Saturday, November 19, 2011

Natalie Wood's sister reveals how Wagner 'left her to drown' after heated row as new pictures of their tragic boat emerge

-West Side Story actress drowned at the age of 43 after falling off her yacht
-Ship's captain says death is 'linked to an argument' she had with actor husband Robert Wagner
-Wagner is accused of waiting four hours and calling his attorney before alerting the coastguard
-Wagner blames captain for profiteering from her death on 30th anniversary
-Ms Wood's sister claims Natalie hated water as she believed she would meet her death by drowning
-Autopsy revealed two dozen bruises on her body
-Police may use new DNA technology in a new investigation into the death
-Robert Wagner is NOT a suspect while death is still ruled as accident
-Officials say Christopher Walken is also not a suspect in the investigation

By Rachel Quigley

Natalie Wood's sister has claimed that the actresses' husband left her to drown on the night of her tragic death.

In an emotional interview Lana Wood said that when Natalie was in the water, Wagner, who she calls RJ, had forbidden the captain from helping her and said: 'Leave her there, teach her a lesson'.

Speaking to TMZ, she claims Dennis Davern, captain of the Splendour yacht from which Ms Wood fell and drowned in 1981, told her what Wagner had said.

Lana told TMZ: 'He (Dennis) said that everyone was quite drunk and that a fight broke out and that Natalie was in the water and he and RJ did nothing to pull her out.

'He said, and this is a direct quote from what Dennis told me, 'leave her there, teach her a lesson'.'

In her interview she also claimed that the captain told her Wagner called his attorney before he alerted the Coastguard to the incident.

The revelations come as the police confirmed today that they will reopen the investigation into the death and said they may use new DNA technology after receiving 'credible and substantial information'.

They said, until they find evidence to say otherwise, the West Side Story actresses' death will still be ruled as an accidental drowning.

The sheriff said at this point her husband actor Robert Wagner is not a suspect and would only say they planned to re-evaluate the evidence.

One of the key witnesses in the reopening of the investigation is Mr Davern, who police confirmed they would interview.

Dennis Davern has blamed Ms Wood's husband for the death, claiming that - at the behest of Wagner - they did not do enough to find Ms Wood, after he advised against calling coastguards for four hours.

When asked if he thought Wagner was responsible for Ms Wood's death, he said: 'Yes, I would say so.'

Mr Davern, Ms Wood, Wagner and her Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken - who police say is not a suspect - had been boating near Santa Catalina Island just off the coast of California.

Mystery: The yacht 'Splendour' was pictured today moored in a harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii after investigators reopened the case into the mysterious death of Natalie Wood

Seeking the truth: Lana Wood, right, said she never believed Wagner's story about how her sister Natalie, far left, died and believes only Wagner can give her the truth

The three friends had been drinking heavily and investigators ruled, after interviewing all parties on board, that Ms Wood's death was an accident.

But now Mr Davern has admitted he lied in the initial police report and that he believes it was her husband who was responsible for her death.

He told NBC today: 'I made some terrible decisions and mistakes. I did lie on a report several years ago.

'I made mistakes by not telling the honest truth in a police report.'

He added: 'We didn't take any steps to see if we could locate her. I think it was a matter of, 'We're not going to look too hard, we're not going to turn on the searchlight, we're not going to notify anybody right now'.'

Wagner has yet to speak out about the new claims and has remained out of the public eye, holed up in his Hollywood mansion.

His publicist released a statement saying they were leaving the matter in the hands of the LA County Sheriff's department but appeared to blame Mr Davern for trying to profiteer from her death.

The statement said: 'We 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.'

At a press conference in California today, police said in their eyes it is still an accidental drowning and will remain so until they follow up on the new information.

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Natalie Wood and husband Robert Wagner (left) on their boat Splendour, with captain Dennis Davern (right), just weeks before she died

Probe: Lieutenant John Corina said the investigation would be reopened but insisted Robert Wagner was not a suspect at a press conference in Los Angeles today

Coming out: Former captain Dennis Davern is blaming Robert Wagner for Natalie Woods' death saying he did not let them do anything to find her

Meanwhile Ms Wood's sister Lana today said she never believed the account Wagner gave police about her sister's death.

