Peeps on my social media were shocked to discover that actor Robert Wagner, best known for the 1980s TV series Hart To Hart, is now considered “a person of interest” in the mysterious death of his wife Natalie Wood. But this was a rumor that has almost spanned 40 YEARS, ever since actress Wood drowned in 1981 after disappearing from her family yacht. I remember hearing this rumor when I was in grade school.
The spotlight has again been thrown on this unsolved case via press for the CBS investigative TV show 48 Hours, which will be airing “Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water” this Saturday.
In the special, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina says of Wagner:
As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now…I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.
So the sitch was that you had that yacht with Wagner, Wood, and (and here is where things get weird) Wood’s co-star in the then-upcoming movie Brainstorm, Christopher Walken (see what I mean). Wagner and Wood were allegedly having a rough patch in the marriage. There was some suspicion on the part of Wagner that Wood had an affair with Walken (as well as rumors of infidelity on both sides).
Wood ends up missing from the boat—and her dead body is found later in the water, with bruises as well as an abrasion on her left cheek. Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi ruled her death an accident by drowning and hypothermia; the theory was that she was drunk & on pills, and accidentally fell off the boat.
BUT: in 2011 the case was re-opened after the ship’s captain, Dennis Davern, claimed he lied to investigators about what had happened. Davern alleged that Wagner was responsible for Wood’s death.
Said Davern, chillingly:
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.’
While the reopening of that investigation didn’t result in any sort of real heat for Wagner (except for those old rumors that flared up again in the media, then resettled), it would lead to two amendments to Wood’s death certificate—both of them laying the groundwork, if you will, for the case that at the very least there was more to her death than simply being intoxicated and falling off a boat.
Meanwhile, Walken—who is many things, but a fool is not one of them—chose to chat with cops in 2011 about what he knew of the case, which apparently included a vicious fight between Wagner and Wood before the latter’s disappearance. Walken denied an affair with Wood, and authorities eventually cleared him as a suspect.
And Wagner himself admitted in his 2009 memoir Pieces Of My Heart that he had fought with Wood before she disappeared.
And that all brings us to 2018, in which the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators has apparently re-opened the case…36 years after Wood’s demise at the age of 43.
If this was any other time, I would doubt that Wagner—who is now in his 80s—would see any real censure regarding, or investigation into, his role in Wood’s death. But we are apparently in the Age Of Revelation, where the cellars have been thrown open and a lot of really bad shit is being made public. So…