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.


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

Natalie Wood Death Probe

Los Angeles Morgue Files: Actress Natalie Wood DROWNS in ... On the morning of November 29, 1981, the body of actress Natalie Wood was found floating off the coast of Catalina Island.  What happened and why?  To make sense of the circumstances of her death, we must first analyze what led up to it.

Image result for old bill holden Backstory.  Nov. 12, 1981, Santa Monica, Calif.  Actor William Holden was found dead in his apartment.  Several days before, he had fallen from his bed, striking his head on a night-table.  Holden, intoxicated, did not realize the extant of his injury and bled to death.

See the source image  Bill Holden’s former lover was Stephanie Powers.  (Co-star of ABC’s television series “Hart to Hart”.)  Some felt that their breakup may have led to his death.

Ms. Powers acting partner was Robert Wagner, husband of Natalie Wood.  Wagner spent time “comforting” Powers during her mourning period.  Miss Wood did not approve.

See the source image  During this time frame, Natalie was filming “Brainstorm”, a big-budget, sci-fi film for MGM.  Her co-star was Christopher Walken.  There had been rumors that Wood and Walken were having an affair during filming, Wagner, aware of these rumors, hired spies at MGM to watch them.  Natalie denied all.  Her invitation to Chris Walken on that Thanksgiving weekend was to prove to her husband that she wasn’t having an affair.

Natalie Wood – CBS San Francisco    Friday, Nov. 27.  The pleasure cruise begins aboard their yacht known as the “Splendour”.  Although the tension between Wagner and Walken was obvious, it was not until the next day when things became ugly.

See the source image   Saturday, Nov.  28.  Wood and Walken flirt together at a Catalina restaurant to Wagner’s irritation.  (Is she trying to get even for Wagner spending time with Stephanie Powers?)

Later, aboard the Splendour, there was a discussion about acting.  Wagner remarked that he missed his wife during the filming of “Brainstorm”.  Walken responded that an actor must dedicate their life to their craft and felt Natalie should do likewise.  This drew a strong reaction from Wagner, setting off an argument, culminating with him smashing a wine bottle on the table, saying, “What are you trying to do?  Fuck my wife?”

Natalie stood up and said that she would not stand for that kind of behavior and left for her room.  A contrite Wagner told Captain Dennis Davern that he would apologize to his wife.  Instead, Davern heard a violent argument.  (It’s rumored one of Natalie earrings was found with part of her earlobe still affixed.)  Next, Capt. Davern witnessed them above board, still arguing.  Wagner screamed:  “GET OFF MY FUCKING BOAT!”

Natalie, still dressed for bed, wore a down jacket over her nightgown.  Was Wood being ejected off the boat?  Is this when the “accident” happened?

What happened then is open for conjecture.  Davern heard the argument suddenly stop.  Some believe Natalie accidentally fell overboard when she pulled away from her husband.  Others think she fell after he slapped her.  Regardless, this is when she fell in the ocean between 11 and 11:15 p.m.

Wagner had been forcing Wood off the “Splendour”, sending her off on his dinghy, (known as the “Valiant”), when she fell.

Reportedly, Walken heard the screaming and came out to help Wood.  Wagner grabbed him by the arm and marched him back to his room, telling him to mind his own business.

On a nearby vessel, witness Marilyn Wayne heard someone screaming for help in the ocean.  “Help me, I’m drowning!”  She heard another voice say “We’re coming to get you!”

Conflicting stories remain.  Wagner said, (according to conflicting accounts): “I’m going to leave her in the water for a while and teach her a lesson.”  Then, he sat down, passed out and after waking up, realized his wife had drifted off to sea.

This is when Robert Wagner’s actions become criminal.  Rather than try to save his wife, he does just the opposite.  He tells Capt. Davern to search the boat, knowing she’s not there.  He won’t let Davern turn on the searchlight because he either doesn’t want to find her or fears “bad publicity”.  He delays reporting it to the Coast Guard for hours.  Why?

I suspect Wagner thought Wood would turn him in for spousal abuse and attempted murder.  This would mean prison and a ruined career.  So, he let her drown.

Back in 1981, the police and the mainstream media didn’t do their job, reporting her death as an “accidental drowning”.

Capt. Dennis Davern and Natalie Wood

   In 2011, the case was reopened because of the witness accounts by Dennis Davern and Marilyn Wayne.  Davern claims that Wagner paid him off over the years to keep his silent.  Since that time, his conscience would not allow him to lie anymore and that Robert Wagner’s actions (or inaction) led to his wife’s death.