She also says she's not buying the story that Natalie was trying to secure a dinghy and fell overboard because she was deathly afraid of water, according to TMZ.

She claims Natalie's fear stems from her mother warning her as a child that she would meet her death by drowning in 'dark water'.

She said: 'It gave Natalie a great fear. She hated the water, she wouldn't even go into her own pool at home.'

Lana said she was not interested in seeing anyone punished but just wanted the 'truth'.

'Natalie was a wonderful person. She deserves the truth and she deserves to rest.' she told TMZ.

Detectives are said to be interviewing Lana to find out if her sister's relationship with her husband was volatile.

The former captain spoke extensively to Marti Rulli, author of the book Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, published in 2009 while she was writing it.

He denies trying to do anything other than see justice done by coming forward after 30 years.

He told NBC: 'I'm not really the investigator here, and I'm far away from even thinking about profiting over a 30-year anniversary. I've known this information for many, many years and my book has been out for two years. I'm not in it for any kind of profit, I'm in it for the justice of the whole situation.'

Speaking to CNN today he told them that though he never saw Wagner push Ms Wood or be in any way violent towards her, he still holds him responsible for her death.

Witnesses said they heard a woman scream around the time Ms Wood disappeared but he said he did not hear any scream but only 'a lot of yelling, a lot of moving about'.

Mr Davern did say that he was on the bridge of the boat and had music on loud so he could drown out the noise of their arguments.

Investigation: Marti Rulli - Author of Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour - said all the evidence points to the fact more could have been done to try and save Ms Wood or locate her

Co-author of the book Ms Rulli said she believes the actresses death was inadequately investigated at the time, saying: 'The case was never really investigated in 1981, and yes, I am relieved they are going to give the case the attention it has always deserved.

'I am confident it is in good hands at this time. This has been a long process, and I have worked my way through the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, and with a new generation of detectives in the department they are taking it seriously.'

Speaking on CNN, she said: 'There are many, many things that should be examined, but mainly the four-hour wait to call for the Coast Guard.'

She said Ms Wood was missing from 11.05pm, but a ship-to-shore call wasn't placed until 1.30am and the Coast Guard wasn't called until 3.30am.

'This unacceptable delay in reporting a person missing from a yacht was never officially examined,' she wrote in the dossier.

Natalie Wood was wearing a red down jacket when authorities discovered her body 30 years ago ... and her wardrobe could prove she floated alive in dark water for hours while Robert Wagner allegedly stalled rescue efforts.

While writing the book, Ms Rulli performed a forensic test on down coats similar to the one Ms Wood was wearing when she drowned which prove they act like a life jacket in the water.

She said: 'It will not sink but instead remains floating.'

This finding completely contradicts the opinion of the coroner at the time - who insisted the jacket would have been too much for her to cope with and weighed her down in the ocean.

This additional information has prompted homicide detectives to re-open their investigation into her death.

Happy: Actress Natalie Wood pictured with her husband Robert Wagner on their first wedding day in 1957. They divorced six years later only to remarry again in 1972

Volatile: The couple were believed to have had a passionate but fiery relationship, pictured here in 1972

According to police reports at the time, the body of the West Side Story star - one of the most glamorous actresses of her generation - was found wearing a long nightgown, socks, and a down jacket and was pulled from the water in a cove on Catalina Island about a mile away from the yacht.

An autopsy report revealed two dozen bruises on her body, including a facial abrasion on her left cheek, and bruises on her arms.

Ms Wood's drowning sparked tabloid speculation that foul play was involved, but Mr Wagner and Ms Wood's sister Lana have always dismissed such a suggestion.

But the Los Angeles Times has reported that detectives were prompted to look at the case again after comments made by Mr Davern.

Mr Davern has said he believes Ms Wood's death is directly connected to an argument she had earlier in the evening with Wagner, during which he smashed a wine bottle.

It is claimed the fight was triggered over Wagner's belief that Walken wanted to sleep with his wife.

Friends: Ms Wood with her co-star Christopher Walken - who was on the boat the night she died - during filming of her last motion picture Brainstorm

Funeral: Robert Wagner bends over to kiss the flower-covered casket of his wife during graveside ceremonies for her at Westwood Memorial Park Cemetery in December 1981

Asked why he has taken so long to come forward with the details, he said: 'Why now is because I've been trying to tell information about this for many, many years, but there wasn't really anyone listening until now.

