Adrift Wood

Much has been said about the complicity involving the death of Natalie Wood since accusations of involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter and murder* have been abound about what happened aboard the yacht in 1981. It doesn’t help that the captain and two actors, Robert Wagner alongside Christopher Walken, have conflicting accounts about what happened. At least one actor is refusing to implicate himself by owning up to his responsibility for the death of this classic actress. Robert La Tourneaux, another actor, gave an interview for a gay magazine (After Dark) where he claimed to have been one of Walken’s lovers (this Robert also claims that Walken is bisexual). I bring this up because a further claim has been made about Walken having an affair with Wagner, Wood’s husband, but the media covered up their affair and switched it so that it was the actress that Walken was fornicating. An acquaintance of Walken, Robin Butillo (a Pennsylvania-based interior designer), also learned of the homoerotic affair because her room-mate was the first person who he called on the phone after Wood’s body was discovered.

In 2011, the case was re-opened thanks to this petition. Walken lawyered up by hiring Mathew Rosengart (a former federal prosecutor). In 1981, Wood’s death was ruled an accidental drowning, but a coroner changed the ruling to undetermined in 2012. The coroner’s office said in the new report that it does not have enough evidence to rule on the manner in which she died. The report detailed the bruising on her limbs, particularly a four-inch bruise on her right forearm, multiple small one-inch bruises on her left thigh, as well as scratches to the backs of her legs. She also had superficial abrasions on her left forehead, left eyebrow and the left upper cheek area. Much has been made of the fact that Wood was afraid of dark water, so she wouldn’t have wanted to sail on the dinghy at night to retreat from the two arguing men (as put forth by Wagner). Also, you would think that she would’ve got the yacht captain, Dennis Davern, to stop the rubber dinghy’s banging from affecting her sleep (as put forth by Walken). During the making of her final film, Brainstorm, she told Walken that she couldn’t swim. As a result, a scene was removed from the shooting script.

Lana Wood, Natalie’s sister, told CNN in 2010 that Natalie would never have gone to another boat or to shore while dressed in a nightgown and socks. According to Lana, Natalie had a routine where she would remove all her jewelry before bed and would put on wool socks as her feet were always cold – so she was essentially dressed for bed, not a boat ride. Davern said that not even he would have the guts to go out on a dinghy at night. If the stars aren’t out then it’s total darkness. In 1981, Wagner pressured Davern to lie to the police. For good reason – he told Vanity Fair in 2000 that Wagner and Wood were fighting like crazy, including stuff getting thrown around. Davern claimed that the fight got carried out into the cockpit. He heard Wagner telling Wood to get off the boat, before hearing the dinghy being untied and then silence. Davern recalled that Wagner was sweating profusely as he returned in a tousled state. Davern implored him to turn on the searchlight and radio for help, but Wagner sternly told him that they were not going to do that. Instead, they were going to wait and see if she returned.

Although Davern had a guilty confidence as evidenced in nocturnal drunken phone calls to Lana, he won’t come clean about Walken and Wagner having an affair because he was more likely threatened by the bisexuals about outing them. When you consider that people in another boat could hear her from a 50 feet distance, you have to consider why the two actors didn’t do anything. They played loud music to mute her screams and silence their sex from outsiders. One of the witnesses saw and heard her in the water, but three days after her death resulted in the female witness receiving a note in her client box. The note was an anonymous threat – If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know. As for how he tracked her down, Marilyn Wayne was a stock broker who worked in the same firm as one of Wagner’s brokers. I won’t go into too much detail since the above petition covers it, but there wasn’t anything incriminating in her account of what happened on Natalie’s final day. It’s what wasn’t mentioned – Wood being forced to jump off the boat by her naked husband while his naked lover watches with malicious enthusiasm.

Duane Rasure, the detective in 1981, was lied to about the glass from a broken bottle inside the yacht. He was told that it was because of rough seas. It was only in Wagner’s 2008 memoir (Pieces of my Heart) that he admitted to throwing the bottle in a tantrum. Whatever sway (i.e. blackmail or bribery) that Wagner had on Davern doesn’t explain why Walken also corroborated the weather lie. In Suzanna Finstad’s 2001 biography about Wood, Davern told Lana that Wagner continued arguing with his wife after she had gone overboard. As a child, a fortune teller predicted that Natalie would die in dark water. Despite the alcohol excuse, Wagner is malignant when he is not inebriated. On the previous night (November 27), Davern took Wood to a motel on the shore. They slept in the same room while leaving the others on the boat. Wood told Davern that Wagner was out of control. She was even thinking of divorcing Wagner for the second time. According to her best friend Faye Nuell, Wood divorced Wagner when she saw him in bed with a man. In 1981, Wood told Davern: “I’ll see a lawyer if I have to. Maybe that will send the message loud and clear.”

