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Decades Later, the Question Remains: Who Killed Natalie Wood?

For decades fans, Hollywood conspiracy theorists and even the star’s family have wondered what really happened on the fateful night Wood disappeared from her husband’s yacht. She was sailing to the island for a shoot for her sci-fi movie Brainstorm with co-star Christopher Walken.

Who Killed Natalie Wood?

Doug Bombard, a business owner enlisted to help with the search, saw her red down jacket bobbing in the water with her lifeless body inside. Keep reading the article below to learn more about Who Killed Natalie Wood.

Actress Natalie Wood was just 30 when she died, a victim of a mysterious and unsolved case. The world knows that alcohol and pills played a role in her death, but what really happened that night still remains a mystery. What we do know is that the actress had a deep-seated terror of water, something she displayed in many movies, most notably when famed director Elia Kazan asked her to appear completely naked and helpless in the middle of a lake for a scene in Rebel Without a Cause. In fact, reports have long suggested that her fear of water — and the idea that she would be completely helpless and stranded in it — contributed to her eventual death.

It’s been almost three decades since Wood disappeared in her sleep off the coast of California on November 29, 1981. She had taken her yacht’s dinghy, Prince Valiant, out for a spin at around midnight in order to party hop with her husband, actor Robert Wagner. Her body was discovered at around 8 a.m. the next day, floating in the water about a mile away from her boat, off an isolated cove known as Blue Cavern Point. She was wearing her nightgown, socks and a parka.

Though her death was ruled an accident, suspicions swirled around Wagner. The ship’s captain, Dennis Davern, had long claimed that the official account did not match up with what he knew to be true. He was interviewed on a 1992 Geraldo Rivera special and again in 2000 for Vanity Fair, but he continued to peddle different versions of his story. He also wrote a 2009 book with Marti Rulli, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, claiming that Wagner argued with her then pushed her into the water.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reopened the investigation in 2011 after new information came to light, including the fact that Wood’s body appeared to have fresh bruises when it was initially found in the water. The coroner also reevaluated the case and changed the cause of death to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” In 2018, authorities named Wagner, now 91, as a person of interest in the case.

Who Killed Natalie Wood?

In life, Natalie Wood was one of Hollywood’s most alluring stars. Her signature thick black eyeliner and wholesome persona made her a favorite with audiences the world over. Her tragic 1981 death off the coast of Catalina Island was one of the most mysterious events in Hollywood history. Her death remains unsolved and the questions surrounding her fate are still as enduring as the star herself.

In this book, the author investigates Wood’s death like a real police investigation and presents hard-hitting evidence that will allow readers to decide for themselves whether foul play was involved. He focuses on the forensics of the case, interviewing experts and examining evidence that has never been released to the public. The author first consults a leading medical examiner-coroner to address the unexplained bruising found on Natalie’s back and leg, and discusses the cause and timing of a large right forearm contusion. He also consults with a leading expert in the field of pharmacology to discuss Natalie’s drug intake and the timeline between her disappearance on the boat and her likely time of death.

Next, the author addresses cold-water hypothermia with a prominent authority on the subject. He concludes that the theory that Natalie Wood drowned because she was too cold is flawed. Finally, he discusses the role of Natalie’s husband and co-star, Robert Wagner, in the tragedy. Wagner was a ruthless Pygmalion who made his stars, including Rock Hudson, famous, but was also known to engineer courtships and marriages that distracted audiences from the actors’ private lives.

The author investigates the credibility of Splendour’s captain Dennis Davern, who told investigators that he assumed Natalie Wood was terrified of water and escaped to her Zodiac dinghy. The author reveals that Davern’s testimony has changed dramatically over the years and his contradictory statements in a 2018 podcast raise questions about his reliability. He also discusses a confidential memo from boating expert Paul Miller to Dr. Noguchi which sheds new light on the examination of Wagner’s yacht and its Zodiac dinghy the day of Natalie Wood’s death. This and other evidence are enough to convince many that there was foul play in Natalie Wood’s death.

What Happened Next?

The mystery of Natalie Wood’s death remains cloaked in mystery to this day. The Oscar-nominated actress was 43 when she died, and had recently finished filming her last movie, the sci-fi flick Brainstorm with her former husband, Robert Wagner. Wood and Wagner, who also appeared together in the TV series Hart to Hart and who had been married twice before, were a happy couple up until that fateful weekend.

The coroner’s initial ruling was that the actress, who couldn’t swim, had slipped into the water after trying to re-tie the dinghy on her yacht. But the theory only fueled speculation that the three-time Oscar nominee, whose best-known roles were in West Side Story, Splendor In The Grass and Rebel Without A Cause, didn’t drown by accident.

Fresh scrapes and bruises listed on the official autopsy report suggested that she might have been assaulted prior to her death, but no one ever came forward to say what happened. Wagner and Walken were questioned numerous times, but their stories remained inconsistent. And while the evidence in favor of a violent argument between the two was compelling, it never added up to a crime.

In the years since her death, many new developments have made this already murky case even more intriguing. The investigation was reopened in 2011, and in 2013, the coroner’s report changed from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”

It’s these latest twists that form the basis of this book, which examines the work of Dr. Michael Franco, a family medicine specialist who was an intern at the LA County coroner’s office the morning Natalie Wood’s body was flown back to Los Angeles from Catalina. He may be able to shed light on what really happened to the actress.

The author also delves into the shifting account of events offered by Dennis Davern, captain of the couple’s yacht Splendour at the time of Natalie Wood’s disappearance. He explores the admitted lies Davern told investigators the day of her death, as well as the striking contradictions he has made in interviews 37 years later.

What Happened After?

The night of her death, Wood, Wagner, Walken and Davern went to a restaurant for dinner. The manager saw how drunk the four became and worried that they wouldn’t be able to make it back to their yacht, Splendour, in their dinghy. The manager asked the Harbor Patrol to keep an eye on them. But when the group staggered out of the restaurant after 10 p.m., Wood never returned.

The next morning, Harbor Patrol found her body floating about a mile from the boat in dark water, dressed in a nightgown and socks. She had a bruised arm and leg. A toxicology report later determined she had a blood alcohol content of 0.14 percent.

In the years that followed, she was buried in secrecy by her family, who didn’t want her to be accused of murder. But the story did eventually emerge, and the bruises that police originally blamed on her falling overboard later were ruled to have been sustained before she died.

As the truth slowly emerged, her marriage to Wagner became increasingly troubled. He was supposedly jealous of her professional success, and she was furious at him over money issues. According to her ex-husband, they fought in the weeks before she died.

In 2009, Davern collaborated on a book that reexamined the case, and his research revealed numerous inconsistencies in witness testimonials. He also uncovered attempts by Wagner, Walken and Davern to distance themselves from the blame with magazine interviews and books intended to shore up their ever-changing stories.

Sam Perroni, a former prosecutor and Adjunct Professor of White-Collar Crime and Trial Advocacy at the William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock, Arkansas, has written 2021’s Brainstorm: An Investigation of the Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood, which calls for a reexamination of the evidence in the case. Perroni argues that powerful people with corrupt motives influenced the original investigation and hid the facts from the public for four decades. In this revealing book, he uses new information to present his case that Wood’s death was not an accident, but a cold-blooded homicide.