HOLLYWOOD, CA — On September 13, 1943, David Gaspar Bacon, a handsome and wealthy playboy who found fame playing “The Masked Marvel” in the movies, was the victim of a fatal stabbing.
Bacon’s murder mystery — which is still unsolved — and the cryptic clues left behind would prove to be as bizarre as any of the twists he filmed onscreen.
On the day he died, a witness saw Bacon’s car weaving erratically near Washington Boulevard before crashing into a bean field, and a second spectator ran to help Bacon. The actor climbed out of his car wearing only swim shorts and staggered a few feet before collapsing in a pool of his own blood.
An investigation later determined that Bacon had been killed by a single knife wound to the back. A wallet and camera were found in his car, and when the film from the camera was developed, it was found to contain only one image of Bacon — nude and smiling on a beach. Police theorized that the photograph had been taken shortly before his death by his killer.
Police found blood smears and fingerprints in the car — which, according to reports, all belonged to Bacon. Another clue was a crew-neck sweater with several blond hairs, which was found in the car and placed by a witness under Bacon’s head as he lay dying. Since the sweater was too small to fit Bacon. police believed that it could have belonged to the killer.
According to the autopsy surgeon, the blade was around six inches long — and Bacon could have lived for 20 minutes after being stabbed. It was never clear whether Bacon was stabbed inside or outside the car, and the murder weapon was never found.
Investigators searched for clues, but have never determined exactly what happened inside that car or if Bacon knew his attacker — or if, as some experts believe, he may have been forced to drive his killer, or killers, around as he bled to death.
Bacon was born on March 24, 1914, in Barnstable, Massachusetts. He came from a background of wealth and privilege. He had been educated at Deerfield Acadamy, Groton, and Harvard; his father served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts; and his grandfather had been Secretary of State for Theodore Roosevelt and Ambassador to France for President Taft.
While summering on Cape Cod, a young Bacon met James Stewart and Henry Fonda, who he later lived with while he struggled to establish himself.
After working as a commercial flyer and drifting for several years, Bacon moved to New York. During his time there he was supported by a wealthy British patron, which led to speculation that he was a gigolo.
Bacon later moved to Los Angeles, where he met and married Austrian opera singer Gretta Kellner in 1942. The couple lived in the Hollywood Hills, and in 1943, Gretta became pregnant with their first child.
But their perfect Hollywood marriage was a sham: In her later years, Kellner revealed that Bacon was homosexual and that she was a lesbian, and that their marriage had allowed both of them to maintain a facade of a “normal” couple so that they could continue to work in Hollywood.
Bacon’s height and striking green eyes soon landed him a screen test with Metro, and in 1942 his first movie, Ten Gentlemen from Westpoint, was released. This was followed by Crash Dive, Gals Incorporated, and The Masked Marvel — the 12 chapter serial for which he is best remembered.
Bacon played the Marvel, a hero dressed in a business suit and a face mask, who fights his Japanese archenemy Sakima. Since Bacon was wearing a mask, the audience did not know who played the hero until the ending.
On the day he was killed, Bacon had reportedly been planning to go to the Santa Monica beach house of their friend Geraldine Spreckles to take a dip.
At first, LAPD detectives believed Bacon could have been killed by a hitchhiker or stranger, but soon found evidence that pointed in another direction. They found out that Bacon had recently rented a cottage in Laurel Canyon, and, in his wallet, they found a key for that cottage.
The owner of the cottage told police that had met Bacon at the cottage in the company of an unidentified man less than 48 hours before his death. He described the man as about 35 years old, five foot eight inches, weighing 140 pounds, and “evidently an Austrian” — and said it seemed that he and Bacon had been arguing.
Gretta revealed that Bacon kept a secret diary written in code. Police searched for it, but it was never found. His attorney also claimed that Bacon had had a premonition that he would die, and left behind a hand-written will only three months before his murder.
Another witness came forward who claimed to have seen a man and woman riding with with Bacon on the day he died, while a man who had been at a service station about a half-mile west of the crash told police that he had seen two people — a man and woman — in the car with Bacon.
On September 20, the case took another strange turn when the Los Angeles Examiner was contacted by Blakely A. Patterson, an actor who said he had met Bacon while swimming at Santa Monica Beach and had dinner with him a couple of times. 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.
But the next day Blakely recanted his story, saying he had mistakenly identified the man he met as David Bacon, and made up the extortion story. He was arrested, but soon released.
Gretta Bacon collapsed when she heard about her husband’s death. She was hospitalized, and it was later reported that her baby had been stillborn at Hollywood Hospital.
No one was ever charged in connection with Bacon’s murder, and the case remains unsolved.
Main photo: Masked Marvel movie poster [Wikimedia Commons]