Sheriff’s Homicide Detectives To Re-Examine Death Of Actress Natalie Wood

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will release new details Friday about its investigation into the death of actress Natalie Wood.

The “Splendor in the Grass” and “Rebel Without a Cause” star drowned while boating off Catalina Island on Nov. 29, 1981.

At the time, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office and sheriff’s department ruled her death an accident.

Homicide detectives announced Thursday that they are reopening their investigation because of new recollections from the ship’s captain, Dennie Davern, who released a book last year.

The book, which suggests foul play led to Wood’s death, provides salacious details about drug and alcohol use and bitter arguments onboard the boat.

“I just didn’t want my whole life to go by without having the truth come out,” Davern said in a recent “48 Hours” interview.

Davern also appeared on the “Today Show” Friday and said he believes Wagner intentionally kept the investigation into Wood’s death low-profile and didn’t do enough.

“Was the fight between Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner what ultimately led to her death?” show host David Gregory asked.

“Yes,” Davern replied.

“How so?”

“Like I said, that’s going to be up to the investigators to decide,” the captain said.

Wood was with her husband, Robert Wagner, and friend Christopher Walken the night before she died.

The trio ate dinner on Catalina Island before having drinks on the couple’s 60-foot yacht, Splendour.

All three had a fight about how much one’s personal life should be sacrificed for a career. After the fight calmed down, Wagner went to bed and said Wood wasn’t in their room.

He told investigators he searched for her, but wasn’t able to find her.

Her body turned up the next morning, a mile from the yacht. A dinghy was found beached nearby.

“Natalie would never, in a million years, take that dinghy out by herself,” Davern told “48 Hours”.

Davern tells Vanity Fair that he felt like a prisoner in Wagner’s home, which was protected by an alarm system, in the days following Wood’s death. He says the men would “cry on each other’s shoulders, with a glass of scotch in one hand and an arm around each other.”

“He used to give me checks,” Davern said. “A thousand, two thousand. My friends said it was hush money and that R.J. wouldn’t want anything to do with me after Splendour was gone. I used to tell him that R.J. wasn’t like that, that he was a real friend to me.”

In 2008, Wagner said he wasn’t happy with the investigation into his wife’s death.

“There was a lot of conjecture about what happened that night because we really didn’t know what happened,” he said. “I’m tired of not really knowing. I’m tired of the way the so-called investigation went at the time. I don’t think ‘I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Wagner’ is an investigation.”

Wagner issued a statement about the new investigation Thursday on behalf of his family.

“Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the LA County Sheriff’s department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and trust they will evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid, and that it comes from a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30 year anniversary of her tragic death.”

Wood’s sister, Lana, asked for the case to be reopened last March.

“I need to know how she felt. I know it’s not going to be easy and I know it’s going to hurt but I need to,” she said.

Anyone with information about Wood’s death is encouraged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at (323) 890-5641.

If you prefer to provide information anonymously, you may call Crime Stoppers by dialing (800)222-TIPS(8477), or by using the website

  • RIP Natalie

    Let it go. Walken and Wagner didn’t kill her, so who else could it be? She was drunk and fell in with a parka. The water was freezing. 2+2=?

    • graham quacker

      Rj (Real Jerk) punched her, didn’t intend to kill her …. but tell that to the judge in the penalty phase. GUILTY = 2nd degree manslaughter, 1st degree coverup.

    • freecheese

      How much money is Los Angeles Kolliforiia going to spend to investigate an 80-year old haz-ben actor for a drowning that happened 30-years ago ?

  • TRE

    She, just like anyone else, deserves an exhaustive investigation to ensure no foul play was involved. For them to re-open this case after all this time, they must have gotten a really good tip. Pursue it. That is how justice is satisfied.

  • Fernando1958

    when I read the news at the time I thought there was foul play. Is good that the case is being reopen.

  • Reba

    Homicide detectives won’t “let it go” because Wagner lied during the original investigation. He said that “rough seas” caused the broken glass, but in his autobio “Pieces Of My Heart” he admitting smashing the wine bottle in anger.

    The police do not like being lied to, and they do not like being made to look foolish.

  • Morris

    Let’s dig her up and have a look for signs of foul play.

  • Lisa Miller

    I have fallen off a boat in Catalina in the middle of the night myself. Your screams
    can be heard or I wouldn’t be here today. Have also wondered what really
    happened. A very talented person who has surely been missed.

    • graham quacker

      How did it happen that you fell off in the middle of the night, Lisa? Were you roaring drunk? Sleepwalking?!

  • Mehiimentalities

    They need to question Christopher Walken as well… and what he and Wag-ner were …uh… uh… how can I put it… ?

    Anyway, Walken was there to witness any altercations between her and himself…or was it Wagner and Walken with Natalie or the confrontation that may have happened by a furious woman who found the two men… uh… having a moment of bromance….

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  • Joseph

    Glad to see Wagner finally getting ahead of this story a little. Do people really think he killed Natalie? Jesus, just let it go. It was settled thirty years ago. Why make him relive it again? It’s not like he’s forgotten it. What good does this do? Do we have to review every case from that period? Why just this one? Because there’s money in it for someone. That’s why. Shameful.

