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S31.E22: Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water 2018.02.03

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The 1981 death of actress Natalie Wood is re-investigated. Police say her then husband, actor Robert Wagner, is a person of interest in the case.

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I always thought that Wagner played a major part in Wood’s death or possibly “accidentally” killed her. If it had been Walken I always felt Wagner would have said something. Also, Wagner has told several different versions what might have happened that night. I agree that there is no way she would have willingly gone near the water at night. She had a major fear of the water dating back to her childhood during a movie. That said, I don’t think anything will ever come of this. It’s been too long and the witness accounts are either too weak or not credible.

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She willingly co-owned a boat that she went out on and by all accounts they were all wasted so I will never buy the idea that she wouldn't have gone outside by herself. People do all sorts of stuff when angry and drunk and she was clearly able to compertalize her phobia/fear in some way that allowed her tp be on a boat.

The fact that they are wasting any money continuing to investigate this annoys me because they clearly aren't going to find enough evidence to indicte and no lawyer in the world would allow their client to talk to the police in Wagners case even if they believed he was 100% innocent.

Edited by biakbiak.
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They barely mentioned it but she was found with a red down jacket over her nightgown. I wonder where that came from?  Was it hers? And how it fits into the police and people’s theories?  

 

As for me, I don’t think she rode off into town (or just ride around in the water) in her nightgown. But both murder and an accident are plausible. I wonder how far from the boat she was, how far from the dinghy she was and how far apart were the bait and dinghy. 

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Yes, the jacket was hers. She was found in the water a mile from the boat and the dinghy close to her on the beach. 

Edited by biakbiak.
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I lean more towards thinking it was a tragic accident.  They had all been drinking.  Natalie Wood's blood alcohol level was way over the legal limit.  Boat, night, alcohol, and dark water are a bad combination.

Also, Christopher Walken's story has never changed.  The captain/caretaker of the boat changed his story several years later, but Walken hasn't.

If there was any real new evidence, they would be doing more than giving interviews.

I also don't see any reason why either Wagner or Walken would cover for the other.

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I also don't see any reason why either Wagner or Walken would cover for the other.

I agree.  I felt like this episode was essentially clickbait under the guise of presenting "new" evidence that didn't change anything about the case.  I think this case is one of those things where the parties were sufficiently famous and the facts sufficiently murky that people have let their imaginations run wild when the reality is probably something as mundane as woman drank too much and accidentally drowned.   

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After watching this last night I think the unanswered questions in this case are still unsettling. The detectives are convinced that Wagner did it but they don't have the evidence to prove it. It's terrible that Wagner, Davern and Walken were drinking on that boat that night after Natalie disappeared and they did nothing to look for her and didn't call for help for hours. When Davern told Wagner they should turn on the search lights and look for Natalie and Wagner said not to do it that speaks volumes. He knew Natalie was dead already no need  to look for her in the water and call attention to the boat. My theory  is that Natalie and Wagner were fighting, both were drunk and she fell into the water, either he pushed her, or he accidentally killed her on board while they were fighting and pushed her limp body over and untied the dinghy to make it look like she tried to get off the boat. Wagner goes back inside starts drinking again and tried to get everyone on board with the same story they were all going to tell the police. My theory only. Wagner is not telling the truth but he'll never speak to the police again.

Edited by Matty.
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I would find the suspicions more plausible if only Wood, Wagner and Davern had been on the boat.  The police's theory seems to be that Wagner intimidated Davern into lying, and Davern is only now telling the truth.  There is no way I believe Wagner intimidated Christopher Walken into anything. 

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I was six when this happened and honesstly am not sure if the Chris Walken back then is the same Chris Walken I know of now. I mean, I can see a young actor whose career is just beginning deciding to go along with the story.  I am not saying Walken did that. I am just saying that is a plausible situation. I can also see not correcting that particular story as time went on, because it may show you in a bad light.

(I am not sure when Chris Walken was seen as a big time actor. Just because you have won an Academy award does not mean you are seen as a big time actor, but maybe he had already made it.)

I need a clarification. I thought Walken was in his room and it was Wagner and Davern who drank while knowing Wood was missing. I thought Walken found  out the next morning.

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Christopher Walken's career had already taken off, and Robert Wagner, while famous, did not have the power to destroy another actor's career.  Davern changed his story, and it paints him as a nice guy who was bullied by Robert Wagner into lying.

