Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which means it’s time for the usual traditions—making plans with friends and family, stuffing animals inside other animals to make one super delicious animal, hanging the Pilgrim-shaped lights, and wondering anew about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Natalie Wood’s death, which happened nearly 30 years ago on Thanksgiving weekend, 1981. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is getting an early jump on the holidays by reopening Wood’s death as a homicide investigation, looking into newly acquired “additional information” that could shed some light on what exactly happened the night Wood drowned while boating off of Catalina Island with Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken.
The source of that new information: Captain Dennis Davern, who last year published Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour (Splendour being the name of Wagner’s yacht) with Marti Rulli, who has long lobbied to reopen the investigation. In their true-crime thriller, Davern again goes over that fateful weekend with Wagner, Wood, and Walken—who was co-starring with Wood in the sci-fi film Brainstorm—and describes the evening of heavy drinking and heated arguments that ended in Wood’s death, painting a far more sinister picture than Wagner’s personal account.
According to Wagner’s version, the trio had spent the night imbibing when the conversation took a volatile turn, with he and Walken having a drunken argument about “how much of one's personal life should be sacrificed in pursuit of one's career and art”—a fine, actorly argument indeed. And according to the official ruling, at some point, Wood crept away and attempted to enter a small dinghy, then slipped and fell, hitting her head and rolling into the water. But Davern’s new account, as quoted by TMZ, is much more damning, of course:
They say before Natalie disappeared from the boat, she was drinking and taking Quaaludes with her husband, Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken.
According to the book, Wagner became enraged when he saw Wood and Walken speaking, and smashed a wine bottle, yelling at Walken, "What do you want to do, fuck my wife? Is that what you want?"
At that point, Walken returned to his cabin and Natalie and Robert went to their state room. According to the Captain, he heard a loud argument between the couple and thumping sounds, and eventually silence.
A short time later, the Captain went to the deck and was told by Wagner, "Natalie is missing."
The book claims Wagner refused to let the Captain call the Coast Guard.
So far investigators have yet to name Wagner or anyone else as a suspect, or even go so far as to request an interview with either him or Walken. But Wagner has said in an official statement that he welcomes the new inquiry, even though he adds that it hopes it comes from someone who isn’t “simply trying to profit from the 30 year anniversary of her tragic death.” Throwing suspicion on Davern’s motivations for waiting three decades to offer these “new recollections” would certainly be in Wagner’s best interest, as they definitely don’t paint him in the best light.
But Wagner’s also got a point: While Natalie Wood’s death has always been cloaked in mystery—as evidenced by his frustrating, deflection-filled interview on this morning’s Today (seen below)—Dennis Davern doesn’t exactly make the best case for finally being the one to help solve it.