L.A. County Sheriff's Department to Reopen Mystery of Natalie Wood's Death

New information has apparently been brought forth concerning Natalie Wood's sudden 1981 death. Will an investigation reveal what really happened?

L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to Reopen Mystery of Natalie Wood’s Death

New information has apparently been brought forth concerning Natalie Wood’s sudden 1981 death. Will an investigation reveal what really happened?

-Lucia Peters

Natalie Wood

No doubt about it: Natalie Wood was a star. Making her first onscreen appearance at the age of four, she first became a successful child actress—she played little Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street in 1947—before growing into an adult to be reckoned with. Rebel Without a Cause… West Side Story…Splendor in the Grass… Gypsy… all great films with great performances from her. Her personal life was, of course, the subject of much gossip around town, but it was fairly scandal-free, all things considered. She married fellow actor Robert Wagner in 1957, when she was 19 and he was 27. They separated in 1961 and divorced in 1962, after which Natalie married British film producer Richard Gregson. They had a daughter together, but they separated in 1971 after Natalie overheard an inappropriate telephone conversation between her secretary and her husband. She got back together with Robert Wagner in 1972; they had a daughter together, and they remained married until November 29, 1981.

What happened on November 29, 1981? Natalie Wood’s sudden and unexpected death.

The day after Thanksgiving, Natalie, her family, Captain Dennis Davern, and Christopher Walken, with whom Natalie had lately been shooting the film Brainstorm, took a trip to Catalina Island for the weekend. The Wagners’ yacht, the Splendour, was anchored in Isthmus Cove on the evening of Saturday, November 28. After a fight broke out between Walken and Wagner, Natalie left to go to the master cabin’s bathroom. Walken and Wagner calmed down and said goodnight, but when Wagner went to bed, Natalie wasn’t there.

She was found floating in the cove the next day. She was wearing a down jacket, a nightgown, and socks. The official story was that she had tried to leave the yacht or to secure a dinghy from banging against the boat’s hull—but that she had slipped in the process and fallen overboard. There were scratches on the side of the rubber dinghy, indicating that Natalie was trying to get in. The official ruling was death by accidental drowning. She was 43.

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But now, here’s something interesting: Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced that it will reopen the case. According to the L.A. Times, a statement released by the Sheriff’s homicide bureau said, “Recently sheriff’s homicide investigators were contacted by persons who stated that they had additional information about the Natalie Wood Wagner drowning. Due to the additional information, Sheriff’s homicide bureau has decided to take another look at the case.”

There has been much speculation about what exactly happened on the boat last night; but now Dennis Davern, the captain of the yacht who had worked with Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner for many years, said on this morning’s Friday’s Today Show that he believes Wagner to be responsible for Natalie’s death, according to People. Davern also said that he and Wagner “did not do all they should have” the night Natalie died, that Wagner told him not to try to locate Natalie after she left the boat, and that the two of them had later agreed on a story to tell the police. Furthermore, Natalie’s sister, Lana Wood, told CNN last year, “I just want the truth to come out, the real story. My sister was not a swimmer and did not know how to swim, and she would never go to another boat or to shore dressed in a nightgown and socks.” Mysterious indeed.

And how has Robert Wagner responded to all this? His spokesperson gave the Hollywood Reporter the following statement:

“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 L.A. County Sheriff’s Department 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.”

Interesting wording, no? Without acknowledging the fact that Davern has pointed the finger at him, the statement manages to both express that the Wagners hope to find out what really happened that night, as well as to rebuff the accusation made by Davern by suggesting that the source of the new information isn’t credible.

Natalie Wood’s unsatisfactorily explained death has long been one of the mysteries of Hollywood. Will this new investigation get to the bottom of it? Or is it all just a stunt from someone waiting for their own 15 minutes of fame? Only time will tell.

The Sheriff’s department will be holding a news conference on the matter today at 11am PST/2pm EST.

Tell us: What do you think about the reopening of the Natalie Wood case?

Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s associate editor.

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