  • dallas grozny

    read the full depositions from the tmz article. i was floored. if what they are saying is true, and if they can be proved credible witnesses, then this case stinks to high heaven. in particular, the witness statements from the boat’s captain about wagner’s behavior, actions and statements are particularly disturbing. he looks very, very guilty. very, very, very guilty.

    • Joseph

      I read the good Captain’s book when it came out two years ago and noted then that Wagner didn’t come off looking too great but I see no reason to drag this case into the light now–considering there are about a thousand unsolved homicides still waiting investigation in L.A. as we waste time on this unsavory chapter in these particular people’s lives. The Captain himself says his information is in the two year old book.

    • J.j. Erler

      He looks like a guy who argued with his wife and then she showed up dead. Even if you assume the bruises came from Wagner, bruises do not equal a murder. The problem with this case is I don’t see how they are going to come up with any evidence that proves Wagner did anything if he did — it’s just going to make him look really bad whether he did or didn’t do it. Imagine you had a drunken argument with your wife and she showed up dead and everyone thought you did it and the media were out to imply you did because it makes for a good story. Let’s not even go into the fact that both of the people calling for the investigation have written books they want to sell. The captain at best was a bad captain of his ship who lied to the police and at worst is putting wagner through this to make money.

      • Sammie Jo

        Maybe the captain had the hots for natalie and she rebuffed him and he killed her.
        Why are wagner and wolken the only two suspects?

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  • Eliot

    There are a few things about this. 1) If Natalie was really “deathly afraid” of the water, why on earth would she have a boat in the first place? 2) No one on the boat said they heard her yell for help that night, not anyone, not the captain, either. 3) It wouldn’t have mattered if they started to search for her 5 minutes after she went missing, because she drowned with an alcohol level in her blood of 0.14, so she was drunk, wearing a parka that got soaked with water and dragged her down, and since she didn’t yell for help, she doubtless went under immediately. In the freezing cold water, she would be dead already. 4) Whose memory is going to be perfect after 30 years? The boat captain suddenly decides to say that he lied to the police 30 years after it happened and we are supposed to just accept that? He admits he’s a liar, so how much can you believe of what a liar says? Nothing, if you are smart.

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  • J.j. Erler

    It seems a lot of people are sure because Wagner didn’t tell the truth originally he murdered Natalie Wood. But if you look at it from his perspective — you’re a big hollywood star. You smashed a bottle while arguing publicly with your wife loudly right before she disappears and turns up drowned. It looks very bad even if you’re completely innocent. Could you blame him for not wanting to be in the middle of a media circus of people accusing him of killing her??? Looks like it only got delayed 30 years. Also, I don’t buy the ‘she was afraid of water’ theory either, not because she was on the boat, but because she was drunk and on ludes. People who are both drunk and on pills do stupid things they would not normally do sober — even things they would be scared of sober. Also, the boat captain’s story originally was that he was playing music or something and couldn’t hear them. Now he says basically he heard what sounds like Wagner beating her. As the captain of the boat, if that’s what he thought at all why didn’t he go knock on their door and make sure she was ok. I’m sorry, it seems to me like they are trying to make money off the books.

    • Joseph

      Your analysis is absolutely right. My own notion is that the proceeds of the book have been exhausted after two years and they need to goose sales and get paid for public appearances to discuss a newly ‘hot’ topic. I recall what the D.A. did to Errol Flynn back in the early 40’s simply to make himself look good and settle old scores. This story is disgraceful. Wagner must live with himself–whatever he did or didn’t do that others might have improved on had they been in his shoes. I think he ought to be left alone at this point in his life.

  • Lin-Lin

    Natalie Wood was always one of two of my favorite actors. When this occurred in ’81, I always believed Wagner had something to do with it.
    #1 – Wood was extremely and financially successful while Wagner was not so much.
    #2 – Wagner believed that a romance between Natalie and Christopher Walken was occurring and may have believed a divorce from him (and he from her assets) was inevitable.
    #3 – This Wagner guy has had 30 years to ‘live it up’ while Natalie has not. Her fear of ‘deep water’ was life long and anyone who would throw her in…should be drowned himself!!!
    #4 – I’ve always believed he (Wagner) was responsible. Anyone out there please tell me WHO wouldn’t do everything they could to look for their spouse if they were found missing on a boat off of Catalina…unless they no longer wanted that spouse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Please do a thorough investigation this time and I’m glad Noguchi is no longer involved! Good luck Investigators!

    • Jenna

      Robert Wagner might not have been wealthy from his film / tv work, but he came from a wealthy family. I think steel or something. So I doubt it was $$. Plus, he married her twice…he loved her very much. :>

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  • Trini

    Where was Robert Blake on the night in question?

  • ragu4u

    Lean on Walken. He’ll crack like an egg.

  • Lin88

    I haven’t seen one person say “Book sales.” Sorry but I don’t think the boat captain has a guilty conscience; just poor book sales. The earlier post about her falling in with a parka on in cold water. Hello. Has anyone been n the water with clothes on and not a bathing suit; they drag you down. Been there done that when a catamaran tipped over.

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