LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The lifeguard who recovered Natalie Wood’s body from the waters off Catalina Island 30 years ago say he believes she could have been saved.

Former Los Angeles County supervising rescue boat Cpt. Roger Smith tells the Los Angeles Times he learned Wood was missing four hours after her disappearance.

Smith says Wood was likely alive for hours after she entered the water.

“She probably cried for help for hours,” he told the LA Times. “I’ve always believed she could have been saved. Her fingers were still pliable when she was pulled from the water, suggesting she had not been dead for hours.”

The “Splendor in the Grass” and “Rebel Without a Cause” star drowned 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 last week 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.

Wood’s 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.

Wagner issued a statement about the new investigation 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.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detectives say Wagner is not a suspect in Wood’s 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 told KCAL9’s Stacey Butler.

“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,” she added.

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

Comments (15)
  1. smiley says:

    What’s the story on Walken, anyway? I heard that he was having an affair with Natalie, and that she was the one who invited him to come along. How could he have not herard her screaming for help, when from away, those three witness’s heard her crying for help that night. It sounds like all them, Wagner, Walken, and the ugly captain, were involved in someway or another in poor Natilie’s death.

    1. Annie C. says:

      I think it is important they are reopening this case. I hope they unravel what really happened that night and justice is served. I just picked up a few books on Natalie Wood. I am starting with the memoir by her sister that someone recommended to me because I know it is from someone who knew her intimately. I’ll post the link if you are interested below. I am curious why they closed the case to begin with over 20 years ago. Why did they not investigate all these facts then?


    WOW, poor Natalie…..The moment I heard she ha died, I immediately thought about er husband……Now the Captain comes out with the truth….I guess he does have a conscious…..What do you think?? THE THING TO REMEMBER IS THAT “IF IT’S DONE IN THE DARK, IT WILL BE REVEALED IN THE LIGHT”…OOPS!!! THE LIGHT IS ON……RIP NATALIE

    1. smily says:

      The captain passed a lie detector test with flying colors and has been granted immunity by the DA. Wagner and Walken are cooked ducks.

  3. Sparks says:

    “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.”

    I’ve read this before. Implies Hollywood owned the Sheriffs. How does Wagner control the investigation?

  4. Jasmin Martin says:

    No one can know the truth about Natalie Wood’s death unless someone saw it happened, recorded it etc or someone confesses. Let the Lord deal with it, its too far gone and people are going to tell lies in order to get attention and try to make money off a dead story.

  5. Proud American says:

    Well, considering it was common knowledge that she got her first few “acting” jobs by giving the directors blow jobs when she was 15 and 16, I’m not surprised she was having an affair on her husband. That said, only two people know what happened, and one of them is dead. Whether she fell, was pushed, or jumped to get away from whoever is what needs to be determined in order to place blame.

  6. rx says:

    1. Someone can hide informations about a murder (or even an accident) for 30 years and not go to jail?
    2. Are the interviews payed?

  7. jrs says:

    When will people learn? Nobodies who had some small connection to a celebrity, then write books badmouthing those same celebriities 30 (or 10, or 20) years later, are very likely opportunistic lowlifes.

    They always say some BS about how they ‘want the truth to come out” and ”it always bothered me”, etc. So they wake up decades later, spewing dirt, mostly in the form of unprosecutable innuendo & coy implications—about other people, and writing books and doing the tak show circuit, grabbing their undeserved 15 minutes.
    How %#&$ selfless of you.

  8. Lousie says:

    I really hope they solve this case. I just started reading on my Kindle the memoir, NATALIE, A MEMOIR BY HER SISTER, LANA WOOD. My parents were huge fans of Natalie Wood and I remember hearing about her tragic death when I was little. I know the facts are right because it’s coming from Natalie’s sister who lived those events with her, not some writer who came in after the fact. I really hope they solve what happened that night. She was an amazing actress.

  9. jeff says:

    Where is Stephanie Powers in all this. Didn’t “RJ” get together with his “Hart to Hart” co-star just days after he got rid of Natalie?

  10. Isn’t anyone disturbed that they waited 30 years – around the anniversary of Natalie Wood’s death – to bring this up again? Especially when a book about the incident is being published?

    If they believed that Wagner was really responsible, why wait this long? Why publish a book about it, 30 years after the fact, before questioning the incident again?

    1. smily says:

      I have a reliable source who has told me that the Captain passed a lie dectector test with flying colors. Wagner will be indicted by the grand jury eventually. The only question is, why had Walken hired a high-powered entertainment attorney, if he was sleeping like he’s stated for the last 30 years.

  11. ASik Gara says:

    All you have to on your first triathlon is really a floating around outfit ; a set of shorts and a t-shirt to place in around your own swim equipment for that motorcycle and also work stage ;…swim googles