The original story was all four of them had been drinking heavily for most of the day.  This is corroborated by several people who saw them that day and night at a bar/nightclub/restaurant on the island.  When they left to go back to the boat that night, they were all drunk.  When they got back to the boat, they drank some more.  Natalie Wood went to bed first.  Wagner and Walken stayed up drinking, and ended up arguing about Wood's career.  Walken went to bed, and then Wagner eventually went to bed, and Wood wasn't in their cabin.  Wagner and Davern started to look for her, noticed the dingy was missing, and thought she might have gone back to the island to stay in a hotel as she had done the previous night.  They decided they should notify authorities to search for her.

Davern has now changed his story, says Wagner delayed calling in the authorities, and told him and Christopher Walken what to say when they talked to the authorities.  Christopher Walken has never changed his story.  Walken, Wagner, and Davern might feel guilty about drinking so much that night, but that makes them guilty of poor judgement, it doesn't make Robert Wagner a murderer.

Another person I don't believe is Lana Wood.  She's said that when Robert Wagner dies, she will write the real story of Robert and Natalie.  Why not write it now?  Because Robert Wagner is alive to dispute anything she writes.  If Lana Wood really knew anything pertinent to the case (real evidence not just speculation), why wouldn't she tell the police?

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Yeah Walken was already an Oscar winner by this time, Wagner was on Hart to Hart, I don't think he had influence to destroy him. 

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I admit I'm a total light-weight when it comes to drinking, but it's hard for me to fathom this much alcohol consumption and still being able to carry on a conversation or be upright. Anyway, I think because Natalie was so wasted, we cannot really say what she would or would not have done. She was not in her normal frame of mind. As far as having bruises, maybe she got banged up in her drunken state. Just not enough evidence there for me to be able to say one way or the other, but I don't give a lot of credit to people who change their stories or come forward years after an event to say, yeah, we saw the argument between Natalie and RJ on the boat the night she died. Seriously? With the news coverage this case got back in the day, you didn't think it was important to come forward sooner?

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That's something else that doesn't make sense.  At the time, no one heard anything.  Years later there are now unidentified witnesses who heard Robert and Natalie arguing.

I also wouldn't be surprised if people are confusing Wagner and Walken with characters they have played on screen.  Robert Wagner in a few movies played very attractive charming men who turned out to be murderers, and Walken can be downright terrifying.  That doesn't make them murderers in real life.

The police stated they have interviewed Walken again, and he is not a person of interest.  Davern claims both he and Walken lied on orders from Wagner.  Walken's story hasn't changed in all these years.  So which is true?

Why are these police detectives giving interviews to reporters?  If they have any real evidence against Wagner, shouldn't they be building a case against him instead of tipping him off that they might have evidence against him?

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28 minutes ago, tobeannounced said:

Anyway, I think because Natalie was so wasted, we cannot really say what she would or would not have done.

They were all drunk.  She could have decided to take the dinghy to the mainland to teach her husband a lesson.  "He will wonder where I am.  I'll show him."  I seriously think it was just a nasty accident.

And I wouldn't believe anything Lana Wood said.  Accusing Robert Wagner is her main claim to fame besides Plenty O'Tool.

1 minute ago, TigerLynx said:

Why are these police detectives giving interviews to reporters? 

Why, indeed?

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I was 11 years old when this happened and have no recollection of Natalie Wood as a famous person.  I had to ask my mother how famous she was.  As far as I'm concerned, Robert Wagner's fame all comes from NCIS, which occurred decades after Natalie died.

It is certainly plausible to me that Robert Wagner could have been involved.  However, if he was, I think he's gotten away with it.  It's too late, IMO.  There's not enough evidence to definitively point toward accident or murder, and I doubt the cops will ever find any such evidence.  If it ever existed, it's long since gone.

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I rolled my eyes when Lala Wood said that the finger pointing has to stop. Isn't she the one doing the finger pointing? 

I don't have a problem believing that Natalie got into the dinghy in an attempt to leave the boat. She obviously didn't have a problem going in it the night before with the caretaker of the boat to go to shore to a hotel room. And the evening she died they once again went to shore, and back again. So she may have been afraid of dark water but not enough to have stayed off the dinghy at least 3 times after dark, in two days.

