One of Hollywood’s most eluding mysteries has resurfaced just a few days shy of the 30 year anniversary of actress Natalie Wood’s untimely death. Speculation has always surrounded her death from the very beginning. It is known now that the Sheriff’s re-opening of the investigation has sparked even more controversy.
I think I can speak for many out there that are happy that some new information has come “to light.” However, I cannot help but wonder why this is all coming out now? I am not saying that it’s not a good thing, because I agree that her death was not investigated thoroughly and perhaps even covered up. But even if the investigation is done for a second time, it doesn’t’ mean that people won’t get “paid off” again. After all isn’t that how Hollywood works?
I was speaking to one of my friends, who happens to be an actor, and we were just talking about this very subject awhile back. Since I love to look into mysteries and cover-ups he had encouraged me to look into the story and write about it on my blog. I put in on my list of many stories I had planned on doing over the course of the next month or two.
To my surprise, since there was a floodgate of information just spewing in front of me on the internet because of the police finally deciding to reopen the case, I suddenly felt the urge to stop working on my other stories and get to work on my story of this story. Earlier this week, I read about Dennis Davern, the Captain of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood’s yacht “Splendour”. He recently came forward with information regarding that fateful night in 1981.
I have also read a few news articles that a woman by the name of Marilyn Wayne, (a verbal witness- you could say) claimed to hear Natalie’s cries for help on the terrible evening of her death. I have gone over the stories each person has stated and the stories that the Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi stated for the news media in 1981, I have even pulled Natalie’s 34 page autopsy report and went over it.
I am going to go over each person’s statements and also the facts I have uncovered and let you decide for yourself. After is all said and done, you can make your own opinions of whether you think she just “slipped and fell” or if you think something more sinister took place.
Remember, as much as you want to believe something, the facts and stories can be two different things. Just because you want to believe or don’t want to believe something , it doesn’t mean it did or didn’t happen. The facts speak for themselves and one discrepancy or mistake is all one needs to find that can send an entire story unraveling before your very eyes.
Robert Wagner’s Story:
According to Natalie’s husband, Robert Wagner, he said that fellow actor and friend Christopher Walken had joined them for the evening on their yacht, “Splendour”. They had enjoyed dinner and drinks on the island to the point that they were all “tipsy.” Later on in the evening a heated argument between the two men had taken place where Wagner claimed that Walken had been encouraging Wood to put her career first instead of devoting energy and time to her personal life. Wagner explained that this infuriated him and lead to their fight which led up to Wagner slamming a bottle of wine down and breaking it out of anger.
According to Wagner, his wife had retired to the Master Stateroom for the night. He claimed that when he came to their room he found that it was empty and assumed she had gone back up on deck, but then he noticed that the dinghy was gone. He said that he couldn’t imagine that she would have gone being that she was deathly afraid of the dark waters and could not swim.
He also claimed that the engine of the dinghy was very loud and that he didn’t hear it turn on, but goes on to admit that he thought she may have taken it anyways. It was reported that he admitted that the dinghy’s engine was so loud that they would often hear it through the soundproof walls of the yacht.
When asked why Wagner didn’t signal for help to the coast guard for several hours he claimed "We had just run out of options, but I didn't allow myself to actually contemplate what that meant – it was too unthinkable."
So if we are to believe his story, then we are to believe that he just couldn’t come to grips with the fact that she was gone so he didn’t do anything? That they were on a boat just off the coast of Catalina and his wife, the love of his life was no longer on it so he doesn’t bother to call for help or report her missing for three hours because he was wishing she would just magically appear or what?
“Nobody knows,” Robert Wagner wrote in his book “Pieces of My Heart.” Really Robert? Nobody?
The Captain’s Story:
Dennis Davern claims that Robert Wagner became enraged at Walken and even cursed at him during a heated argument saying “What do you want to do, f**k my wife? Is that what you want?”"
Walken then went to his room and Woods went to the Master Stateroom. About a minute later Wagner joined Woods in the room and there was loud yelling and the sounds of breaking glass and throwing of objects and then complete silence.
