Captain of yacht Natalie Wood fell from and drowned blames Robert Wagner for her death as homicide investigators reopen case
West Side Story actress drowned at the age of 43 after falling off her yacht
Ship's captain says death is 'linked to argument she had with actor husband Robert Wagner'
Wagner blames captain for profiteering from her death
Autopsy revealed two dozen bruises on her body
18th November 2011
The captain of the Splendour boat Natalie Wood is said to have fallen from and drowned in 1981 has today blamed her husband actor Robert Wagner for her death.
Dennis Davern urged investigators to open the case again, claiming that - at the behest of Wagner - they did not do enough to find Ms Wood, after he advised against calling authorities or turning on the search light.
When asked if he thought Wagner was responsible for Ms Wood's death, he said: 'Yes, I would say so.'
Mr Davern, Ms Wood, Wagner and his Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken had been boating near Santa Catalina Island just off the coast of California.
But now Mr Davern has admitted he lied in the police report and that he believes it was her husband who was responsible for her death.
He told NBC: 'I made some terrible decisions and mistakes. I did lie on a report several years ago.
'I made mistakes by not telling the honest truth in a police report.'
He added: 'We didn't take any steps to see if we could locate her. I think it was a matter of, "We're not going to look too hard, we're not going to turn on the searchlight, we're not going to notify anybody right now".'
Wagner's publicist released a statement saying they were leaving the matter in the hands of the LA County Sheriff's department but appeared to blame Mr Davern for trying to profiteer from her death.
The statement said: 'We 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.'
The former captain spoke extensively to Marti Rulli, author of the book Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, published in 2009 while she was writing it.
He denies trying to do anything other than see justice done by coming forward after 30 years.
He told NBC: 'I'm not really the investigator here, and I'm far away from even thinking about profiting over a 30-year anniversary. I've known this information for many, many years and my book has been out for two years. I'm not in it for any kind of profit, I'm in it for the justice of the whole situation.'
This additional information has prompted homicide detectives to re-open their investigation into her death.
According to police reports at the time, the body of the West Side Story star - one of the most glamorous actresses of her generation - was found wearing a long nightgown, socks, and a down jacket and was pulled from the water in a cove on Catalina Island about a mile away from the yacht.
An autopsy report revealed two dozen bruises on her body, including a facial abrasion on her left cheek, and bruises on her arms.
Ms Wood's drowning sparked tabloid speculation that foul play was involved, but Mr Wagner and Ms Wood's sister Lana have always dismissed such a suggestion.
But the Los Angeles Times has reported that detectives were prompted to look at the case again after comments by the ship's captain, Dennis Davern.
Mr Davern has said he believes Ms Wood's death is directly connected to an argument she had earlier in the evening with Wagner, during which he smashed a wine bottle.
It is claimed the fight was triggered over Wagner's belief that Walken wanted to sleep with his wife.
A MYSTERY THAT HAS ENDURED FOR 30 YEARS
What we know
On the night of November 29, 1981, Ms Wood fell off the yacht 'Splendour' off Santa Catalina island, southern California.
She was found in the seas about a mile away from the yacht, with a dinghy nearby.
An autopsy found two dozen bruises on her body, including a facial abrasion on her left cheek, and bruises on her arms.
Before her death she had been drinking.
What needs to be answered
Did she have an argument with her husband?
Who was the last person to see her alive?
Did anyone see her fall?
Last year, Mr Davern asked investigators, along with Ms Wood's sister, to re-open the case.
The issue was revisited when Mr Davern was recently interviewed for a collaboration between the magazine Vanity Fair and the television series '48 Hours Mystery' that focuses on Ms Wood's death.
The interviews followed his detailed account of the evening in a book co-authored by Marti Rulli entitled, 'Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour,' which was published in September, 2009.
In the book they say before Natalie disappeared from the boat, she was drinking and taking Quaaludes, a sedative, with her husband, Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken.
According to the book, Wagner became enraged when he saw Wood and Walken speaking, and smashed a wine bottle, yelling at Walken: 'What do you want to do, f**k my wife? Is that what you want?'
At that point, Walken returned to his cabin and Natalie and Robert went to their state room. According to the Captain, he heard a loud argument between the couple and thumping sounds, and eventually silence.
A short time later, the Captain went to the deck and was told by Wagner: 'Natalie is missing.' The book claims Wagner refused to let the Captain call the Coast Guard.
Reports also suggest Ms Rulli has been in recent contact with the LA County sheriff's office about re-opening the case.
It comes after Ms Wood's sister told CNN last year she believes an argument between her sister and Mr Wagner preceded the drowning. But she ruled out foul play.
She wrote in a biography on her sister: 'What happened is that Natalie drank too much that night.'
Mr Wagner wrote in a 2009 autobiography, Pieces Of My Heart that he blamed himself for his wife's death.
At the time, her death was ruled an accident and it was determined she had been drinking that night.
The Los Angeles County Coroner's office wrote that Wood was 'possibly attempting to board the dinghy and had fallen into the water, striking her face'.
A dinghy that had been attached to the couple's yacht 'Splendour' was found in a Catalina cove.
Detectives plan to hold a news conference today and anyone with information about the case is being asked to contact sheriff's officials or an anonymous tip line.
Ms Wood, who was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko to Russian immigrant parents in San Francisco, appeared as a child in such films as the Christmas classic 'Miracle On 34th Street' and 'The Ghost And Mrs. Muir.'
A three-time Oscar nominee famous for roles in classics such as West Side Story and Rebel Without A Cause, she was twice married to Wagner.
The couple first wed in 1957 before divorcing six years later. They remarried in 1972.
Questions over the circumstances surrounding Ms Wood's untimely death have lingered for 30 years, and family members have previously asked for authorities to re-examine the original findings.
A spokesman for Wagner, said the family trusts the sheriff's department will take appropriate action but has not been contacted about the case being re-opened.
Detectives are re-opening the case following claims in Marti Rulli's biography of Ms Wood
Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said in a written statement: 'Recently sheriff's homicide investigators were contacted by persons who stated 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,' the statement said.
A sheriff's spokesman declined to elaborate on the additional information pending a news conference scheduled for today at 2pm EST.
Mr Wagner's spokesman Alan Nierob wrote in a 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 LA 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.'