Truth about Natalie Wood's death 'is all in the book,' says boat's captain
Dennis Davern, captain of the boat off of which Natalie Wood drowned, wrote a 2009 book about the incident which contradicts the account of Wood's husband Robert Wagner.
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Davern said of his decision to lie to police that Wood’s death happened during a time in his life when he was “unable to think straight.”Skip to next paragraph
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“At that time my life was just totally crazy,” he said.
Davern’s account of that night in “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour” differs from Wagner’s version in his own book “Pieces of My Heart.” Wood was on board the Splendour with Wagner, Christopher Walken, who was her co-star in the film “Brainstorm,” after having dinner at a restaurant on Catalina Island. Both accounts agree that there was an argument and Wagner broke a wine bottle on the table.
Wagner’s version of events said that he was jealous of Walken. Wagner said in "Pieces of My Heart" that he went to his room after the argument, but Wood wasn’t there. He believed she had taken the small dinghy on board the boat back to shore, as she had done on a few occasions. After some time passed without her returning, Wagner said he and Davern looked for her on the boat, then contacted harbor patrol when he couldn’t find her.
Davern says in “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour” that he heard the argument and that Wood left to go to her stateroom afterwards. Davern said in the book that he then heard Wagner and Wood arguing in their room and that he turned up the volume on his radio. He looked outside and saw that the two had come out onto the deck, looking like they were still arguing.
Davern says Wagner later came to him, looking upset, and said he couldn’t find his wife. Davern says he looked on the boat, but couldn’t find the actress, but saw that the dinghy was missing.
Wagner said Wood must have gone off upset, Davern said, and got them both drinks.
“Dennis wanted to do everything,” Davern’s co-author Marti Rulli said on “Today.” “Make a phone call, turn on the search light. His instincts told him something was terribly wrong, and Robert Wagner asked him not to.”
Wood’s body was discovered the next morning by authorities in the water with the rubber dinghy nearby. Wood was dressed in a nightgown, socks, and a jacket, with bruises on her body as well as a laceration of her cheek. Authorities said her death was an accident and the coroner’s report at the time suggested she may have slipped getting on board the dinghy because of the wine she had been drinking.
Wood’s sister Lana Wood and Davern had asked the sheriff’s department to reopen the case last year. Wood told CNN in 2010 that she does not think foul play was involved, but that she thinks there’s more to the story than was originally discovered.
“My sister was not a swimmer and did not know how to swim,” Lana Wood said. “She would never go to another boat or to shore dressed in a nightgown and socks.”
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.