According to Davern’s book “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour” he goes on to say “We didn’t take any steps to see if we could locate her. It was a matter of don’t look too hard, don’t turn on search light, don’t call anyone.”
Why Davern decided to come forth now is still a mystery, as he claims it is his conscience. His book was published a few years ago so I am figuring that it has taken some time for the police to find any credible reason to re-open the case? I find the timing to be quite interesting since it is nearly the 30 year anniversary of Natalie Wood’s death. Nevertheless, the story is out now and the case has been re-opened.
According to the Co-Author of the book “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour” Marti Rulli stated that she had been working on this book since 1983 when a “distraught Dennis” contacted her. In her own words she goes on to state that she believed that this book was Dennis’ way to tell his account of what really happened. That the book was his way to redeem his character for letting his friend Natalie down for not speaking up for her.
In an interview done in 2008, Marti Rulli goes on to state that Dennis Davern was threatened directly by Wagner’s publicist, George Kirvey. This happened when Dennis had considered giving an interview back in 1984. The threats started out as a career interference and ended up as an ultimatum that “other things could happen” if he talked about Natalie’s death.
When Rulli was asked if she thought a crime took place the night Natalie died, she stated “The police are well aware of the controversy surrounding Natalie’s death and are now privy to information that had been withheld. They continue to look the other way.”
According to her interview she goes on to state that Dennis obeyed his boss’ demands to let attorneys draw up the official statement that Dennis signed regarding the events that took place that evening. Dennis claimed that every attempt he made to look for Natalie was shot down by Robert Wagner. Dennis even claims that Wagner said “absolutely not” when requested by Dennis to turn the search light on to find her in the water. It was as if Robert Wagner didn’t want to find her. After all, he did take three hours to call the Harbor Master to get the Coast Guard to send a search for her.
The Witness’ Story:
According to Marilyn Wayne, she and her boyfriend were approximately 40 yards away from the “Splendour” that evening and could hear a woman’s cries for help. Marilyn goes on to say that her boyfriend heard the crying first and woke Marilyn up. She immediately called out for her son and she looked at his new digital watch that showed it was a few minutes after 11:00 pm. They tried to shine their lights out on the water to see where the sound was coming from but they could not see the person in the water because it was too dark.
Her statement goes on to say “While listening to the cries, we called the Harbor Patrol but no one answered. Then we called the Sheriff’s office in Avalon, 12 miles away, and whoever answered told us a helicopter would be sent, but it did not come. We heard loud music coming from somewhere, so thought there was a party on a nearby boat,” the statement said. “Then I heard a man’s voice, slurred, and in aggravated tone, say something to the effect of, “Oh, hold on, we’re coming to get you,” and not long after, the cries for help subsided, but we heard the cries for up to 15 minutes. We returned to bed, terribly disturbed.”
She later learned of the death of Natalie Wood and put the pieces together. She volunteered her information to the Police, however no one contacted her to question her. Three days later Marilyn found a scribbled note in her inbox at work threatening her to keep quiet about what she knew. It literally read, ‘If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know.’
Natalie’s sister Lana Wood has always thought that the death of her sister was questionable. However I believe that her fear of “powerful people” had always kept her from making too big of a scandal in regards to this case. Now that the story has broke and people have come forward in this case she has opened up some to interviewers, however I can still feel a sense of fear and hesitation in her comments.
In all the interviews before she never really directly pointed the finger at Robert Wagner, even when you get the sense that she wanted to. In other interviews she had complained that Robert Wagner kept Natalie’s daughters from her as they were growing up but it didn’t look like she fought him on that. It seems she was always afraid of the “long reach” Wagner may have.
In a new interview Lana opened up, claiming that Dennis Davern confessed to her that when Natalie ended up in the water that Wagner (RJ) had forbidden Davern from helping her out of the water and back onto the boat. He claimed that (RJ) said “Leave her there, teach her a lesson.”
It is clear to Lana now that she believes Robert Wagner played a key role in the death of her sister, and she doesn’t seem to be backing down from her claims now, fear or not.
