IT WAS A SUNNY SUNDAY AFTERNOON AROUND 5 P.M. ON SEPT. 12, 1943, IN VENICE, CALIF., WHEN 12-YEAR-OLD LORRAINE SMITH happened to look out her window and notice something peculiar. There below was a burgundy Austin sports car heading east on Washington Boulevard. But something was off. The car was bumping and bouncing across the road that runs parallel to her home, narrowly avoiding crashing into a telephone pole before jumping the curb and finally landing in a bean field. Grabbing her telescope for a closer look, the young girl noticed something else: The man behind the wheel was nearly naked. And then things got really weird.
Wearing only blue bathing-suit trunks, the driver opened the car door and stumbled about 15 feet before falling to the ground, covered in blood. A man named Wayne Powell, who had witnessed the crash, rushed to the scene. “Help me, please help me!” cried the bloody, half-naked driver while writhing between beanstalks. Powell told him to lie still and save his energy. “Who did this?” Powell asked. The driver could not answer. Ten minutes later, he was dead.
The scene—complete with a steering wheel soaked in blood and bloody handprints on the drivers-side window—sounds like something that would come straight out of a pulpy 1940s film serial. Which makes the fact that the victim was the star of just such a project all the eerier.