Riddle of Natalie Wood's final hours

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

New evidence has prompted LA police to reopen their investigation into the death of the Hollywood star

It is almost 30 years to the day since the body of Natalie Wood was found bobbing in the sea off the southern California coast, a mile from the yacht she owned with her husband and fellow Hollywood star Robert Wagner.

At the time, police said the death of the 43-year-old actress, one of the most luminous figures of her generation, was a tragic accident. Officers concluded that she fell overboard from the 55ft yacht, Splendour, after a night of heavy drinking and was unable to pull herself to safety.

A coroner's report said Wood, the star of Miracle On 34th Street, Rebel Without A Cause and West Side Story, died from "accidental drowning", weighed down in the water by her nightgown, socks and down jacket. Yet several decades on, questions about the incident have never quite gone away. Why did Wood have an abrasion on her left cheek and 24 bruises on her body when her corpse was discovered? Why did no one on the yacht, which was anchored at Isthmus Cove on Santa Catalina Island, hear her crying for help, as she surely would have done after falling overboard? What took place between Wood, Wagner and their guest, the actor Christopher Walken, before she drowned? And how did Wood, a weak swimmer who often spoke of being terrified of dark water, allow herself to get into harm's way in the first place?

Yesterday, Los Angeles County's sheriff's department once more began trying to solve the mystery. John Corina, a homicide detective, said he had received new information from multiple sources, "which we felt was substantial enough to make us take another look at this case". Asked by reporters if Wagner, now 81, was considered a murder suspect, Corina responded: "No."

One of Mr Corina's "sources" is Dennis Davern, the Splendour's former captain, who was also on board that night and had worked for the couple for many years. He has told detectives he saw Wood and Wagner having a row shortly before she went missing.

Mr Davern made a compelling, if occasionally erratic appearance on NBC's Today programme yesterday morning. He was unwilling to answer detailed questions about the night's events and seemed evasive when asked to explain why he waited for three decades before coming forward with fresh information. But he did admit failing to fully brief investigators after the incident. "I made some terrible decisions and mistakes," he said. "I did lie on a report years ago. I made mistakes by not telling the honest truth in a police report."

In recent years, Mr Davern has attempted to draw public attention to the incident. He has co-operated with both a lengthy Vanity Fair article about Wood's death and an episode of the TV series 48-Hour Mystery which discussed the case. In 2009, he published a memoir, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour.

With regard to the alleged row between Wood and Wagner, the co-author of Mr Davern's book, Marti Rulli, told reporters that Wagner was jealous of the attention his spouse was paying to Walken, her co-star in the science-fiction movie Brainstorm, which they were in the middle of filming. At one point in the evening, Ms Rulli claimed, he smashed a wine bottle and yelled at Walken: "What do you want to do – fuck my wife? Is that what you want?"

Walken promptly returned to his cabin, Ms Rulli says. Mr Davern later heard a loud argument between Wagner and Wood on the rear deck, but when he tried to intervene he was told to go away. A short time later, the skipper went to the deck to check the yacht was moored safely, and was told by Wagner: "Natalie is missing." Walken, now 68, declined invitations to comment on the renewed interest in the case.

Wagner, meanwhile, said he approved of the decision to re-open the investigation. A statement issued by his publicity team last night said: "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 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."

Natalie Wood was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko to Russian immigrants in San Francisco in 1938. She shot to fame as a child in the 1947 Christmas movie Miracle On 34th Street, went on to appear in 56 films and was nominated for three Oscars before she turned 25.

Her first marriage to Wagner, who currently appears in the television series NCIS, lasted six years, before they divorced in 1953. They remarried nine years later and became one of the most prominent Hollywood power couples of the era.

In his 2008 autobiography, Wagner admitted that he had argued with his wife on the night she died. He suggested that she may have drowned while subsequently attempting to flee the Splendour on a small dinghy moored to its side.

"Did I blame myself? If I had been there, I could have done something," he wrote. "But I wasn't there. I didn't see her. The bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened."

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobWe are looking ...


£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The Job...Due to continued ...

Supply Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply TeachersWould you l...

Job opportunities for SEN teachers and support staff in Essex

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently looking for...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice