Yacht Captain in Natalie Wood Case Either Lied Before or Is Lying Now

natalie woodSo you've heard that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office is reopening its investigation into the mysterious death of actress Natalie Wood (of West Side Story and Rebel Without a Cause fame), nearly three decades after her body was found floating in a cove off Catalina Island? The 1981 death -- which apparently occurred after Wood spent an evening drinking and dining with two fellow actors, husband Robert Wagner and co-star Christopher Walken, and carousing aboard a million-dollar yacht -- was deemed an accidental drowning at the time. 

Of course, the murky case has never grown totally cold, at least not in the public's imagination. There have long been whispers: Wood and Wagner were said to have quarreled before she disappeared; some witnesses reported hearing cries for help and calm responses. But still, why, almost precisely 30 years after Wood's death, at age 43, is the case being reopened now?


Well, really, one wonders if that "precisely 30 years" part may have something to do with it. (Wood died on November 29 – the case is approaching its 30-year anniversary.) Sheriff's office officials said its decision was based on new evidence that had been given to them by the yacht's captain, Dennis Davern. Davern now says that Wagner angrily broke a bottle, prompting Walken to retreat to his room (where he is said to have fallen asleep) and a heated argument between Wagner and Wood. Davern also contends that he tried to break up the fight, but was sent away, and that when he returned, Wood was nowhere on the boat to be found. At that point, he says, Wagner directed him not to do everything he could (not to turn on the boat's searchlights, not to call for help) to look for his missing passenger.

Davern says he disclosed none of this to homicide investigators at the time, freely admitting to having lied, and now maintains that Wagner was responsible for the actress's death. (Police said Friday that Wagner is not a suspect in Wood's death.)

Look, I'm not saying Davern is lying now (though that he says he lied before certainly undercuts his credibility), but I will note that it's somewhat curious that he's saying these things just as the 30th anniversary of Wood's death approaches, when he has a book to promote. (The book was released in 2009, and although it's the LA Sheriff's Office that has determined the timing of the reopening of the case, Davern and his co-writer gave an interview on the Today show Friday that will likely renew interest in the book.)

In any event, if there's truth to Davern's claim that Wagner was responsible for Wood's death by failing to do everything he could to rescue his wife, wouldn't Davern, as captain of the ship, be just as responsible? Isn't a boat captain supposed to be in charge on the water? And even if he was scared of Wagner at the time (Davern's story portrays the star as having a violent temper), couldn't Davern -- shouldn't Davern -- have come clean to investigators later if what he says happened did, in fact, happen?

I trust that investigators will do what they can to thoroughly investigate Davern's charges, as they should. What's really sad is that, if he is telling the truth now, Davern didn't come clean with the facts before he had a book to sell.

Do you think the boat captain's story sounds credible?


Image via classic film scans/Flickr

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