'I've been trying to get somebody to listen for a long time and now somebody is listening and they're going to carry on with this investigation.

'I'm not saying anything different. All the information that I've revealed in the past, it's all in that book, and now it's just up to the investigators to do an investigation.'

He was also pressed on why he lied about it when interviewed by police the first time around. He claims: 'At that time my life was just totally crazy, and I don't think it was a time when I was even able to think straight.'

Ms Wood and Wagner, pictured on the Splendour two weeks before she died, had apparently argued on the night she went overboard

Last year, Mr Davern asked investigators, along with Ms Wood's sister, to re-open the case.

The issue was revisited when Mr Davern was recently interviewed for a collaboration between the magazine Vanity Fair and the television series 48 Hours Mystery that focuses on Ms Wood's death.

The interviews followed his detailed account of the evening in a book co-authored by Marti Rulli entitled, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, which was published in September, 2009.

In the book they say before Natalie disappeared from the boat, she was drinking and taking Quaaludes, a sedative, with her husband, Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken.

According to the book, Wagner became enraged when he saw Wood and Walken speaking, and smashed a wine bottle, yelling at Walken: 'What do you want to do, f**k my wife? Is that what you want?'

At that point, Walken returned to his cabin and Natalie and Robert went to their state room. According to the captain, he heard a loud argument between the couple and thumping sounds, and eventually silence.

A short time later, the Captain went to the deck and was told by Wagner: 'Natalie is missing.' The book claims Wagner refused to let him call the Coast Guard.

Reports also suggest Ms Rulli has been in recent contact with the LA County sheriff's office about re-opening the case.

It comes after Ms Wood's sister told CNN last year she believes an argument between her sister and Mr Wagner preceded the drowning. But she ruled out foul play.

Together: Ms Wood and her husband Robert Wagner embrace on their yacht Splendour two weeks before the tragedy. The couple married twice. First in 1957 before divorcing six years later and then again in 1972

Robert Wagner fishing off the side of the Splendour as his wife looks on. She dies after a night partying on the boat

She wrote in a biography on her sister: 'What happened is that Natalie drank too much that night.'

Mr Wagner wrote in a 2009 autobiography, Pieces Of My Heart that he blamed himself for his wife's death.

At the time, her death was ruled an accident and it was determined she had been drinking that night.

The Los Angeles County Coroner's office wrote that Wood was 'possibly attempting to board the dinghy and had fallen into the water, striking her face'.

A dinghy that had been attached to the couple's yacht Splendour was found in a Catalina cove.

Detectives plan to hold a news conference today and anyone with information about the case is being asked to contact sheriff's officials or an anonymous tip line.

Ms Wood, who was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko to Russian immigrant parents in San Francisco, appeared as a child in such films as the Christmas classic Miracle On 34th Street and The Ghost And Mrs. Muir.

A three-time Oscar nominee famous for roles in classics such as West Side Story and Rebel Without A Cause, she was twice married to Wagner.

The couple first wed in 1957 before divorcing six years later. They remarried in 1972.
Questions over the circumstances surrounding Ms Wood's untimely death have lingered for 30 years, and family members have previously asked for authorities to re-examine the original findings.

Family: Natalie with her husband and two children Natasha, left, and Courtney, pictured in 1976

Actress: Ms Wood is most famous for her role in the 1961 film West side Story with Richard Beymer

Movie star: Ms Wood starred in 1961 classic West Side Story, alongside Rita Moreno

A spokesman for Wagner, said the family trusts the sheriff's department will take appropriate action but has not been contacted about the case being re-opened.

Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said in a written statement: 'Recently sheriff's homicide investigators were contacted by persons who stated they had additional information about the Natalie Wood Wagner drowning.

'Due to the additional information, sheriff's homicide bureau has decided to take another look at the case,' the statement said.

A sheriff's spokesman declined to elaborate on the additional information pending a news conference scheduled for today at 2pm EST.

Mr Wagner's spokesman Alan Nierob wrote in a statement: '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 Department.

Phone and email messages to Mr Walken's publicist were not immediately returned. Attempts to contact Mr Davern were unsuccessful.

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