1533 best Natalie Wood (1938-1981)~Robert Wagner images on ...  Mr. Wagner refuses to give out any new information to the police and stands by his story:  that Natalie Wood fell off their yacht while trying to board or tie down their dinghy.  Many do not believe this story as Wood had trouble operating the complicated engine aboard the “Valiant”.  Additionally, she was afraid of “dark water” and would not go out on the ocean alone.

Christopher Walken refuses to speak about what happened, except for those statements he gave to the police.

The fact remains that Robert Wagner lied about what happened.  He lied about how the wine bottle was broken, saying it was because of “rough seas.”  He lied about their argument, saying it was about “politics”.  He lied about when she fell off the boat.

Over the years, Wagner’s story has changed a bit.  He admits breaking the wine bottle in a rage.  He now states that she may have been trying to board the “Valiant” to get away from their argument.  And yet, how does any of this make sense?  If she wanted to leave, why not ask Capt. Davern to take her back to shore?  Or why not end the “pleasure cruise” and return?  I suspect Mr. Wagner blames his wife for her own death because it was her invitation to Christopher Walken that led to the drunken argument which caused her death.

In 2012, Natalie’s official cause of death was changed from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undermined factors.”  In 2018, Robert Wagner was named “a person of interest” by the police.

It would be many years before the widower would see his wife in her last movie “Brainstorm”, which he did not like.  That speaks for itself.

Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood in “Brainstorm”

Text © 2019 – EricReports


1e3da-brainstorm  Science-fiction drama starring Christopher Walken, Natalie Wood, Louise Fletcher and Cliff Robertson.

SYNOPSIS – Inventors of a device that records thoughts, experiences, and emotions, lose control of it through sinister government forces, who use it for covert military ops.

Most of Brainstorm was filmed in 1981, then delayed release to 1983 because of Natalie Wood’s death mid-production.  She had finished all, but three scenes which were re-filmed without her.  It was also a comeback for Cliff Robertson, who had been blacklisted for reporting check forgery by then-head of Columbia Pictures, David Begelman.  Ordinarily such publicity might help a film make money.  In this case, it didn’t.  Brainstorm wasn’t the hit MGM hoped for; however, it’s become a cult favorite, being Miss Wood’s final effort.

Image result for images, brainstorm 1983  It’s also a rarity, being one of the few films Chris Walken isn’t an insane psychic or murderer.  He’s well-played as Dr. Michael Brace who helps invent the new wonder machine,

 ..but it was Louise Fletcher, who received most of the good reviews for her role as Lillian Reynolds, who records her own death.

Image result for images, brainstorm 1983, natalie wood  Natalie Wood is Karen Brace (wife of Michael) who designs the headphones for recording thought.  It’s sad, of course, seeing the final performance of what they used to call a real movie star.  (We don’t have any more.)  At age 43, she’s still beautiful and it’s not surprising the film is dedicated to her in the final credits.

The director is Douglas Trumbull, famous in his own right for his special effects work in “2001”.  Without Trumbull, the film would never have come to fruition.  MGM wanted to dump it after Wood’s unexpected drowning.  Trumbull convinced them not to and completed it against difficult odds.   Film also anticipates IMAX during the “Brainstorm” mind recordings  – filmed with widescreen 65mm film.

Image result for images, brainstorm 1983

The Score – Music Composed by James Horner, who became more famous for his Oscar-winning score for “Titanic”, 1997.  (Another sad note; Horner died last year while piloting an experimental plane.)  He was only thirty when he composed Brainstorm, a remarkable achievement at any age.  Soundtrack is played by the London Symphony Orchestra – the sound is excellent.  He integrates piano interludes thru Karen’s character.  (Wood plays piano onscreen.)  Ear-catching themes during the computer sequences.  Effective use of a boy’s choir and the haunting final music is chilling.

Text © 2016 – ERN

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1.  Sharon Tate, murdered.

2.  Marilyn Monroe, overdose.

3.  Jill Ireland, cancer.

4.  Jayne Mansfield, car accident.

5.  Anna-Nicole Smith, overdose.

6.  Brittany Murphy, disputed causes of death.

7.  Natalie Wood, drowned.

8.  Inger Stevens, overdose, possible suicide.

9.  Jean Seberg, suicide.

10.  Carol Wayne, drowned.