Post by Graveyardbride on Nov 29, 2013 15:52:22 GMT -5
November 29, 1981: Death in Dark Water
Around 8 o’clock on the morning of Sunday, November 29, 1981, rescuers pulled Natalie Wood from the water in Isthmus Cove on Catalina Island off the California coast. She had disappeared from Splendour, the 60-foot boat owned by the actress and her husband Robert Wagner, which was moored about a mile away. She was wearing a red down jacket, long flannel nightgown and socks. One of the men who pulled her out of the ocean recalled “... she was standing up in the water.” The down in the jacket had kept her from sinking. A small, inflatable dinghy was beached nearby.
It has been 32 years, but Wood’s mysterious drowning remains shrouded in mystery.
Natalie Wood, born Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko, July 20, 1938, was best-known for her screen roles in Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story. After working in films as a child, she became a successful Hollywood and TV star as a young adult and by age 25, had received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress nominations for her performances in Splendour in the Grass (1961) and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963). In 1966, she co-starred with Robert Redford in This Property is Condemned and was working on her 49th big screen film at the time of her death.
When she drowned, Wood was starring in the film Brainstorm with Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher and Cliff Robertson. The science fiction movie, directed by Douglas Trumbull, follows a research team’s efforts to perfect a system that directly records the sensory and emotional feelings of a subject and efforts by the company’s management to exploit the device for the military. The team included estranged husband and wife Michael and Karen Brace (Walken and Wood), as well as Michael’s colleague Lillian Reynolds (Fletcher).
On Thanksgiving weekend, Walken joined his co-star and Robert Wagner on their yacht. The only other person on board was Dennis Davern, the captain. According to Wagner, his wife went to their stateroom, where he later saw her “doing something with her hair.” He and Walken continued to talk (or argue) and when he [Wagner] decided to go to bed, he told investigators, “... she wasn’t there. And when I went down below, she wasn’t there. The dinghy was gone ... and I looked around for her, and I couldn’t ... I didn’t know where she was ....”
A Cry in the Night. On the night of Saturday, November 28, retired stockbroker Marilyn Wayne was a guest on a nearby boat roughly 90 feet from Splendour. Around 11 p.m., Ms. Wayne said she heard a female voice calling for help: “Somebody help me! I’m drowning! Please, somebody help me! I’m drowning!” Ms. Wayne attempted to notify the authorities, but could not get through.
Three days later, Ms. Wayne said she received a “scribbled message on a torn piece of paper” that warned her to keep her mouth shut concerning the circumstances of that night. “If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know,” the note allegedly read. “I immediately suspected it was related to Natalie Wood’s death,” she said, “because that’s all anyone had been talking about. I was disturbed and even told an attorney about the threat.” In a written statement, Ms. Wayne amended her 2982 statement, claiming, “I [also] heard a man’s voice, slurred, and in an aggravated tone, say something to the effect of, ‘Oh, hold on, we’re coming to get you.’” She claimed the cries for help continued for up to 15 minutes. “I believe a famous woman lost her life, while he [Wagner] witnessed how and why it happened. I believe it was his voice I heard.”
The autopsy report revealed the 43-year-old actress had bruises on her body and arms, as well as an abrasion on her left cheek. (Later, in his memoirs Pieces of My Heart, Wagner acknowledged he had a fight with Natalie before she disappeared.) Ms. Wood’s blood alcohol level was .14 and there were traces of two medications in her bloodstream, a motion-sickness drug and a painkiller, which would increase the effects of the alcohol. Following his investigation, Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi ruled her death an accident by drowning and hypothermia. According to the coroner, Natalie Wood had been drinking and may have slipped while trying to re-board the dinghy.
But what really happened that night?
Argument. In 2011, the enquiry into the death of Natalie Wood was reopened after Captain Dennis Devern, who wrote Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour in 2010, changed his story. After almost 30 years, Devern claimed he heard the couple loudly arguing that night and holds Wagner responsible for what happened. However, the only full sentence he claims to have heard was Wagner yelling, “Get off my fucking boat!”
Davern believes the fight was triggered by Wagner’s belief that Chris Walken (pictured above with Natalie Wood in Brainstorm) wanted to sleep with Natalie and the star’s death was directly related to this argument, during which, he alleged Wagner smashed a wine bottle. Asked why he had taken so long to come forward with the details, Davern explained: “Why now is because I’ve been trying to tell information about this for many, many years, but there wasn’t really anyone listening until now. I’ve been trying to get somebody to listen for a long time and now somebody is listening and they’re going to carry on with this investigation. I’m not saying anything different. All the information that I’ve revealed in the past, it’s all in that book, and now it’s just up to the investigators to do an investigation.” Davern was also pressed as to why he lied when interviewed by police the first time around, to which he replied: “At that time my life was just totally crazy and I don’t think it was a time when I was even able to think straight.”
