It has all the elements of a big-screen blockbuster — a beautiful actress, a handsome leading man, a brooding fifth wheel and a moment of sickening terror with the most horrific consequences.
Using in-depth firsthand accounts from new witnesses, the new podcast series Fatal Voyage: The Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood investigates the night Hollywood’s leading lady went missing while on a yacht with her husband, Robert Wagner, and their friend Christopher Walken on the evening of November 28, 1981 — only to tragically turn up dead.
DYLAN HOWARD: Lana, what do you think happened?
LANA WOOD: I believe that there was a horrible fight onboard the Splendour. I think the evidence is also not just what Dennis Davern, the captain, has said, but the broken wine bottle and the threat that was first denied by Robert Wagner and then later in another book that he wrote he admitted to it. I think that things got out of hand. I know Natalie can verbally push, and Natalie was a very by-the-rule person. She was trying to lead her life by continuing her emotional and psychological mental growth. She did not put up with a great deal that she felt was harmful to her. I think it escalated to a point where she was either struck or pushed. I don’t believe that it was planned. I don’t believe in any of those bizarre stories, but I do know she would not have ended up somewhere where she would completely never ever go in a million years or certainly not go out not dressed. There’s just too much that doesn’t add up to who Natalie is.
DH: She was frightened of the water?
LW: She was terrified of water going all the way back to when I was a kid and Natalie was a teen and my mother would continually tell the story of the gypsy who told my mother’s fortune in China who said that she would have a world famous daughter and that somebody would die by drowning. It further terrified Natalie, who wasn’t exactly fond of the water as it was. My mother never learned to swim either. Natalie never learned to swim.
DH: There were three men on the boat in addition to Natalie: Dennis Davern, the skipper, Christopher Walken, who was starring alongside Natalie in Brainstorm, and Robert Wagner. Do you believe that Christopher Walken or Dennis Davern were involved in the fight with Natalie?
LW: No. Absolutely not.
DH: Do you have any idea what they might have been fighting about?
LW: Not really…I think that Natalie was really done with the marriage. I really do.
DH: And of course, this was their second marriage. Why do you think she was done with it?
LW: Too many things: the continual fights; the sudden push that she wanted towards her career; her feeling that the kids were old enough and had been given enough of a basis where she could go off to work…It’s any married couple or couple in a relationship that are both acting. There’s jealousy involved. It’s particularly difficult for a man who has a wife who’s doing better.
DH: The initial coroner’s report was accidental death by drowning. We now know that Thomas Noguchi, who was the coroner at the time, was wrong. So was this police and law enforcement misconduct?
LW: I don’t know if it was misconduct, but it was certainly sloppy as hell…Things are forgiven and overlooked because “these people” cannot possibly be a part of anything like this.
DH: Why do you think Robert Wagner won’t talk to the police? My sources tell me he won’t talk to them because his memory, and I’m quoting a source, “is unreliable, he has early onset memory loss and he really doesn’t want to answer those questions.”
LW: That’s nonsense. It’s absolute nonsense. He has always refused. How long has the case been reopened? It wasn’t reopened yesterday, was it?…The other thing that bothers me — and always has — is why didn’t he rush to her side when they found her? When they found her drowned, dead, in the water. Why did Dennis have to identify the body? Why didn’t RJ?
DH: Do you think that police should simply arrest Robert Wagner for questioning?
LW: Yes I do. And they would love to. They have literally told me that.
DH: Walk me through what you believe took place on the boat that ultimately led to Natalie being found drowned in the water.
LW: The weekend did not begin auspiciously from the get-go. The weather was dreadful. It was pouring rain; it was very windy. People were saying to Natalie, “Why are you still going?” And she said, “Because that was the plan we made and that’s what we are going to do.” Even Natasha, her daughter, begged her not to go and asked if she could go. And Natalie said, “No, you’ve made your plans and I’ve made my plans and we are going to honor the decisions that we’ve made.” So off they went and evidently the first night that they were there on [Catalina Island], they were not getting along. There was tension at the restaurant, there was tension afterward and evidently an argument began then because Natalie spent the night on Catalina Island and she asked Dennis to stay in the room with her because she was frightened. Then in the morning she said she wanted to leave and go back home and in the morning for some reason she changed her mind and felt that she should go back on the boat and see what’s going on.
DH: If you could say one thing to Robert Wagner, what would it be?
LW: The same thing I’ve always thought: Tell the truth for once and for all.
Listen to Lana Wood’s entire exclusive interview with Dylan Howard on All Rise.
For more on Natalie Wood’s mysterious death, download the fascinating 12-part podcast series Fatal Voyage: The Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood when it launches on July 20 — the day that the doomed star would have celebrated her 80th birthday.
Fatal Voyage: The Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood will be available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and wherever podcasts are available. Click here to learn more about the series.