The fact that she was wearing a down jacket over her night clothes makes me believe that she left on her own. I don't think if she was killed by Wagner in the heat of an argument he would bother to dress her in a jacket before disposing of her body. Also the cop made a big deal about the bruises she had on her body, including I think some that were on and around her head, calling it a beating. But the caretaker who ID'd the body didn't say he thought she looked like she had been beaten. And he even thinks Wagner did it. 

Finally the fact that Walken also thought she left the boat makes he think she did. He would have no reason to lie for Wagner, he was Natalie's friend. Looks to me like too many people (Lana, caretaker and the cops) are just looking for their 15 minutes of fame. In Lana's case I think it would be more fame than she has ever gotten from her career. 

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That's something else that doesn't make sense.  At the time, no one heard anything.  Years later there are now unidentified witnesses who heard Robert and Natalie arguing.

There was a witness from then who said she heard someone calling for help from the water, but these investigators dismiss her as being mistaken. 

But the witnesses to the arguing, wasn't that the night before Natalie Wood died?

Natalie Wood died from drowning.  As far as I can tell, the suggestion is that Robert Wagner pushed her into the water deliberately.  

I also wonder about Natalie Wood pouring her heart out to Dennis Davern.   Sounds dubious. 

 

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The fact that she was wearing a down jacket over her night clothes makes me believe that she left on her own.

I agree. 

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If she died on the boat, and then was put in the water, would there be water in her lungs? Would a coroner be able to tell if she died on a dry boat vs in the water?

Edited by ari333.
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30 minutes ago, ari333 said:

Is she died on the boat, and then was put in the water, would there be water in her lungs? Would a coroner be able to tell if she died on a dry boat vs in the water?

I believe they can tell. If I understand correctly, there are physiological differences between someone who died from drowning and someone who was dead when they went in the water.

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The down jacket bothers me,too.  I also don't see him taking the time to put a down jacket on her or him being  sinister enough of thinking " this jacket will cooberate my story that she left of her own will ".  

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13 hours ago, MrSmith said:

I believe they can tell. If I understand correctly, there are physiological differences between someone who died from drowning and someone who was dead when they went in the water.

 

13 hours ago, ari333 said:

If she died on the boat, and then was put in the water, would there be water in her lungs? Would a coroner be able to tell if she died on a dry boat vs in the water?

Three options: 

1–conscious while drowning = water in lungs

2–unconscious (hard hit on the head for example) but still alive when drowned =water in lungs and possible evidence on head 

3–dead when thrown in water = no water in lungs 

On 2/5/2018 at 1:20 AM, UsernameFatigue said:

The fact that she was wearing a down jacket over her night clothes makes me believe that she left on her own. I don't think if she was killed by Wagner in the heat of an argument he would bother to dress her in a jacket before disposing of her body. 

For me, the opposite. I think if she was going to shore and took the time to put on a jacket, she probably would’ve gotten dressed. It wouldn’t take long to throw some clothes on. 

I think she put the jacket on over her nightgown while on deck arguing. Perhaps the night was chilly. 

I go back and forth if it was an accident or murder. Interesting theories on all sides. 

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9 hours ago, Tdoc72 said:

 

I think she put the jacket on over her nightgown while on deck arguing. Perhaps the night was chilly. 

I am not saying she was killed, but I personally believe that the possibility is there and this is why (if she was killed) she had the jacket on. I also believe if she was killed when it was just she and Wagner on deck that Walken and the other guy whose name escapes me  won't know for sure either way.

Again, I am not saying Wagner killed her; I am also not saying he didn't kill her.

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On 2/5/2018 at 10:52 AM, ari333 said:

If she died on the boat, and then was put in the water, would there be water in her lungs? Would a coroner be able to tell if she died on a dry boat vs in the water?

Natalie Wood drowned.  It seems the investigators might believe Wagner shoved or threw her into the water.  So far though, the only evidence they have is speculation, and a witness who changed his statement years later.  Even though Davern changed his statement, he doesn't offer up any real evidence either.  He's not saying he saw Wagner hit Wood, or push her into the water.  Davern says he originally lied because Wagner told him to, and the lie Davern supposedly told on Wagner's orders was none of them knew what happened.  Now he says Wagner was slow to contact the authorities to have them search for Wood, and he's not sure how Wood ended up in the water.  Not exactly helpful or useful information.

