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Natalie Wood – The Mystery Revealed 30 Years After Her Death

Natalie Wood took Hollywood by storm and had a larger-than-life offscreen life. In November of 1981, she was found dead in the Pacific Ocean. Her body was floating a mile from her yacht Splendour, and her rubber dinghy was beached nearby.


Police reopened the case in 2011, and now detective Ralph Hernandez says that the numerous bruises found on her body make it look like an assault. He also notes that her flannel nightgown was unzipped. Keep reading the article below to learn more about Natalie Wood Death.

In November of 1981, Natalie Wood, then 40 years old, died off the coast of California’s Catalina Island. The actress was a major Hollywood star who had enjoyed great success as both a child actor and an adult leading lady. She starred in many classic films, including Miracle on 34th Street and West Side Story.

When she died, it was ruled an accident. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner found that the actress had been drinking and that she had slipped overboard when she was trying to board her dinghy. However, there were some inconsistencies with this theory. For example, the coroner’s report showed fresh scrapes and bruises on her body that did not appear to have been caused by a fall. Additionally, her blood alcohol level was above the legal limit at the time of her death.

Her husband at the time, Robert Wagner, and her Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken were on a yacht together when she went overboard. Wagner has never been charged with any crime related to Wood’s death, but he has been called a person of interest by police several times over the years.

What happened that night has never been fully understood. According to one account, after dinner at Doug’s Harbor Reef on Catalina, Wagner and Walken got into a heated argument over politics. Afterward, they went back to the yacht and left Wood alone in the dinghy while they continued to drink. Ten to 15 minutes passed before Wagner realized that his wife was not on board the Splendour, so he sent the crew to search for her.

The search for Wood was extensive. Helicopters crisscrossed the ocean, while Harbor Patrol boats and private yachts searched the rolling waves for the actress. Despite the intense effort, it took until 7:30 the next morning before the boat’s crew discovered her floating face down in the water.

In the documentary, Natasha Gregson Wagner confronts her father on-camera about speculation that he was involved in her mother’s death. He denies the allegations and stresses that he loved her. He also mentions that he believes that her death was an accident, but it is clear that his daughter does not agree with him.

How She Died

Everyone at the time agreed Wood’s death, at the height of her fame and movie-star career, was shocking and tragic. However, for decades, few knew the details of what happened that fateful Thanksgiving weekend.

On November 28, 1981, Natalie Wood, 43, and her husband, actor Robert Wagner, took a boat out for a night of sailing around Santa Catalina Island. They invited fellow actor Christopher Walken to join them. The trip turned deadly when it appears that Wood fell off the yacht — the 60-foot Splendour — possibly while trying to retie a dinghy that had been banging against her side, according to the initial investigation. Her body was found floating about a mile away from the yacht, and her dinghy was beached nearby.

Investigators ruled her death an accident, though they could not determine what caused her to fall off the boat or why she entered the water. They did not find any evidence of head trauma or facial bruising, which would have pointed to an assault. They also determined that her stomach contained 500 cc of partially digested food material, suggesting she had been eating for hours before entering the water.

Then in 2011, Dennis Davern, who was the skipper of the Splendour when Wood’s body was discovered, went on the NBC Today show to talk about what really happened that night. Davern claimed that he had seen a fight between Wood and Wagner and that Wagner prevented him from calling in a search and rescue mission when the actress disappeared.

The original investigation did not find evidence of a crime and ruled her death an accident, but the Los Angeles County chief medical examiner released a 10-page addendum in 2013 that raised questions about every major finding of the first report. The addendum stated that the bruises on Wood’s body, including some fresh superficial ones on her arms and legs, were not consistent with injuries sustained from falling into the water. The location of the bruises, their multiplicity, and the lack of head trauma and facial bruising all pointed to their having been inflicted prior to her entry into the water.

What We Know Now

In the decades since Natalie Wood’s death, many theories have swirled around her unexplained drowning. But the latest development in the case has rekindled interest in the mysterious circumstances surrounding her final days.

In 2018, Wood’s daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner confronted her ex-husband Robert Wagner on-camera about speculation that he had something to do with her mother’s untimely passing, revealing that she does not believe he had anything to do with her mother’s death in any way. However, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has now officially named Wagner a person of interest in the case.

Wood, then 43, was on her family yacht Splendour off the coast of Santa Catalina Island, California, in November 1981 when she disappeared one night. Her body was discovered the next morning, floating in the water in her flannel nightgown and red down jacket. The cause of her death was initially ruled an accident, but in 2012, it was changed to suspicious due to the fact that her body had fresh bruises that were not noted on her initial autopsy.

Police also had a difficult time determining how she got into the water. The only other people aboard the boat with her were the captain, Dennis Davern, and her actor friend Christopher Walken. At the time, he was working with her on the film Brainstorm. They had all enjoyed a champagne-filled dinner at Doug’s Harbor Reef in Catalina and then re-boarded the boat. The manager of the restaurant later said that all four were extremely intoxicated and that he was concerned that they would not be able to make it back to the yacht in their dinghy.

There is little doubt that Davern lied about what happened to police. He claimed that he heard Wood and Wagner fighting in the cabin before she went overboard, which doesn’t jibe with the original account given by the other two men on board. In addition, he has since made multiple statements to the media that don’t jibe with what he told police. This may have been the reason that LASD reopened the case in 2011 and named him a person of interest.


For decades, Natalie Wood’s mysterious death was ruled a tragic accident. But now, more than 30 years after her death, a yacht captain has admitted he lied to investigators. In a shocking interview on national TV, Dennis Davern, who skippered the yacht on which Wood was found dead, said he told investigators that Wood’s husband at the time, Robert Wagner, killed her.

The story began the Thanksgiving weekend of 1981. Wood, then 57, was on the yacht Splendour with her husband and Christopher Walken, her costar in her final film, Brainstorm. She and her husband had invited a few people to join them, but none of them showed up. Instead, the couple was joined by Walken and the boat’s captain, who had become a family friend of Wood’s.

According to the boat’s captain, Wagner and Wood had argued heatedly shortly before her death. He claims that he overheard them discussing their rocky marriage, and that she was jealous of Wagner’s relationship with her Hart to Hart co-star, Stefanie Powers. He also alleged that Wood had a phobia of water due to a prophecy she received from a fortune teller when she was young.

Despite the rumors and inconsistencies in witness statements, investigators did not find evidence that her fall was anything other than an accident. The location of the bruises, their multiplicity, and the lack of head trauma all pointed to her falling or being pushed into the water. The coroner initially ruled her death an accidental drowning.

But that ruling was overturned in 2011. The LA County Sheriff’s department re-opened the investigation, and Wagner—now 90 years old—was named as a person of interest. But the reopening ended with no new information, and the case was closed again. Several questions remain, however, including what exactly Wood was trying to do when she fell into the water and why her account of events changed so often over the years. This remains one of Hollywood’s enduring mysteries. Until more answers are discovered, the mystery of Natalie Wood’s death will continue to linger. But, until then, we will remember the actress who left behind a lasting legacy in movies like West Side Story, Splendor in the Grass, and Rebel Without a Cause.