Who Killed Natalie Wood?

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November 27-29, 2021. A tense weekend between actors Natalie Wood, husband Robert Wagner and co-star Christopher Walken is underway on the “Splendor”, a yacht moored near Catalina Island, off the California coast.

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Rumors within Hollywood claim Natalie Wood is having an affair with Christopher Walken during the filming of “Brainstorm”.

To dispel these rumors, Wood invites Walken along for a Thanksgiving weekend pleasure cruise with her husband Wagner (also known as “R.J.”)  Except that Wagner’s not buying it.

At 10:30 to 10:40 p.m., there’s a discussion aboard the “Splendor” that erupts into Wagner smashing a wine bottle, threatening Walken with the broken end.

10:45 p.m.  Walken retreats into his cabin, locking the door.  An apologetic Wagner attempts to make amends with Wood.

10:50 to 11 p.m.  Boat captain Dennis Davern hears a violent argument – screaming, cursing, and banging against the wall.  He goes to their door.  Wagner tells him to stay out of it.  He can hear Wagner screaming, “Get off my fucking boat!”

11:05 p.m.  The last time Natalie Wood is seen is when they’re arguing on the rear deck.  She’s wearing a red down jacket over a plaid nightshirt with woolen socks.

How Wood fell into the ocean is debatable, but Davern states he can hear Wood screaming for help.  Telling Wagner, “We’ve got to save her,” a drunken Wagner answers, “Leave her.  Teach her a lesson.”

[My own theory:  Wood, refusing to go aboard the “Valiant” was thrown in by Wagner, except he missed.  She may have bounced against the side, scratching her nose and leaving an abrasion on her cheek from the ropes.]

Nearby on another vessel, the “Capricorn”, three witnesses hear cries for help.  “Help me, please help me, I’m drowning!”  They are Marilyn Wayne, her son and her fiancé John Payne.  They shine a light on the water, but can’t see her.  Wayne offers to jump in, but Payne talks her out of it.  They radio for help – help does not come.

It is believed Wagner unties the rubber dinghy (the “Valiant”) saying, “We’re coming to get you!”  Wood makes efforts to climb aboard (scratch marks are left behind), but she is too weak from hypothermia.  Clinging onto one of the ropes tied around it, they drift toward shore, Natalie perhaps trying to pull it along until her strength wears out.

12 Midnight.  Natalie Wood, no longer able to keep her head up out of the water, drowns.

Aftermath

7:30 a.m.  Her body is discovered by helicopter floating not far from the dinghy at Blue Cavern Point.

Police report – Robert Wagner’s alibi.  Robert Wagner claims he last saw his wife at 10:45 p.m., fixing her hair in front of a vanity mirror.  When she went missing (between 11 and 12), he assumed she had taken the dinghy ashore, returning to the restaurant named “Doug’s Harbor Reef”.    After time passes, (enough time for her to drown), Wagner radios the Coast Guard at 1:50 a.m.

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Christopher Walken

Christopher Walken claims to have slept through the whole incident.  More than likely, he stayed silent fearing for his life.

Police Investigation.  Davern and Walken go along with Wagner’s version of the event.  A poor investigation is conducted (deliberately) and Wood’s death is ruled as an “accidental drowning”.

Since then, Dennis Davern and witness Marilyn Wayne have come forward with their version of what really happened.  Police re-opened the case in 2011, naming Wagner as “a person of interest” and changing the cause of death to “drowning due to undetermined causes”.  Wagner has refused to speak with the authorities any further, saying he has said all there is to be said.

“R.J’s” Strange Behavior After Natalie’s Death

Wagner refuses to identify her body, leaving it to Davern.

Not phoning Natalie’s children about what happened.

Wagner threatens not to go to the funeral, however, he’s advised by his lawyer that it would it would look bad if he didn’t go.

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Robert Wagner with Jill St. John

R.J. begins dating actress Jill St. John, two months following the drowning.  They eventually marry.

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Lana Wood

R.J. blacklists Natalie’s sister actress Lana Wood for asking too many questions about her sister’s death.

Important Points

Robert Wagner’s story about what happened has frequently changed.  Initially, he stated his wife must have fallen when she was trying to tie down a loose dinghy banging against the side of the boat, when she was trying to sleep.  This changed to her attempting to leave to get away from the argument.  It has since changed back to the dinghy-banging-against-the-Splendor theory. Except this doesn’t work.  Davern claims he tied the dinghy at the rear of the “Splendor”, not the side.  Also, it was sound-proofed not to make any noise.  Lana Wood said Natalie would never have tried to tie it down, with three able-bodies men aboard.

Multiple bruising is found on Natalie’s body, indicating a violent attack.

Rumor:  Frank Sinatra (friend to the Wagners) had the LAPD investigation “fixed”, making sure the “accident” remained an accident.

As for the movie “Brainstorm”, it was completed and released in 1983, to an indifferent public.

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Text © 2022 – ERN