Yacht Captain: Robert Wagner Responsible for Death of Natalie Wood

Investigators taking another look at actress' drowning death in 1981


A yacht captain said Friday that he lied to authorities about Natalie Wood's mysterious death, and blames the late actress' husband, Robert Wagner, for her drowning off the coast of Southern California. 

Thirty years after her drowning was ruled an accident, a homicide investigation has been opened in the death of the Oscar-nominated actress.

Wood drowned after spending several hours drinking on Catalina Island and a yacht with husband Robert Wagner, fellow actor Christopher Walken and the ship's captain, Dennis Davern.

Davern told NBC TV's "Today" show on Friday that he made mistakes by not telling the truth about events leading to her death, and urged Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide investigators to reopen the case.

"Was the fight between Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner what ultimately led to her death?" morning show host David Gregory asked.

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"Yes," Davern replied.

"How so?"

"Like I said, that's going to be up to the investigators to decide," Davern said.

Davern said he believes Wagner intentionally kept the investigation into Wood's death low profile, and didn't do everything he could have done. When Gregory pressed Davern for supporting details, the captain said that was the duty of investigators.

Wagner's rep Alan Nierob released a statement on the matter: "Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the LA County Sheriff's department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the LA County Sheriff's Dept. and trust they will evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid, and that it comes from a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30 year anniversary of her tragic death," 

Davern was not immediately available for comment.

Natalie Wood's sister, Lana, told TMZ Thursday that she believes Wagner withheld information from authorities after the drowning. This seems to contradict earlier statements from Lana Wood that Wagner had nothing to do with her sister's death.

Los Angeles County sheriffs will speak to reporters Friday about the decision to take another look at Wood's nighttime demise on Nov. 29, 1981. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Thursday the renewed inquiry was prompted by unspecified new information about Wood's case. 

The Los Angeles Times quoted Sheriff Lee Baca as saying recent comments by Davern, who was interviewed for a book project and whose comments from a 2000 article by Vanity Fair are being featured in a new print edition and a "48 Hours Mystery" episode that focus on Hollywood scandals.

In Vanity Fair, Davern is quoted as saying that Wood and Wagner fought in their cabin before the actress went missing. Coroner's officials ruled her death an accidental drowning, perhaps caused by her slipping off the boat while trying to tie down a dinghy.

But Wood's sister Lana told TMZ the actress was deathly afraid of water.

Coroner's officials said that Wood was "possibly attempting to board the dinghy and had fallen into the water, striking her face."

It is not the first time Davern has contradicted statements he and others made to investigators after Woods' death, and the magazine notes that he has told his story through tabloids and has been shopping for a book deal for years.

Sheriff's officials are also hoping for tips from the public that may shed new light on how Wood ended up drowning.

Wood, a three-time Oscar nominee famous for roles in "West Side Story," `'Rebel Without a Cause" and other Hollywood hits, was 43 when she died. She and Wagner, star of the TV series "Hart to Hart," were twice married, first in 1957 before divorcing six years later. They remarried in 1972.

Wagner wrote in a 2008 autobiography that he blamed himself for his wife's death.

He recounted the night of Wood's disappearance, during which the couple and Walken drank at a restaurant and on the boat. Wood went to the master cabin during an argument between her husband and Walken. The last time Wagner saw his wife, she was fixing her hair in a bathroom mirror and she shut the door.
Wagner wrote that despite various theories about what led Wood to the water, which she feared, it was impossible to know what exactly happened.

"Nobody knows," he wrote. "There are only two possibilities; either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened."

Later in the book, Wagner wrote, "Did I blame myself? If I had been there, I could have done something. But I wasn't there. I didn't see her."

He wrote that he has never returned to Catalina Island.

Phone and email messages to Walken's publicist from the Associated Press were not returned Thursday. Walken and Wood were co-stars in "Brainstorm," which was the actress' final big screen role.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.