There were also some rumors that Wagner mentioned that he thought Natalie had left to another person’s yacht to have casual sex, and that was why he took so long on contacting the Harbor Patrol. Lana Wood claims that Natalie was very traditional as a married woman and sometime even frigidly so. Lana seems unconvinced of the alleged rumor that Natalie was going off to sleep with an unidentified person that night.
Back to Natalie-
According to the reports, Natalie enjoyed her dinner and drinks on Catalina Island with her husband Robert Wagner and fellow actor/friend Christopher Walken on the night of November 29, 1981. According to employees at the restaurant, the three of them left around 10:30 pm from the restaurant back to the yacht.
Now whether Wagner and Walken fought about sex or careers we will never truly know, but we will always know that Natalie was alive when she boarded the “Splendour” that night after dinner. Sometime later she died in those coastal waters that evening around 11 p.m., the same time that Marilyn Wayne claims to have heard cries for help in the dark.
Natalie did not like the water, in fact she was deathly afraid of it. She often told her sister Lana that she believed she would die from drowning. I am a great swimmer and I am not afraid of the water, yet I wouldn’t even attempt tie a loose dinghy to a boat in the dark after a couple drinks. Natalie was not a young teenager who did stupid things while drinking, in fact she was in her forties. Do you really think a woman in her forties, who is aware of how she feels when “tipsy”and who is afraid of the water would risk that? I don’t think so. I am pretty sure that Natalie, being as verbal as she was about her fear of the water, made it clearly known to those around her how afraid she was of drowning.
Doug Bombard is the person who found Natalie’s body, and happened to also be friends of Wagner and Woods, since he owned the restaurant that they ate the night of Natalie’s death. They also frequented the spot while boating in Catalina on other occasions. He claimed that he saw something red in the water and came up to it on his boat, realizing it was the red down jacket that she was wearing that kept her floating towards the surface of the water due to its buoyancy. She was wearing a nightgown, red down jacket and wool socks. When her body was removed from the water they removed the jacket.
What I find interesting is the fact that Doug Bombard has been interviewed and claims that he believes that Natalie died by accident, as he never saw Wagner and Wood ever fight or act anything but “in love.” Of course he is going to say that, Wagner was a paying customer of his.
What I would like to know is why instead of calling the Harbor Master, Wagner called Bombard’s restaurant “Doug’s Harbor Reef” and allegedly requested that two employees start searching for Natalie? And isn’t it convenient that the restaurant owner just happened to be the one to find her body?
Another thing I would like to point out is the fact that the autopsy report from the medical examiner states that the body was spotted via helicopter but Bombard claimed that they all were searching different areas and that the red coloring of her down jacket was visible from the boat because of the sun shining on it while floating in the coastal waters. Bombard claims that is what drew him to her body, not the helicopter. So which story is right?
What about Natalie’s body?
It was obvious that she had suffered a terrible beating as she was covered in “numerous bruises” literally from head to toe. Also, Natalie had suffered from some sort of head injury as the autopsy report diagram shows from the markings. The doctor made notations that there was “Superficial Abrasions” above her left brow/forehead area and bruising on her left upper cheek bone area. The diagram goes on to state “probable upward direction”, meaning that the blow came from below and moved upwards inflicting injury. Why is this not noted in the actual written report? It seems like Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi just chose to leave that one out.
He had no problem noting the rest of her body as being bruised on the written report, yet failed to mention it in his television statement on the news when he came forward initially to notify the press of Natalie’s cause of death. In fact, he didn’t mention one thing about the actual autopsy report, nor did he mention anything in medical terms. Instead he gave his “opinion” of how she died, which seemed more scripted than anything. Everyone seemed to have the same answer that Noguchi ended up stating practically verbatim, “She apparently attempted to get on to the dinghy, slipped and fell into the water, unable to return to the dinghy or the boat.” When asked whether alcohol had anything to do with her death he answered, “It was one of the contributing factors.”
Why didn’t Noguchi actually explain the injuries she sustained prior to her death?
