‘THE TRUTH WAS NEVER TOLD’

Natalie Wood’s sis­ter wel­comes probe of star’s 1981 drown­ing

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

Natalie Wood’s sis­ter has said she does not be­lieve the film star’s hus­band Robert Wag­ner would have “pur­pose­fully” harmed her dur­ing the events that led up to her mys­te­ri­ous death by drown­ing in the Pa­cific 30 years ago.

As po­lice be­gan a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the events of Novem­ber 28, 1981, when the ac­tress van­ished over­board from the yacht on which she was sail­ing off the Cal­i­for­nian coast with Wag­ner and ac­tor Christo­pher Walken, Lana Wood said she hoped the truth would fi­nally emerge. But she added: “I can­not ever be­lieve that Wag­ner would pur­pose­fully do some­thing to hurt her.

“I be­lieve it was drink and peo­ple be­ing out of con­trol and not think­ing clearly and just high emo­tions. In this case, it would be an ac­ci­dent, but the truth was never told.”

Lana Wood says she al­ways doubted the of­fi­cial ver­sion that her sis­ter drowned af­ter fall­ing from the yacht un­no­ticed when she tried to clam­ber into a dinghy.

The Los An­ge­les Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment has as­signed two mur­der de­tec­tives to in­ves­ti­gate afresh how Wood died af­ter a day of heavy drink­ing and rows in­volv­ing Wag­ner and Walken.

The case has been re­opened af­ter Dennis Dav­ern, the cap­tain of the yacht Splen­dour, said that he had taken part in a coverup at Wag­ner’s re­quest. Po­lice pointed out that the 81-year-old former star of the lon­grun­ning tele­vi­sion se­ries Hart to Hart was not a sus­pect.

Lana Wood, 65, who is also an ac­tress and best known for her role in the James Bond film Di­a­monds Are For­ever, said she did not be­lieve her sis­ter died as a re­sult of foul play, but nor did she be­lieve that Wag­ner has told all that he knows about events that night.

She said the coro­ner’s con­clu­sion that her sis­ter slipped as she tried to se­cure or scram­ble into a dinghy late at night “made no sense,” as her sis­ter was ter­ri­fied of water.

“Natalie hated the water,” she said. “She had a great fear of it. She didn’t go into her own swim­ming pool at home.” Her sis­ter’s fear of open sea was par­tic­u­larly acute be­cause their mother once pre­dicted that she would die by drown­ing in “dark water,” Lana Wood re­called.

The body of the star of West Side Story, who was nom­i­nated for an Os­car three times, in­clud­ing for her per­for­mance as a teenager op­po­site James Dean in Rebel With­out a Cause, was found float­ing in her night­gown and down jacket off Santa Catalina Is­land af­ter a Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day boat­ing trip. She was 43.

The coro­ner’s ver­dict that she died in an ac­ci­dent did lit­tle to quell spec­u­la­tion on one of Hol­ly­wood’s en­dur­ing mys­ter­ies, a case of celebrity life mim­ick­ing a big screen plot.

Lana Wood has cam­paigned for years for a new in­quiry into her sis­ter’s fate. Asked if she be­lieved that Wag­ner should be pun­ished if he know­ingly left her sis­ter in the water, she told the en­ter­tain­ment web­site tmz.com: “If that’s the case, he’s prob­a­bly been pun­ished all these years as that would be a hell of a thing to live with. I just want to know once and for all. Natalie was a won­der­ful per­son and she de­serves the truth and she de­serves to rest.”

The sher­iff ’s depart­ment has re­opened the case af­ter dogged lob­by­ing by Marti Rulli, a child­hood friend of Dav­ern who wrote a 2009 book with him about the case, Good­bye Natalie, Good­bye Splen­dour.

She sub­mit­ted ev­i­dence, in­clud­ing sworn state­ments from Dav­ern, a coast guard of­fi­cial and a wo­man on a neigh­bour­ing boat, that cast se­ri­ous doubt about the of­fi­cial ver­sion of that evening’s events.

Dav­ern told The Sun­day Tele­graph that Wood dis­ap­peared af­ter a drunken row with Wag­ner that was mo­ti­vated by ten­sion over her re­la­tion­ship with Walken, her co-star in a new film. He said that Wag­ner per­suaded him not to switch on the search­light to look for her or to call the coast guard for sev­eral hours. In­stead, the ac­tor plied him with more drink.

“I think he was think­ing about his im­age and this mixed with the con­fu­sion at the time,” Dav­ern said. “I tried to con­vince my­self that she re­ally had taken the dinghy to get away.”

When the au­thor­i­ties were fi­nally alerted, Dav­ern did not tell them about the ar­gu­ments and ten­sion on the boat that evening. “I have been try­ing to get the true ver­sion out for a long time now,” he said. “But no­body seemed to want to lis­ten un­til now. I just want jus­tice for Natalie and for these unan­swered ques­tions to be an­swered. It is for the in­ves­ti­ga­tors to try and find those an­swers.”

Rulli also pro­vided the po­lice with tes­ti­mony from a pas­sen­ger on a nearby boat who heard a wo­man scream­ing for help from the water at the time Wood dis­ap­peared and from the coast guard of­fi­cial who found her body and be­lieved she had been alive in the water for sev­eral hours.

“This is not new ev­i­dence that has mys­te­ri­ously come to light at the time of the 30th an­niver­sary, as some peo­ple seem to be sug­gest­ing,” she told The Sun­day Tele­graph. “It is old in­for­ma­tion that has never been in­ves­ti­gated.

“It’s been a long and slow process but I am thrilled that a new gen­er­a­tion of de­tec­tives are now will­ing to take a look at the ev­i­dence. I am con­fi­dent that they can fi­nally get to the bot­tom of what hap­pened.”

Wag­ner gave his ver­sion of events in his mem­oirs, pub­lished in 2008, and in in­ter­views. He said he had ar­gu­ment with Walken, smash­ing a bot­tle in the process, but the sub­ject was how much of one’s per­sonal life an ac­tor should not sac­ri­fice for his ca­reer — and not, as Dav­ern said, his sus­pi­cion that his wife was hav­ing an af­fair.

COUR­TESY 20TH CEN­TURY FOX HOME EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

JEAN BLONDIN, REUTERS

Natalie Wood, above, as Maria in 1961’s West Side Story. She drowned in 1981 while on a yacht with Robert Wag­ner, far left, and Christo­pher Walken. New in­for­ma­tion has led in­ves­ti­ga­tors to re­open the case.

FRED PROUSER, REUTERS

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