Arts and Leisure

The Mysterious Death of Cape Cod’s David Bacon

In September of 1943, witnesses saw David Bacon drive his sports car off a California highway and into a bean field. As would-be rescuers rushed to his aid, he pleaded for help. The interior of the car was soaked with blood. Who had done this to him, they asked the dying man. Bacon didn't answer then, and the question has never been answered to this day.

david bacon

Tom Steele and Dale Van Sickel in The Masked Marvel (1943)

Born in 1914, Bacon came from a privileged background. His birth name was Gaspar Griswold Bacon. His grandfather had been a partner in J.P. Morgan's financial empire and took a political turn, becoming U.S. ambassador to France. His father, Gaspar, had entered Massachusetts politics, rising to the rank of Senate president and then lieutenant governor. He peaked in a run for governor against James Michael Curley, the populist mayor of Boston.

Curley caricatured Bacon as an elite Republican. During the campaign Curley hired a Bacon look-alike to drive around and shout at public works employees to "stop leaning on your shovels."

It could have been expected that David Bacon, born in Barnstable, would rise to prominence, as well. Educated at Groton and Harvard, the younger Gaspar Bacon took a different path, however. He wanted to become an actor. Bacon trained to fly planes and hobnobbed with the well-to-do. He was a family friend of the Roosevelts and a visitor to the White House.

Starting out in theater on Cape Cod, Bacon got friendly with Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda, then unknowns. And he would later use these and other connections to struggle up the rungs of success in Hollywood.

But there were hints at a less savory side to Bacon's playboy life. For a brief time he lived in New York, and he was rumored to be a gigolo. With his acting career struggling to take off, Bacon moved to Los Angeles in 1939, just two years after graduating from Harvard.

In Hollywood Bacon got a screen test and a contract with aviation magnate Howard Hughes, who was also a movie producer. Hughes saw the name Gaspar as a non-starter and gave the young actor the stage name David Bacon. But Bacon had another problem. He was gay. For Bacon, the solution was to find a gay woman that he could marry: singer Gretta Keller. The two married in 1942, and Greta was soon pregnant. Greta was a singer and actress whose career would span nearly 50 years. She revealed later in life that the marriage was merely one of convenience so that both could pursue their careers.

David Bacon's acting career was slowly getting off the ground in 1943. He had small roles in Hughes' pictures, and Hughes agreed to loan him to Republic Pictures. Republic was producer of many serials, including a 12-part series about the Masked Marvel. The Masked Marvel was a man in a business suit whose face was obscured by an iron mask. His mission was to fight Japanese spies.

Bacon was part of the team that investigated the spying, one of four men who included the Masked Marvel. Bacon landed the role because four other actors had gotten injured and could not play the part. He joked that the role would probably lead to an injury. Then he was murdered.

Greta's pregnancy was a difficult one, and in the aftermath of David's death she lost the baby. Police investigated the case for months. David had been stabbed with a knife with a six-inch blade. It was never recovered. The theories run from the wild to the pedestrian.

Some speculated it was a hitchhiker who killed David Bacon. Greta later told people she believed Howard Hughes was involved in the murder, that it was tied to a homosexual affair between Hughes and Bacon. Others speculated it was the offshoot of a blackmail attempt gone wrong. David was found with a camera in his car. A roll of film inside contained just one photo, a picture of David standing nude at the beach.

No one was ever charged in the murder of Gaspar Bacon, Jr. And no one probably ever will. David Bacon was somewhat embarrassed by the role of the Masked Marvel, though it is the one he is most remembered for today. Oddly, David was not the only member of the cast of the Masked Marvel to be murdered. A fellow actor, Rod Bacon, also was murdered a few years later in 1948.

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