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I dont see why Davern would lie for Wagner unless Wagner paid him. And what female puts on a coat over a nightie to get in a boat, a tiny boat, alone at night when she was terrified of water. I know she was in the small boat before, but that was with the Davern dude. She was not alone on the night before. SOmething seems fishy

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I'm thinking everyone's memories are a little hazy after all this time.  Everyone remembers incidents differently.  I would think they would have to go with the original statwments.

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I think they were all drunk and she drowned.

I think trying to make it look like anything else are the workings of someone with too much time on their hands.

I think it's a waste of money to investigate it again.

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The way Wagner speaks about it sets off a red flag for me. I thought he was a red flag with his demeanor  when I first heard about it (I was 20) I may be wrong, but I'm not buying that it was an accident on her part.

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7 minutes ago, CaughtOnTape said:

I think they were all drunk and she drowned.

I think trying to make it look like anything else are the workings of someone with too much time on their hands.

I think it's a waste of money to investigate it again.

I agree with the first and third statements. I'm not sure about the second. I could see it going either way, but it's been almost 40 years. Who's going to be able to make a provable case of anything other than what they've got so far?

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All I know is that there is reasonable doubt all over the place. If I were on the jury, I don’t think I could convict, unless the police have some secret evidence no one knows about. 

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20 minutes ago, Tdoc72 said:

All I know is that there is reasonable doubt all over the place. If I were on the jury, I don’t think I could convict, unless the police have some secret evidence no one knows about. 

They clearly don't even have enpugh evidence to charge him which is what makes it even more ridiculous, so many people on the police and medical examiner office seem to be about fame not justice in this case.

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Wagner is so guilty in my mind.  There's no way the police department would have named him a person of interest if they had no evidence.  We have no idea what Christopher Walken told the police when this investigation was reopened.

I believe that Natalie would have spilled her guts with the captain.  Wealthy people often find that their closest friends are those they pay a wage to.  Plus, she was at sea for a length of time with only the captain and her husband.

Robert Wagner has stated to the police that Natalie was "missing".  Yet his emergency call simply mentioned a person was missing from the yacht, not his "wife" which is very suspicious, IMO.  Also, he couldn't determine she was "missing" unless the entire yacht was searched.  Which does not fit with the fact that Christopher Walken slept through the entire thing.  They would have awakened him to make sure that Natalie wasn't talking to him or otherwise engaged with him.

I find it absolutely laughable that people really think that Natalie headed into town in the middle of a storm, in the dark of night, and in her nightgown.  That's putting aside the fact that she was deathly afraid of dark water.  Most of us aren't afraid of water, and most of us wouldn't take off in a dark storm in our PJs.  No matter how drunk.  Our inhibitions lessen with alcohol, but fears just don't disappear.

The police believe the captain, so he must be telling a believable story.  Hearing a fight and then finding Wagner in tears is very consistent with him lashing out in anger and causing her death.  Men often love the women they kill and mourn their deaths.  Refusing for the light to be shined on the water is very telling.  And claiming Natalie Wood, the movie star, is out in her nightgown and parka trying to untie the raft in the dark is beyond silly.

I'm fascinated in what Christopher Walken now has to say, and I wish he'd show a little courage in speaking out - regardless if it's pointing the finger at Wagner or maintaining his previous story.  He's a huge star now and should speak publically, IMO.

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29 minutes ago, RedheadZombie said:

He's a huge star now and should speak publically, IMO.

He was an Oscar winner when this happened, the idea that he was some unknown without a voice is not accurate. If Walken had changed his story the police would have mentioned it even without details. 

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People don’t have an obligation to speak out just to satisfy public curiosity.  Frankly, I wish more people would just shut up.  There’s no frickin’ mystery to anyone anymore!

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in my mind he's guilty of something. what loving husband does not call the coast guard , police when you realize your wife is missing from the yacht? something very fishy there. he may have accidentally caused her to go overboard. but to cover it up, to just plain ol not get help and wait. wtf. he should have gone to jail.

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5 hours ago, Tanichka said:

People don’t have an obligation to speak out just to satisfy public curiosity.  Frankly, I wish more people would just shut up.  There’s no frickin’ mystery to anyone anymore!

I agree.  Especially the bolded part.

Christopher Walken gave a statement to the police at the time, and they talked to him again years later.  In an interview in 2011 or 2012, he said he had told everything he knew, if anyone had any questions all they had to do was read the statements given at the time of Wood's death.  Walken and Natalie were friends, and I think if he knew anything at all, he would have told the police.