In Pieces of My Heart,” Wagner admitted he and Walken argued that night. He claimed Walken went to bed and he stayed up for a while, but when he was preparing for bed, noticed his wife and a dinghy that had been attached to the yacht were missing. According to Wagner: “Chris [Walken] began talking about his ‘total pursuit of a career,’ which he admitted was more important to him than his personal life. He clearly thought Natalie should live like that, too. “I got angry. ‘Why don’t you stay out of her career?’ I said. ‘She’s got enough people telling her what to do without you ....’
“I went below, and Natalie wasn’t there,” he continued. “Strange. I went back up on the deck and looked around for her and noticed the dinghy was gone. Stranger. I remember wondering if she’d taken the dinghy because of the argument and then I thought, ‘No way,’ because she was terrified of dark water and besides that, the dinghy fired up loudly and we would have heard it, whether we were in the salon or on deck.” He also speculated she might have driven the dinghy to a cove and the engine died. “We had just run out of options, but I didn’t allow myself to actually contemplate what that meant – it was too unthinkable. Nobody knows,” he concluded. “There are only two possibilities; either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.”
Fear of Dark Water. Lana Wood, Natalie’s sister, insists Wagner was the one who enjoyed sailing and that Natalie was so terrified of the water she didn’t even use the family pool.
Natalie herself admitted her fear of water and described a horrible experience on the set of the 1952 film, The Star. The movie, starring Bette Davis, was directed by Stuart Heisler, whom Natalie described as “mean.” In one scene, Natalie’s character was supposed to jump into the ocean and swim to a raft. “I was terrified,” she recalled. “I was petrified, because we were in the open ocean.” When Bette Davis found out about Natalie’s fear of the water, she refused to work until a double was brought in to do the “water” scenes.
Would a woman so terrified of water that she couldn’t swim a short distance with an entire film crew looking on have taken a dinghy from a boat in the dead of night? Or attempt to “tie” a loose dinghy?
In Pieces of My Heart, Wagner recalls the moment he first fell in love with Natalie Wood, whom he married in 1957, divorced in 1962, and remarried in 1972. “I remember the instant I fell in love with her,” Wagner writes. “One night on board a small boat I owned, she looked at me with love, her dark brown eyes lit by a table lantern. That moment changed my life.”
The couple also reunited on a boat. Following a massive storm while traveling from New York to London on the Queen Elizabeth II, the two announced their plans to remarry and did so aboard a friend’s yacht off Catalina Island in 1972. (Isthmus Cove, where Natalie’s body was pulled from the water, is nearby.) According to Wagner, their seaside reunion served both to renew their love and revitalize their love of the ocean. They purchased the 60-foot-boat they christened Splendour, for Natalie’s film Splendour in the Grass, and Wagner recalls his wife’s sending him a note on Easter a year after the wedding, in which she wrote: “Dearest, here’s to smooth sailing for us from now on!”
However, considering the assertions of Natalie’s friends and family members, Wagner’s claim that his wife loved the ocean comes across as nothing more than wishful thinking.
30 Years Later. Detectives began reinvestigating the case in November 2011. Since then, investigators have interviewed more than 100 people, but Wagner has refused to speak with authorities, though his representatives have not provided any reason for such refusal.
At the time of Natalie Wood’s death, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office ruled the death accidental, but on January 14, 2013, released an addendum to the autopsy report that is raising questions about that ruling. According to CBS News, the addendum indicates Wood had bruising on her wrists, knees and ankles that might be more consistent with an assault than her alleged attempt to climb back into the boat.
Christopher Walken has remained strangely silent as to what transpired aboard Splendour more than three decades ago. When asked how he felt about the 30-year-old investigation being revived, he replied, “I don’t know.”
Lana Wood, also an actress, best known for the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, insists the idea that Natalie would get into a dinghy at night in the middle of the ocean never made sense. Nevertheless, she does not believe Wagner, whom she calls “RJ,” was directly involved in her sister’s death, but has no doubt he covered up certain details. According to Lana, Davern told her he had attempted to get her sister out of the water, but Wagner stopped him, saying: “Leave her there, teach her a lesson.”
Even more chilling, according to Lana Wood, “dark water” was of special significance to the actress because their mother had told Natalie she would die by drowning in dark water. Apparently, Natalie never forgot her mother’s words and avoided deep dark water her entire life – that is, until November 29, 1981.
Sources: The Los Angeles Times; CBS News, The Daily Mail; International Business Times; and E! News.