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Investigation into actress Natalie Wood's death reopened

The actress died in 1981. It was assumed she drowned after falling into the water accidentally, following an evening drinking with her husband Robert Wagner and friend Christopher Walken.

Natalie Wood in 1979
Natalie Wood in 1979
Image: AP Photo, file)

A YACHT CAPTAIN has accused the husband of actress Natalie Wood of being responsible for her drowning 30 years ago.

Wood died in mysterious circumstances and her death has remained one of Hollywood’s enduring mysteries.

Yacht captain Dennis Davern said on US TV today that he lied to investigators about Wood’s mysterious death and blames the actress’ husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California.

Homicide detectives unexpectedly re-opened the case yesterday that had long been classified as a tragic accident.

The Oscar-nominated actress died in the chilly waters off Southern California on November 29, 1981, after spending several hours drinking on Catalina Island and a yacht with Wagner, fellow actor Christopher Walken and the ship’s captain, Davern.

Davern, skipper of the Splendour, told NBC’s Today show this morning that he made mistakes by not telling the truth about events leading to the Thanksgiving weekend death and had urged Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide investigators to reopen the case.

“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.

Davern said he believes Wagner had intentionally kept the investigation into Wood’s death low profile and didn’t do everything he could have done.

Wagner spokesman Alan Nierob said Friday a statement he released yesterday spoke for itself.

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.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Thursday the renewed inquiry was prompted by unspecified new information about Wood’ case.

The Los Angeles Times reported that detectives were prompted to reopen it because of comments from Davern, who was recently interviewed for a collaboration between the magazine Vanity Fair and the television series 48 Hours Mystery.

In the magazine, Davern is quoted as saying that Wood and Wagner fought in their cabin before the actress disappeared.

Coroner’s officials ruled her death an accidental drowning, perhaps caused by her slipping off the boat while trying to tie down a dinghy.

Coroner’s officials at the time wrote that Wood was “possibly attempting to board the dinghy and had fallen into the water, striking her face.”

It is not the first time Davern has contradicted statements he and others made to investigators after Wood’s death.

Sheriff’s officials are also hoping for tips from the public that may shed new light on how Wood, who was afraid of being in the water, ended up drowning.

Wood, a three-time Oscar nominee famous for roles in “West Side Story,” ”Rebel Without a Cause” and other Hollywood hits, was 43 when she died.

She and Wagner, star of the TV series “Hart to Hart,” were twice married, first in 1957 before divorcing six years later. They remarried in 1972.

Wagner wrote in a 2008 autobiography that on the night of Wood’s disappearance, the couple and Walken drank at a restaurant and on the boat.

Wood went to the master cabin during an argument between her husband and Walken.

The last time Wagner saw his wife, she was fixing her hair in the bathroom and she shut the door.

Wagner wrote that it was impossible to know what exactly happened.

“Nobody knows,” he wrote.

There are only two possibilities; either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.
Did I blame myself? If I had been there, I could have done something. But I wasn’t there. I didn’t see her.

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Associated Press

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