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Well I do not believe one word that ship captain is saying, he looks like a burned out drunk and druggie to me, and frankly just looks like he is lying. I think it was a horrible accident, they were all black out drunk and she fell overboard while the men were drinking.  And that fame whore sister of hers....God, she needs to just shut the F up.

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The principals in this case have been interviewed ad nauseam.  Some crappy tabloid comes out with some BS & the press starts hounding them for their comments yet again.  Really shameless, dare I say, fake news.

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On 2/7/2018 at 3:56 PM, atlantaloves said:

Well I do not believe one word that ship captain is saying, he looks like a burned out drunk and druggie to me, and frankly just looks like he is lying. I think it was a horrible accident, they were all black out drunk and she fell overboard while the men were drinking.  And that fame whore sister of hers....God, she needs to just shut the F up.

Thank you.  I was 16 when this happened, a huge Natalie Wood fan, I never thought it was more than an accident.  I thought then, I think now, they were all wasted.  No one called the Coast Guard because they were either tanked or sleeping it off.   Natalie got pissed, tried to get in the boat and slipped.  We have all been out in dark water and it is VERY HARD to judge shorelines.  Why else would anyone wear a friggin' DOWN JACKET, knowing if it gets wet it gets very heavy?  A drunk woman, that is who.

To try to get a conviction NOW?  It was 1981 - how in the hell do they think they can win?  

Lana Wood needs to get a career NOT suckling off the teat of her dead sister.

On 2/4/2018 at 3:13 PM, Ohmo said:

I was 11 years old when this happened and have no recollection of Natalie Wood as a famous person.  I had to ask my mother how famous she was.  As far as I'm concerned, Robert Wagner's fame all comes from NCIS, which occurred decades after Natalie died.

It is certainly plausible to me that Robert Wagner could have been involved.  However, if he was, I think he's gotten away with it.  It's too late, IMO.  There's not enough evidence to definitively point toward accident or murder, and I doubt the cops will ever find any such evidence.  If it ever existed, it's long since gone.

Robert Wagner was way famous before NCIS.  Movies, television (Hart to Hart, To Catch a Thief, etc.)  Natalie Wood was quite the star as well, child actress into adult film star.  I admired them as a couple as they would take turns working so one was always home with the kids.  

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Looks like this story has died a natural death.  Wish they would let it go.

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On 2/7/2018 at 8:58 AM, msrachelj said:

in my mind he's guilty of something. what loving husband does not call the coast guard , police when you realize your wife is missing from the yacht? something very fishy there. he may have accidentally caused her to go overboard. but to cover it up, to just plain ol not get help and wait. wtf. he should have gone to jail.

Davern and many others who came aboard had to argue with Wagner to call the Coast Guard, even to turn on the search light hoping to spot her.  After Wood was found, Wagner was being spirited away by helicopter instead of identifying his wife. He told Davern to do it.   What kind of man does not wait or do anything and everything possible to find the supposed love of his life?

Wagner was always by his own admission out of control jealous concerning Natalie.  He had admitted to sitting outside Warren Beatty's house with a gun at one point during or before their first marriage.    The night she died Wagner had smashed a wine bottle while all were present accusing Walken of wanting to sleep with Natalie.  That is when Natalie left the parlous and Walken went to his room.    Then Wagner went into their bedroom and a huge verbal and physical argument started. It ended on outside and then Wagner is claiming to Davern she just disappeared. 

According to everyone who knew her since early childhood the ONE fear/phobia she had that never went away was of drowning in dark water.  The reason she left with Davern the night before is because Wagner was drunk and acting crazy because of Walken and wanted to move the boat late at night.  She refused being deathly afraid and he was hellbent so she left.

Walken while winning an Oscar was not well known as he would become.  He was still doing small theater stuff during that time.  One such place was in Williamstown,Ma.   where he found the time to have a one night stand with my best friend.     I had forgotten about that little tidbit until I saw a blurb about this case. 

 I feel very bad for all three "Wood" sisters. They all grew up in a house of horrors.  Natalie at least had some happiness here and there. Lana never had a chance. She recently had become homeless and her only child died of a heart attack/cancer.  She didn't have the constitution of the oldest daughter who escaped and had a good life. 

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