You shouldn’t believe the story about Wagner being jealous of Walken. If that was so then Walken wouldn’t have been on the boat. It’s not like Walken was a stowaway. Clearly, Wagner and Wood were up for a threesome but someone felt left out. The sound of the banging dinghy was more likely the two men going at it in an erotically charged manner. You may find it difficult to believe, but it’s crazy that people honestly believe Walken’s testimony of sleeping through their argument. Wagner supposedly arguing with Walken was to hide the fact that there was a domestic dispute which would’ve incriminated R.J. as he’s known (i.e. Robert John Wagner). If Walken wasn’t on that yacht and the couple still fought then Davern could’ve done something to save Wood. Unfortunately, with Walken on board, she couldn’t afford to announce a divorce. She tries to blackmail Wagner with a camera, but it backfires. After all, if one actor killed her without the involvement of the second then the latter has no reason to hush it up. Conspiracies are always harder to unravel than just lone killers, hence why there has been controversy about Bruce Lee’s death.

On January 14 in 2013, a supplemental autopsy report was released where the L.A. County coroner’s office had determined that bruises on Wood’s upper extremities could have been caused by a non-accidental mechanism and appeared to occur before she had entered the water. As you can imagine, Wagner refused to partake in an interview with investigators since the cause of death had been changed. Walken wasn’t in the clear. In the September 1997 issue of Playboy (vol. 44 #9), he contradicted his usual statement of how he was asleep when Wood went missing. Apparently, all three men were talking in the living room. Walken distinctly remembered that, 45 minutes after she had gone to bed, Wagner went to her room and came back to say that she wasn’t there. The yacht, with boats nearby, was 50 feet away from the beach. What’s fascinating about the interview is that he claimed that he had already been to their house because they invited him. They apparently had a lot of fun there (read between the lines). When asked what his reaction was to her death, he said: “Oh man, forget it. My reaction was for R.J. To receive that kind of news…”

When answering the police in December of 1981, Wagner claimed that 15 minutes had gone by between Wood going to get some shut-eye and the guys realizing that she was missing. The other thing about their first divorce is that Wagner was so jealous that he plotted to murder Warren Beatty. This makes Davern all the more weaker since he had taken it upon himself to be Wood’s bodyguard ashore. The 1981 police report confirmed that Socorro Meza, an employee at the Pavilion Lodge, told investigators that Davern’s room had the appearance of being unused. I will leave that to your imagination. While you muse on that, try to find ways to reconcile the jarring contrast of Davern being complicit when Wagner deliberately delayed calling the coast guard so that they could get their stories straight. Naturally, they had to wake up Walken to sober up so that he could be up to speed (if he was sleeping). It’s better than playing it by ear. As for detective Duane, he solved the Hillside Strangler case but somehow managed to come up short on this. Despite being the captain, Davern only showed control when he could deliver revelations in piecemeal form to tabloids.

After the ordeal, Wagner invited him to live in his house for a few months as a guest but it was really more as a prisoner. Reporters were so eager to hear Davern’s side of the story that they tried to bribe him and even offered women. Wagner plied him with so much luxuries that he was blindsided, including being blind drunk. One luxury was joining the Screen Actors Guild. Under this guise, Wagner could disguise bribes as payment for his acting on TV. Davern said that Wagner went as far as bringing him to his own psychotherapy sessions. Davern was having surrealist dreams. Wagner felt the same way. They would sit down, sometimes in the same session, sometimes alone. Same difference no matter which way you slice it. Via the shrink, Wagner was creating a blindspot. You don’t see Wagner put that much commitment into Walken. In Wagner’s memoir, he said that Walken went to bed first. In interviews, Walken said that Wood went to bed first. It’s been said that you can always tell who’s lying by their inability to look you in the eyes while speaking. Wagner couldn’t do that to Natalie’s younger sister. Lana, herself, said this.

Davern was so guilty that he named his daughter after Natalie’s – Natasha. In February of this year, it was reported in the press that the man in charge of reopening the case hasn’t lost interest in moving things forward (in spite of how many times that Wagner refuses to be interviewed). Lieutenant John Corina won’t give up because even he knows that Wagner constantly changes his story from time to time. Detective Ralph Hernandez believes that Wood was assaulted. The aforementioned female witness, Marilyn Wayne, and her 8-year-old son both remember the time of the cries for help as exactly 11:05 p.m. since he had a lighted watch. The family (all 3 of them) heard what could’ve been two drunken men from the yacht responding to the woman’s pleas in a mocking way – “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll help you.” and “Hold your hat, we’re coming to get you.” but Wayne found it puzzling. Like a sleuth, she mused over it: “When you hear somebody saying, ‘We’re coming over to get you,’ you say ‘Okay, I guess maybe the person who’s yelling is with that party.’ But she kept yelling for help.”

* Book-wise, Goodbye Natalie Wood, Goodbye Splendour (authored by Marti Rulli) is to Natalie Wood what Unsettled Matters (authored by Tom Bleecker) is to Bruce Lee. The negligence in both people’s deaths reminds me of what took place on the late evening in 1979 when Nelson Rockefeller had a fatal heart attack in an office. Megan Marshack, his staff assistant, was alone with him but didn’t call the hospital. She called her friend who lived down the street – a news reporter named Poncitta Pierce, who phoned for an ambulance at approximately an hour after the attack. A friend and longtime aide of Nelson, Joseph E. Persico, implied that Nelson and Megan were alone because they were having sex.

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