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Natalie Wood: Detectives will interview captain as a first step

November 18, 2011 | 10:48 am

Times coverage of Wood's 1981 death. Click to read more.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives plan to re-interview yacht captain Dennis Davern as part of their reopened investigation into the death of Natalie Wood, then decide whether it's necessary to interview other principals in the case.

Whether he provides anything new will largely determine how extensive the investigation will be, said a source familiar with the case who did not want to be identified because of its sensitive nature.

“Any new information [from the investigation] will set the course as to whether there is a broader investigation,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.

PHOTOS: Natalie Wood | 1938-1981

The case was re-opened in part because of questions from the media about the circumstances surrounding Wood’s death. Some of those questions were prompted by the captain’s account of the night, detailed in the book “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour.” His statements are also the centerpiece of a "48 Hours" segment, produced in conjunction with Vanity Fair, scheduled to air Saturday.

The 30th anniversary of Wood’s death is Nov. 29.

Davern’s published account  of that night is different from the statements he originally provided to authorities. In the book, he says he lied to authorities about the events of that night. He is now describing a heated argument between Wood and her husband, actor Robert Wagner.

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

L.A. County 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."

A law enforcement source added that the Sheriff's 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.

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

The actor "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 the statement.

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

On the evening of Saturday, Nov. 28, authorities said, the boat had 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.

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

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

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


Robert Wagner supports inquiry into Natalie Wood's death

Yacht captain blames Robert Wagner for Natalie Wood's death

Natalie Wood investigation prompted by boat captain's comments

-- Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton

Photo: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department homicide investigator Lt. John Corina addresses the media on the reopening of the investigation into the death of Natalie Wood. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times