Yacht Captain Says He Lied to Natalie Wood Death Investigators

Dennis Davern was on the Splendour in November 1981 with Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The LA County Sheriff's Department has reopened its investigation into the death of actress Natalie Wood. Kim Baldonado reports

    Many San Diegans know Robert Wagner from his long film and television career. Others may recognize him from as the spokesperson for an Escondido area Mercedes-Benz dealership.

    Now, the death of Wagner's former wife, actress Natalie Wood, is in the news again.

    In an interview Friday, the yacht's captain said he lied to investigators about the death of actress Natalie Wood and urged authorities to reopen the investigation into her 1981 drowning death.

    Wood's death -- she drowned in November 1981 while boating off Santa Catalina Island with Wagner and actor Christopher Walken -- was ruled accidental. But the LA County Sheriff's Department announced Thursday that homicide investigators were "contacted by persons who stated they had additional information about the Natalie Wood Wagner drowning."

    1981 Report on Death of Natalie Wood

    [LA] 1981 Report on Death of Natalie Wood
    Natalie Wood drown off Catalina Island 30 years ago. This report is from NBC4 was filed in November 1981, just a few days following Wood's death.

    Dennis Davern, captain of the Splendour, was on the yacht with Wagner, Walken and Wood. He told the "Today" show Friday that he urged investigators to reopen the case, adding that he lied to investigators 30 years ago and said Wagner was responsible for Wood's death.

    The captain made comments to investigators that were "worthy of exploring," LA County Sheriff Lee Baca said.

    Davern was asked several times during the "Today" show interview for details about what new information he can provide. He repeatedly mentioned that he made "mistakes," but provided few specifics.

    "I'm not saying anything different," Davern said. "It's just up to investigators to do an investigation.

    "I made some terrible decisions, mistakes. It's just going to be left up to the investigators. I did lie on a report years ago."

    When asked for details, he said he lied "about everything that took place that weekend." A fight between Wagner and Wood led to her death, he said, adding that Wagner tried to make the case a low-profile investigation.

    "We didn't take any steps to see if we could locate her," Davern said. "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 tell anyone at the moment."

    New details might be released Friday when authorities conduct a news conference regarding their decision to reopen the investigation.

    The news conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. PT.

    Davern was recently interviewed for a project involving Vanity Fair and the TV series "48 Hours Mystery." He was quoted in the magazine as saying Wood and Wager fought in the Splendour's cabin before her disappearance.

    The magazine article also noted that Davern has pursued a book deal for years and often told his story through tabloids.

    Late Thursday, Robert Wagner released a statement through his publicist.

    "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," the statement said.

    Coroner's officials ruled her death an accidental drowning that might have been caused by her slipping off the boat while trying to tie down a dinghy.

    "There are only two possibilities," Wagner wrote in a 2008 autobiography. "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.''

    Born Natalia Zakharenko in San Francisco, Wood became a child star at age 4 after playing the role of Susan Walker in “Miracle on 34th Street.”

    Among the other classic films she went on to star in were "West Side Story" and “Rebel Without a Cause.”

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