Some quick backstory: in 1981, screen legend Natalie Wood was on a yacht with her husband, Robert Wagner, and her young costar, Christopher Walken. There was a fourth person aboard, too: Dennis Davern, captain of the Splendour. Everyone was tipsy—Wood and Wagner were reportedly mixing alcohol and Quaaludes—and Wood apparently slipped overboard and drowned (according to most reports, Wood had been trying to “tie down a dinghy”). The Los Angeles Coroner Department ruled her death an accident. She was 43.
But Dennis Davern has stepped forward with “new information,” and in turn, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has decided to reopen the 30-year-old investigation, the department announced yesterday.
According to the press conference I just watched, “new information” is “substantial enough” that the Sheriff’s Department wants to “take another look at the case,” “re-interview some people” from the original case, “interview some new people,” and “reevaluate the evidence.”
The homicide detective leading the investigation, Lieutenant John Corina, was visibly reluctant to detail what this “new information” is, but it’s a sure bet that Dennis Davern’s 2009 allegations—that Robert Wagner told him to not look for Wood in the water, and to not give a full account to investigators—has something to do with the investigation’s revival.
Do detectives plan to “re-interview” Captain Dennis Davern?
“We’ll end up talking to the captain sooner or later,” Corina said.
Does this case have anything to do with Davern’s 2009 tell-all, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, in which he confessed that he had not been forthcoming with police some 30 years ago?
“I’m not concerned with the book,” Corina snapped. “That’s not our concern.”
Is 81-year-old Robert Wagner a suspect in Natalie Wood’s murder?
No. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department emphasizes that Robert Wagner is not a suspect. The department also officially maintains the coroner’s original finding: Natalie Wood’s death was “accidental.” No murder, no suspects, get it?
Dennis Davern lied to police 30 years ago. Could he now face criminal charges?
Sure, according to Corina. Sure!
The press conference ended abruptly, and you could hear news reporters complaining among themselves about how dumb the conference really was. The TMZ livestream of the press conference was sort of fascinating, though—the cameraman followed John Corina into the parking lot, all the way to his car, and watched Corina drive away.
There are a lot of theories about what happened the night Natalie Wood drowned. We know that Wagner and Wood were engaged in a fairly violent, jealous tiff. Some theories suggest that Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken really were having an affair. Then there’s the especially salacious notion that Christopher Walken was having the affair with Robert Wagner (hee!), and Natalie Wood found out.
The truth is probably a lot more benign, though. The couple was drunk. Wood probably made it all the way into the dinghy (it was found beached ashore the next morning), believing her husband would prove his love by coming after her. Wagner was probably sick of playing that game and, by ignoring her, let her drown. (According to Captain Davern, Wagner wanted to leave her there and “teach her a lesson.”) Wracked with guilt (or whatever), Davern comes forward 30 years later, indicating that Wagner’s inaction is “responsible” for Wood’s drowning.