Natalie Wood, a Homicide?

Natalie Wood died on the evening of November 29, 1981 near Catalina Island, just a short distance from L.A. – the city that made her a star. The Chief Coroner quickly ruled it an accidental drowning. She had left her husband’s yacht, her body found floating in the ocean some distance away. She probably absconded in the boat’s dinghy, but its oars were in their resting position, untouched, and the motor was off. Mystery and the distinct possibility of murder surround her death. In 2011, the case was reopened. What really happened? Was what happened to Natalie Wood, a homicide?

Christopher Walken, Natalie Wood, and Robert Wagner: Love Triangle Gone Wrong?

In the two days leading up to her death, she had been sailing with Robert Wagner on his personal yacht along with Christopher Walken and ship captain Dennis Davern. Walken was co-starring in a film with Wood and she had invited him on-board. Eyewitness accounts suggest Wagner wasn’t happy about this. His behavior veered from jealous to enraged, fueled by severe intoxication. After Wood was found dead, he confessed horrible guilt and shock, but said he assumed Wood was below deck. They had been arguing. He had shattered a wine bottle. The argument apparently hinged on the fact Christopher Walken was invited on the boat in the first place, followed by the fact the guest was “getting deep”, trying to influence Wood’s attitude to her life and career. Walken told Wood that it was best to work hard on your career, even at the expense of one’s personal life. Was the “accidental” death Wagner describes of Natalie Wood, a homicide?

Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner

Wood and Wagner originally married in 1959. Then they separated for years. Eventually they found their way back to one another and were remarried in 1972. Wagner had spent the interim period rebuilding his career in film, eventually scoring a starring role on the ABC hit TV show It Takes a Thief. Wood had been doing well on her own. Indeed, one of the catalysts for their failed marriage may have been Wagner’s flailing career and his need to hit the reset button on his life and career.  

Robert Wagner, Murderer?

It definitely sounds like some tempestuous stuff was going on over on that yacht. And it definitely seems like Wagner was a guy with a lot of demons and also, well, kind of a jerk. The straightforward interpretation is that they were all drinking, Wagner got extremely agitated, and Wood was so upset and so afraid of him that she decided to leave the boat. On the way out, she drunkenly miscalculated with tragic and fatal consequences. I agree with this basic story outline, but eyewitness testimonials from people on nearby boats, and from the ship’s captain, appear to indicate that Wagner treated the situation mockingly and did little to find her. Search lights and flashlights were not turned on to scour the waters. Wagner apparently poured a drink with the captain and mused on what had happened in an insensitive way. A couple on a nearby boat recall hearing a slurred male voice drunkenly mocking a woman’s cries for help, which then gradually subsided into silence. My take? Wagner should have gotten at least a manslaughter charge for pushing Wood to the edge, then treating her life and death situation with contempt in his ongoing alcoholic rage. As far as this “conspiracy” goes: Natalie Wood, a homicide? Definitely. Lawyers swept up the situation for the sake of protecting Hollywood investments. Justice wasn’t done.