Yacht captain makes media rounds, admits lying on report

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators revealed few details Friday as to what evidence prompted them to reopen the investigation into the 1981 death of Natalie Wood, but said that it was “credible enough” to take another look at the case.

Almost 30 years after the star of “West Side Story” and “Rebel Without a Cause” drowned off the coast of Catalina Island, the sheriff’s office announced that it was probing new leads in the case, which was ruled accidental back then by their own investigators as well as the Los Angeles County Cororner at the time, Thomas Noguchi.

“We have several sources that have come forward with additional sources of information,” said Lt. John Corina, a Sheriff’s detective, said. “We found it credible enough to take another look at the case.”

Although Corina declined to go into specifics, attention Friday focused on Dennis Davern, who captained Wood and husband Robert Wagner’s yacht, the Splendour, on the night she disappeared. Davern appeared on NBC’s “Today” on Friday and said he did “lie on a report several years ago,” apparently during the original investigation into the case.

He was vague about the details, but Davern co-authored a 2009 book, “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour,” in which he detailed his account and called for the investigation to be reopened. The mystery over the circumstances of her death will be the subject of a “48 Hours” story to be shown on Saturday, a segment made in partnership with Vanity Fair.

In another interview, Davern told CNN that after he searched for Wood on the yacht, Wagner dissuaded him from searching for her in the water and instructed those on board regarding what to say to authorities. Davern said he called the Coast Guard after about four hours, but told CNN it was a “mistake” to have waited so long.

Wood and Wagner spent Thanksgiving weekend aboard the Splendour in 1981 along with actor Christopher Walken, who was shooting the film “Brainstorm” opposite Wood at the time. On the night of Nov. 29, the four returned from a restaurant at Two Harbors, where they had been drinking, and an argument ensued between Wagner and Walken. At one point, Wood left, apparently to retire for the night, but Wagner said in his 2008 autobiography that when he returned to their room she was gone.

Her body was discovered the next morning.

Through his spokesman Alan Nierob, Wagner released a statement in which he said, “Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department 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.”

Corina, stressing that they are in the early stages of the investigation, said Wagner is not a suspect in the case.

He added that while investigators have not talked to the Wagner family, they will contact them “sooner or later.” Corina said that the recent media attention over the case has already led to “people coming forward and wanting to talk to us.”

“Right now her death is an accidental drowning,” Corina said. “Until we find something that says it isn’t, it is still an accidental drowning.”

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