Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Natalie Wood death probed by 'new generation' of detectives

November 18, 2011 |  5:43 am


The death of Natalie Wood, who drowned during a 1981 boating excursion with husband Robert Wagner and co-star Chistopher Walken, was inadequately investigated at the time, according to the co-author of a book on the celebrated case.

"The case was never really investigated in 1981, and yes, I am relieved they are going to give the case the attention it has always deserved," said author Marti Rulli, who wrote last year's "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour."

Wood, 43, was boating off Catalina Island on Thanksgiving weekend 1981 with Wagner, Walken and others when she somehow went overboard and died. Officials at the time ruled her death an accident, but there has been much speculation since on whether there was more to the story.

Sheriff Lee Baca told The Times that detectives want to talk to the captain of the boat after learning of comments he recently made about events on board. Baca added only that the captain "made comments worthy of exploring."

PHOTOS: Natalie Wood | 1938-1981

A law enforcement source added that the department recently received a letter from an unidentified "third party" who said the captain had "new recollections" about the case. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.

Rulli wrote the book with the captain, Dennis Davern. In it, Davern described bitter arguments aboard the boat that weekend. In an interview last year on CNN, Davern said he believed the original investigation was woefully incomplete.

 "I am confident it is in good hands at this time, Rulli said of the new probe. "This has been a long process, and I have worked my way through the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, and with a new generation of detectives in the department they are taking it seriously."

Wagner released a statement through his spokesman expressing support for a new investigation.

Wagner said he "trusts 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," Wagner's spokesman, Alan Nierob, said in a statement.

Wood and Wagner spent the holiday weekend on their 60-foot yacht, Splendour, along with Walken, who was Wood's co-star in the film "Brainstorm."

On the evening of Saturday, Nov. 28, the boat anchored and the trio had dinner at Doug's Harbor Reef restaurant on Catalina. Later, they returned to the yacht and had drinks. Wagner and Walken had an argument. Wagner said in a 2008 interview with The Times that the argument concerned how much of one's personal life should be sacrificed in pursuit of one's career and art.

Wagner and Walken eventually calmed down and said goodnight, Wagner said. But when he went to bed, Wood wasn't there.

Wagner thought his wife had taken a small inflatable boat by herself as she had done before, his spokesman said after the incident. But after 10 to 15 minutes passed without her returning, Wagner went to look for her on a small cruiser. When he couldn't find her, he contacted the harbor patrol.

Wood's body was discovered about 8 a.m. Sunday by authorities about a mile away from the yacht. The dinghy was found beached nearby.


ARCHIVES: Natalie Wood's death

Robert Wagner supports inquiry into Natalie Wood's death

Natalie Wood investigation prompted by boat captain's comments

-- Richard Winton, Sam Allen and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Wagner and Wood. Credit: WireImage