Author: By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Nineteen years after the actress Natalie Wood drowned off the coast of southern California, new evidence suggeststhat her death was the culmination of two days of alcoholfuelled arguments between herself, her husband Robert Wagner and their guest and fellow actor Christopher Walken.
The March issue of Vanity Fair magazine publishes testimony from the police record that has been kept under wraps ever since the incident in November 1981. Despite consistent denials from Mr Wagner that anything was wrong on board his yacht Splendour, the new evidence points to a weekend of marital tension, including anaccusation by Mr Wagner that his wife was flirting with Mr Walken, with whom she was co-starring in a film.
Ms Wood was found floating in the open sea off Catalina Island, near Los Angeles, wearing just a nightgown, a down jacket and woollen socks. Forensic science tests showed she was drunk. The yacht’s inflatable dinghy washed up on some island rocks with its ignition off and the oars locked.
The coroner ruled at the time that her drowning was an accident, and investigators said she probably slipped into the choppy ocean trying to board the dinghy. Two hours passed before the other passengers on the yacht noticed she was missing, and it was known that Ms Wood was afraid of water, especially at night.
The police record shows Mr Walken referring to “some kind of hubbub” the day before the accident, when he was ill and holed up in his cabin, and another dispute on the night of the accident when Mr Wagner accused his wife of spending too much time away from their home and children.
His testimony contradicts Mr Wagner’s statement that “there was no fight, no anger” and appears to back up accounts of trouble made repeatedly over the years by the yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern. Until now, Mr Davern’s testimony was deemed unreliable because he had peddled it to tabloid newspapers, but the discoveries by Vanity Fair writer Sam Kashner appear to give it new credibility.
Mr Davern told the magazine he heard the couple fighting “like crazy” in their cabin, and that Mr Wagner returned to the main cabin “tousled, sweating profusely”. Two hours later, when the two of them had finished a bottle of wine, Mr Wagner went down to check on his wife, and reported that she was gone.
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