Vultures circle around Hollywood skeleton as police re-open inquiries
HOLLYWOOD has many skeletons in its closet. One that has come tumbling out is that of Natalie Wood, one of Tinseltown’s biggest stars in the 1970s and who died, in mysterious circumstances, almost exactly 30 years ago.
Wood was just 43 when she drowned after what is alleged to have been a night of drunkenness, flirting and argument aboard the Splendour, the yacht she owned with husband Robert Wagner.
The official verdict was drowning. Police who questioned those on board the boat that night – Wagner, Christopher Walken, Wood’s co-star in her comeback movie Brainstorm, and captain Dennis Davern – came to the conclusion that she somehow managed to climb into a dinghy with the intention of rowing to shore after a spat with Wagner. Several alternative versions of Wood’s demise have floated around since, but the end result was the same: she somehow ended up in the water. Her body was recovered several hours later.
The decision by the Sheriff’s Department to re-open the case has set the vultures circling once more. One of the key players behind calls for a fresh investigation is Wood’s younger sister, Lana, who has never been satisfied with the police’s efforts. Is this what the TV shows call a cold case? The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department claims media interest in the case on the three-decade anniversary led to new witnesses coming forward. A memoir by Davern is not, they say, the tipping point. Suddenly a long-dead star is back in the spotlight. Resurrecting an investigation after 30 years represents a big leap. What do the police and campaigners such as Lana Wood hope to achieve? Did an intoxicated Natalie Wood, who had a deep-seated fear of water, somehow leave the Splendour and climb into a dinghy wearing her nightgown? Did she fall overboard and cling desperately to the dinghy, hoping for rescue? Was she pushed?
Four people were aboard the boat that chilly November night in 1981. One is dead. One was asleep and has maintained complete silence over what might have occurred. One has written about his suspicions. One is the jealous husband, grief-stricken widower and maybe the only person who can shed any light on what is one of Hollywood’s most enduring tragedies.
But since his wife’s death Robert Wagner, now 81, has always said he does not know how it happened. Davern has his own theories. Witnesses who heard a woman screaming that night (“Help me, someone please help me, I’m drowning”) will be re-interviewed. Was Natalie Wood murdered? Will the new inquiry find her killer? Or was it all just a terrible accident that has been fed for 30 years by the Hollywood rumour mill? Is it merely an exercise in futility?
Maybe, just maybe, after all these years, the world will finally find out the truth behind the botched case of the dead superstar.