Natalie’s right forearm had a “fresh” bruise that was approximately four inches by one inch in diameter on the very part of her arm that would have been bruised if you held your arm up to your face to block off an attack, it was a defensive bruise.
In fact the autopsy report reads:
“Right forearm shows a diffuse recent bruise over lateral aspect measuring approximately four inches by one inch above wrist. Left wrist slightly deformed on the lateral condyle of the ulna and it is very prominent, no fresh fracture. Bruise in this area is half inch in diameter.”
The report goes on to state that there were significant bruises on the front and back of both legs. Right and left lower legs had “numerous” bruises of half inch to one inch in diameter. Her right ankle had bruising that was two inches long. Page 27, Section 20A shows marked to her left cheekbone and the left forehead area above the brow, yet there are NO notations within the entire 34 page report explaining what it was from.
Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi’s written opinion stated:
“The autopsy findings are consistent with drowning in the ocean. The time of the death is difficult to pinpoint, but it appears to be at about midnight of November 28, 1981. Most of the bruises on the body are superficial and probably sustained at the time of drowning.”
Really Dr. Noguchi?
For one moment do you think I am going to believe that she sustained bruising that appears to have been from a beating but you expect the world to just accept it was from drowning in a large body of water? I don’t think so.
Also, the report mentions that she had two undigested pills in her lower intestine. In no way was it mentioned that these were drugs of any sort. In fact the report claims they appeared to be vitamins based on the look and the smell. In her blood tests the chemical Cyclizine was found in trace amounts, suggesting that she was suffering from motion sickness, as Cyclizine is treated for motion sickness such as various medications like Dramamine.
She also had a small amount of Propoxyphene (a pain killer) in her system, suggesting that she was suffering from mild to moderate pain. Is it possible that she took it after being beaten? I would say so.
Natalie was not on cocaine or any other illegal drugs as some sites like to throw out there. I have also read news articles suggesting that Natalie had taken a deadly cocktail of pills and alcohol and would have probably died whether she fell in the water or not. I beg to differ on that one.
However, it does show that her blood alcohol level was reportedly at 0.14 percent at the time of her autopsy. Think about this, when our bodies die they naturally start producing ethanol in order to start the process of decomposition. The production of ethanol within the body begins shortly after death. As the hours go by the bacteria begins to grow within the body and the bacteria itself produces the ethanol by converting it from sugars such a glucose. Natalie’s body was dead for about eight to nine hours before being recovered.
Another thing to consider is the fact that alcohol distributes itself unevenly through the body after death. Because of the fact that alcohol production in the body after death is the same as that from drinking, the blood-alcohol level alone cannot determine precisely whether or not the deceased was actually intoxicated at the time of death.
Blood plasma has a higher water content than whole blood, therefore it can show as 10 to 15 percent higher in an alcohol level test. The most accurate way to differentiate between levels of consumed alcohol in the system and the postmortem produced ethanol, would be by testing the vitreous humour (gel-like substance inside the eye). Testing that part of the body shows to be most accurate due to the fact that the vitreous humour collects little to no postmortem alcohol (the kind the body produces on its own).
According to Dr. Noguchi’s report, the samples taken from Natalie Wood’s body never reported having had tested the vitreous humour. In fact, it specifically states “The blood, urine, bile, stomach contents, liver tissue and kidney tissue are submitted for toxicologic investigation. The blood from the right and left chambers of the heart are separately submitted for the chemical tests.”
Yes it was reported that she had been drinking and was even “tipsy”, but was she really drunk? I have just proven to you that Wood’s alcohol content could have been caused by her own body’s production of ethanol after death.
Also, who is it that claimed she had been drinking? Think about it: Wagner, Davern and who else…the employees of the restaurant they ate at the night Wood died. The same restaurant whose owner pulled her body out of the water. The same owner who was “friends” of Wagner’s. Think about that.
So now that I have given you the facts of the story, what do you think? Is it possible that what the three men on the yacht originally said happened really was a lie? It is possible.
