Natalie Wood

Horrible Accident or Vicious Murder?

Natalie Wood standing on her Yacht The Splendour with Robert Wagner fishing in the background.
Authored by: Patrick Alexander

The mysterious death of Natalie Wood on November 29th, 1981 forever changed the small community of Catalina Island. Natalie Wood had been sailing with her husband, Robert Wagner, and co-star, Christopher Walken, on their beloved family yacht, Splendour. What happened on the night of November 29th would become one of the most mysterious Hollywood deaths of all time.

The facts of the case are that famous Hollywood actress, Natalie Wood, drowned while their yacht was moored at Two Harbors. Robert Wagner, Christopher Walken, and then boat captain, Dennis Davern, were on board. Also undisputed that evening is that Natalie and Robert had been in a heated argument that included the smashing of a wine bottle upon one of the boats tables. Even now, 3 decades later, what happened to Natalie prior to her drowning remains unknown.

In 2008 Robert Wagner wrote in his memoir, Pieces of My Heart, that he had gotten into an argument with Walken over Wood’s career following a long night of drinking. In the book he wrote, “I picked up a wine bottle, slammed it on the table and broke it into pieces.”

In 1997 Chritopher Walken, during an interview, stated that he believed Natalie Wood had hit her head while attempting to move the yacht’s dinghy. Walken claims that Wood had gone to bed before Wagner and himself; however, the dinghy was banging against the side of the yacht, possibly keeping Wood awake. Walken hypothesizes that she, perhaps, went to the stern of the boat to move the dinghy, fell, hit her head and floated away.

For many years following Wood’s death the consensus was that it was merely an accident. Perhaps she was attempting to flee to shore to avoid the argument with her husband. Perhaps she was heading to shore to call her children by phone, something she had done the night previous to her murder accident. The case probably would’ve retained its classification of “accident” if it hadn’t been for the testimony of then boat captain, Dennis Davern!

Dennis Davern in his 2009 book, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, tells his version of the events that led up to the 1981 death of Natalie Wood. Davern has confessed to investigators that his initial testimony, which backed up Wagner’s story, was false. For years he has been tormented by the facts of that dreadful night and his guilt has climaxed in his “tell all” book. Many associate the publishing of this book as the key factor in the 2011 reopening of Natalie Wood’s murder accident.

Since the reopening of Natalie Wood’s case the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has stated that Robert Wagner is a “person of interest” in her death. Wagner has refused to testify about his wife’s murder accident, which only raises concern over his involvement. There are those who believe that the argument of that night resulted in Wagner taking aggressive physical behavior towards his wife. It is widely known that the couple did not have the most perfect of marriages; in fact, the two had divorced each other once before their second marriage. Do we really have all the facts aboard the Splendour that night?

Investigators say the Natalie Wood Case will remain “undetermined” until such time as new evidence can be produced. With a mystery as old as this one perhaps we will never know what truly happened on the night of November 29, 1981… a night that will forever remain a Catalina Ghost Tour legend!