Woman Overboard: The Final Hours Of Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood [WikiMedia Commons]

SOUTH CATALINA ISLAND, CA — On November 28, 1981, Hollywood icon Natalie Wood set sail on the yacht Splendour with her husband, Hart to Hart actor Robert Wagner; the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern; and Christopher Walken, her costar in the science-fiction film Brainstorm that was in production. The next morning, searchers pulled Natalie Wood’s dead body out of the water.

Related: Robert Wagner Is Now A “Person Of Interest” In Wife Natalie Wood’s Death

What seemed to be a simple getaway from the Brainstorm set unraveled into tragedy. Movie fans joined Wood’s family in mourning as the 43-year-old star’s planned big screen comeback would now be her swan song.

Watch Investigation Discovery’s Natalie Wood: An American Murder Mystery on ID GO now!

An initial investigation concluded that Wood died by mistake. Her blood-alcohol level tested at 0.14% and she had taken a painkiller.

As a result, Los Angeles County Coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi surmised that Wood might have gotten tipsy and slipped overboard. He determined Wood’s cause of death to be drowning and hypothermia — and an accident.

Related: 6 Mysterious Hollywood Deaths That Still Haunt Us

Still, no one could positively determine how Wood ended up in the water, or why she had bruises on her arms and torso, and an abrasion on her left cheek.

In a 1997 Playboy interview, Christopher Walken said he still believed Wood died by accident, stating:

“Anybody there saw the logistics — of the boat, the night, where we were, that it was raining — and would know exactly what happened.”

Robert Wagner told police the couple had an argument over his being jealous of Walken, and they each went off to different areas of the vessel. Wagner said he went to bed later, thinking Wood would be there but, when she wasn’t, he went to sleep for a bit.

Related: Fatty Arbuckle — The Booze Orgy, The Dead Actress & Hollywood’s First Killer Scandal

In his 2008 memoir, Pieces of My Heart, Wagner elaborates on what led up to that moment, stating that the couple’s argument had heated up to the point that he “picked up a wine bottle, slammed it on the table, and broke it into pieces.” As for how Wood went overboard, Wagner wrote:

Pieces of My Heart by Robert Wager/front cover image [Amazon]

“Nobody knows. 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.”

Later in the book, Wagner clearly proclaims that he had nothing to do with Wood falling into the Pacific, writing:

“Did I blame myself? I had been there, I could have done something. But I wasn’t there. I didn’t see her. The door was closed; I thought she was [below deck]. I didn’t hear anything. But ultimately, a man is responsible for his loved one, and she was my loved one.”

Then, in 2011, Dennis Davern voiced a very different take on what happened. He revealed to authorities that he had lied during the original investigation. Even more shocking, Davern said he held Wagner responsible for Wood’s demise.

Related: Hollywood Hit — How Lana Turner’s Teen Daughter Iced Johnny Stompanato In 1958

According to Radar Online, in a sworn declaration, Davern stated:

“A tense atmosphere prevailed from the start of the cruise, and it was made clear to me by Robert Wagner that he was not content entertaining his wife’s Brainstorm costar, Christopher Walken, aboard this cruise to Catalina Island. As the day progressed, the tension thickened and I offered Christopher Walken, Natalie Wood, and Robert Wagner each a pill (Quaalude) which we all took.”

Davern’s quoted statement further details alcohol and drug use by all onboard the yacht, and that once Wood vanished, he had to cajole Wagner into taking action. He writes:

“Over two hours passed before I finally convinced Robert Wagner to make a call for help. He did not call for professional help. He radioed the Island area and said, ‘Someone is missing from our boat.’ He did not mention Natalie Wood’s name.”

Given this and other increasing “additional information,” the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department reopened its investigation.

Related: Marilyn Monroe Looked “Unrecognizable” When She Died, Claim Authors Of New Celebrity-Corpse Book

Wagner immediately denied all allegations and suggested through a family spokesman that anyone claiming otherwise was “simply trying to profit from the 30-year anniversary of [Wood’s] tragic death.”

As interest in the case steamrolled anew this past decade, the L.A. Coroner’s Office cited the possibility that Wood’s injuries occurred before she drowned — or possibly even before she fell overboard. In 2013, then, authorities updated her official cause of death to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”

The Cold Case Research Institute (CCRI), a group of 600 forensic professionals and 2,000 “expert volunteers,” alleged in 2017 that Wood could have been strangled and then pushed off the boat. The CCRI also produced two more witnesses to back up Davern’s story.

In February 2018, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department officially named Robert Wagner as a Person of Interest in the death of Natalie Wood. Wagner is now 87 and he has refused to talk to the authorities … so far.

Watch Investigation Discovery’s Natalie Wood: An American Murder Mystery on ID GO now!

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Read more:
Us Weekly
Radar Online — Quaaludes
Radar Online — CCRI
Rolling Stone
USA Today
Vanity Fair

Main photo: Natalie Wood [WikiMedia Commons]



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