Personally I feel that Natalie was beaten before death. Perhaps she was thrown out in the water against her will, or perhaps she was so overcome by fear of what was going on in the yacht that she tried to swim to shore for help. Maybe the dinghy was untied on purpose and sent off to drift in the sea so that she couldn’t escape onto it. Has anyone ever thought of that? Maybe she ran out to get onto the dinghy, only to find that it wasn’t there.
Who really knows the truth? The men who were on the yacht that night know. I think it is great that the Captain of the yacht has come forward, but it seems that his interviews have been quite vague. There were at least two men on the deck when Natalie was drowning, obviously if Davern claims that Wagner wouldn’t let him save her.
Lana Wood claims that Davern confided that to her. What about Marilyn Wayne who heard the aggravated voice of a man saying “WE are coming to help you?”…..WE meaning more than just himself.
Where was Christopher Walken that whole time, passed out in his stateroom? Really? Why has he been so quiet all these years?
Whatever happened that night will probably be speculated forever unless the entire truth comes out. So it will go on and on, year after year while people murmur their opinions of whether she fell in and drowned by accident or was killed.
Natalie didn’t get those bruises by floating in the water, that is for sure. I find it quite interesting that no one ever seems to want to mention how badly beaten up she was. Celebrity "Cover Ups" have been going on forever…look at Paul Bern’s death, George Reeves and even Bob Crane for goodness sake. It doesn’t seem like they are going to stop either, and thus true justice still hasn’t been found, yet.
After all the research I did on this story and after all of the endless articles and videos I watched, I had to take a step back.
I had to reflect on the meaning of this story to me, as a writer. This story isn’t to defame anyone or to slander anyone, this story is to speak TRUTH and let the truth be known. Nothing I am writing on here hasn’t been said or documented already, as far as opinions of guilt or innocence is concerned. I am not the only person on earth that is convinced that Natalie Wood’s death could have been prevented.
Whether she was a battered wife who was victim to a jealous rage, a victim of some sort of sinister secret society plot, or murdered for knowing too much about William Holden’s real cause of death (another article I am working on)- we may never truly know. We can assume to know, we can come up with our own opinions and theories but we were not there. We did not see with our own eyes what did or didn’t happen.
The facts outweigh the stories that have been told throughout the years. Natalie was beaten before death, her bruises show this. She drowned in the ocean, the foaming of her mouth and nose as reported on the autopsy report shows this.
The witness Marilyn Wayne heard her cries for help and the time of death coincide to the time Marilyn heard the cries. Marilyn heard a man, an angry man, saying he was going to help her- but didn’t. Marilyn’s life was threatened to keep quiet. How do you think the person who threatened Marilyn, got her work information?
She did contact the Police and told them she was a witness. She obviously gave them her contact information. Seems a little sketchy if you ask me, since they had her info and then three days later she gets a note in her inbox at work threatening her? It is obvious that people in high places had a long reach in their methods of shutting people up.
Facts About Thomas Noguchi, Medical Examiner.
Have you ever wondered why Thomas Noguchi handled all of the “high profile” deaths of celebrities? He did Natalie’s autopsy and just two weeks before he did William Holden’s too. What about Robert F. Kennedy, Sharon Tate and of course the most notable, Marilyn Monroe. Are you aware that upon the autopsy of Marilyn Monroe, that Dr. Noguchi basically became famous overnight? Fame and fortune “followed” him after his autopsy on Monroe. Don’t you find that a bit interesting as well? Think about that.
Poor Natalie, she just wanted to juggle her schedule to be a good mom, wife and actress. She was full of life and love for those she opened her heart to. It is such a shame that her memory has been overshadowed by her untimely death. Whatever truly happened to Natalie is still a mystery of sorts for now. Possibly in the near future more information will come out in the wash, and I truly hope that is the case.
No matter what though, I have full confidence that Natalie’s memory will live on through her countless fans and her beloved family. Justice may not always come as soon as we hope, but eventually the truth does come out…it always does.
J'aime Rubio (Copyright 2011)
"Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour" by Marti Rulli & Dennis Davern
"Pieces of My Heart" Robert Wagner
Alcohol Metabolism After Death
Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations 2010 Update
CBS News, Examiner.com