Natalie Wood Death Has Become a Murder Case

Natalie Wood was one of Hollywood’s most alluring stars when she drowned under mysterious circumstances. Initially ruled an accident, her death has since become a case of murder. Keep reading the article below to learn more about Natalie Wood Death.

Natalie Wood Death

In interviews and his book Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, boat captain Dennis Davern alleges that Wagner and Wood fought that night, and Wagner is responsible for her death.

In November 1981, Natalie Wood drowned off the coast of Catalina Island, California. She was 43 years old and a celebrated Hollywood actress, having starred in such classics as Miracle on 34th Street, West Side Story, Rebel Without a Cause, and Splendor in the Grass. She was also a wife and mother. But the truth about what happened to her that night is murkier than ever before.

For starters, the story told by her husband and two other men on board the yacht Valiant has shifted dramatically over the years, raising questions about whether or not they’re telling the whole truth. Then there’s the bruises on her body, some of which appeared fresh and didn’t jibe with what was reported at the time.

Initially, investigators believed that Wood fell overboard from the yacht and struggled to get into a rubber dinghy that had been washed up on the beach. Her body showed signs of a fall, and the dinghy had scratch marks that seemed to support this theory. But in a 2013 report, county medical examiners reopened the case, citing new evidence of foul play.

They argued that she could have been assaulted by someone on the boat and then fallen overboard. The medical examiners cited blood alcohol levels, bruises on her arms, and a scrape on her neck that they considered indicative of an attack.

In addition to this, a private eye hired by the family also found a number of inconsistencies in the official investigation. For example, the private eye noted that the three men on board — Wagner, Walken, and captain Dennis Davern — all gave different stories about what happened during the night of Natalie’s death.

Despite all of this, the original medical examiners still ruled her death an accident. But, as Erin Moriarty finds out in this episode of the podcast, there are a lot of suspicious things about what really happened to Natalie Wood that don’t add up. This includes the fact that some of the bruises on her body were so fresh that they raised suspicions about whether she had been assaulted before she went into the water.

The Search

Hollywood has never really been able to settle on a story of what happened to Natalie Wood on the night of November 29, 1981. The actress was on a yacht trip with her husband, Robert Wagner, and his friend Christopher Walken when she drowned off the coast of Catalina Island in Southern California.

Officially, the cause of her death was ruled accidental. Her autopsy noted a few fresh superficial bruises on her arms, a scratch on her neck and a cut on her cheek, all of which were initially attributed to her fall in the water.

Wood had been partying on the back deck of the 60-foot yacht, Splendour, with Wagner and Walken the evening before her death. The three had a heated argument about how much one’s personal life should be sacrificed for a career. After the argument, Wagner went to bed and when he woke up, Wood was not in their room. He assumed she went down to the dinghy to check on it, but when she did not return, he searched for her and found the dinghy floating about a mile away from Splendour.

Captain Dennis Davern, who had been with the boat that fateful weekend, has said in multiple interviews and a book, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, that he heard an argument between Wood and Wagner. He also claims that he heard Wagner tell her and Walken to stick with the original story about Natalie slipping into the water by accident.

In 2011, the police reopened an investigation into Wood’s death. They were prompted to do so after a new coroner’s report cited the fresh bruises on her body as evidence that she had been assaulted.

Sam Perroni explores the case of Natalie Wood’s untimely death, drawing on a wide range of facts to reveal how powerful Hollywood insiders helped gloss over an investigation and cover up what really happened. His examination of the many controversies surrounding the case includes an exploration of Los Angeles County Sheriff Peter Pitchess’ cozy relationship with Frank Sinatra that likely affected his handling of the case. He also delves into the role of notorious Hollywood “fixers” like Jack Haley and Jerry O’Connell in obscuring what really occurred.

The Coroner’s Report

A new coroner’s report says bruises found on the body of Natalie Wood suggest that the actress did not fall overboard on her own yacht as originally reported, and that foul play could have been involved. The 10-page addendum to her 1981 autopsy report released Monday questions the original findings that led investigators to conclude Wood drowned in November of that year.

A sheriff’s spokesman said the investigation was reopened because tipsters provided “intriguing” information that warranted a closer look at one of Hollywood’s most mysterious deaths. He wouldn’t comment on new statements from Dennis Davern, captain of the yacht Wood shared with her husband, actor Robert Wagner. The captain says that he heard Wagner tell an off-screen friend that he had waited hours to call the Coast Guard when she went overboard after a heated argument.

The reopened investigation is also based on an analysis of her stomach contents, which indicates she was intoxicated at the time she entered the water. Her blood alcohol level was 0.14% — more than twice the legal driving limit, according to a new report. She also had pain killers and medication for motion sickness in her system.

At the time of her death, Wood and Wagner were on a yacht with Walken after having dinner at Doug’s Harbor Reef restaurant on Catalina Island. The trio drank during the meal, and an argument broke out between the actors after a dispute over money, authorities said.

About an hour after the argument, Wood entered the water in a dinghy while still wearing her nightgown and argyle socks. The dinghy was pulled from the ocean the next morning, and her floating body was discovered a few hours later.

In her last phone call, Wood had told a friend that she and Wagner were arguing over finances and that he had threatened to leave her. She asked him to come back and that he would meet her on the island. He never returned.

The new coroner’s report says the bruises on her arms, neck and face may have occurred before she ended up in the water. The location of the marks and their lack of head trauma or facial bruising support that the injuries happened before she entered the water, the new report says.

The Aftermath

The film star drowned off the coast of Catalina Island in November 1981, and was ruled accidental by a Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office report. The case was reopened in 2011 and her husband at the time, actor Robert Wagner, was formally named as a person of interest, though he is still not considered a suspect.

The original investigation found nothing to substantiate the claims and allegations that Wagner had something to do with Wood’s death, but her daughters are adamant they will never be convinced that their stepfather is innocent. In a recent documentary, Natalie’s daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner confronted her stepfather on-camera about accusations that he had something to do with her mother’s death, and the footage has reignited the debate over whether he was involved in her death at all.

Before the weekend trip aboard the yacht Splendour, Wood had been having intense internal debates about her career and her personal life, particularly her relationship with Wagner and her co-star on Hart to Hart, Christopher Walken. It was reported at the time that he and Wagner got into a spat over her being away from the set for so long with young children, and rumors swirled of jealousy between the two actors.

On the night of her death, Wood had gone to bed before Wagner and Walken left on their dinghy for dinner, and she was nowhere to be found when they returned. The restaurant manager, who also had a drink with the group, later told investigators that he heard Wagner tell Walken that he wanted to “f—k Natalie” and that Wagner prevented him from calling for the Coast Guard.

The author consults with a pharmacologist to address the forensic chemistry issues surrounding the ingestion of prescription drugs by Natalie, and with an expert in hypothermia to examine how the cold-water could have affected her swimming ability. He also discusses the timing and cause of a series of unexplained bruises that appeared on her body after the initial autopsy, including a large contusion on her right forearm that appears to have been inflicted by a weapon.