Natalie Wood death probed by ‘new generation’ of detectives

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LOS ANGELES — The death of Natalie Wood, who drowned
during a 1981 boating excursion with husband Robert Wagner and co-star
Chistopher Walken, was inadequately investigated at the time, according
to the co-author of a book on the celebrated case.

“The
case was never really investigated in 1981, and yes, I am relieved they
are going to give the case the attention it has always deserved,” said
author Marti Rulli, who wrote last year’s “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye
Splendour.”

Wood, 43, was boating off Catalina
Island on Thanksgiving weekend 1981 with Wagner, Walken and others when
she somehow went overboard and died. Officials at the time ruled her
death an accident, but there has been much speculation since on whether
there was more to the story.

Sheriff Lee Baca told
the Los Angeles Times that detectives want to talk to the captain of
the boat after learning of comments he recently made about events on
board. Baca added only that the captain “made comments worthy of
exploring.”

A law enforcement source added that
the department recently received a letter from an unidentified “third
party” who said the captain had “new recollections” about the case. The
source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.

Rulli
wrote the book with the captain, Dennis Davern. In it, Davern described
bitter arguments aboard the boat that weekend. In an interview last
year on CNN, Davern said he believed the original investigation was
woefully incomplete.

(In an interview Friday
morning on NBC’s “Today” show, the Associated Press reported, Davern
said he lied to investigators about Wood’s death and he blames Wagner
for her drowning. He said he had urged Los Angeles County sheriff’s
homicide investigators to reopen the case, according to AP.)

“I
am confident it is in good hands at this time, Rulli said of the new
probe. “This has been a long process, and I have worked my way through
the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, and with a new generation of
detectives in the department they are taking it seriously.”

Wagner released a statement through his spokesman expressing support for a new investigation.

Wagner
said he “trusts they will evaluate whether any new information relating
to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid, and that it comes from a
credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from
the 30-year anniversary of her tragic death,” Wagner’s spokesman, Alan
Nierob, said in a statement.

Wood and Wagner spent
the holiday weekend on their 60-foot yacht, Splendour, along with
Walken, who was Wood’s co-star in the film “Brainstorm.”

On
the evening of Saturday, Nov. 28, the boat anchored and the trio had
dinner at Doug’s Harbor Reef restaurant on Catalina. Later, they
returned to the yacht and had drinks. Wagner and Walken had an argument.
Wagner said in a 2008 interview with the Los Angeles Times that the
argument concerned how much of one’s personal life should be sacrificed
in pursuit of one’s career and art.

Wagner and Walken eventually calmed down and said goodnight, Wagner said. But when he went to bed, Wood wasn’t there.

Wagner
thought his wife had taken a small inflatable boat by herself as she
had done before, his spokesman said after the incident. But after 10 to
15 minutes passed without her returning, Wagner went to look for her on a
small cruiser. When he couldn’t find her, he contacted the harbor
patrol.

Wood’s body was discovered about 8 a.m.
Sunday by authorities about a mile away from the yacht. The dinghy was
found beached nearby.

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©2011 the Los Angeles Times

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