out until the end of the serial who was behind the mask. And oddly enough, Steele, who should have been billed first as was the original idea, was dropped down, as you mentioned, in the cast list.

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