Witnesses heard Natalie Wood & Robert Wagner arguing on the night of her death

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As we discussed yesterday, the LA County Sheriff’s department has reopened the Natalie Wood case and they now consider Wood’s widower Robert Wagner a “person of interest” in the investigation. In 1981, Wood, Wagner, Christopher Walken and a captain named Dennis Davern were the only people on a small yacht, which was in the water just off Catalina Island. Something happened that night, and Wood’s body was found hours later. The cause of death was drowning, but investigators now say that she had significant bruising on her body, like she had been in some kind of physical confrontation before her death. Many people have believed that Wagner was partly or completely responsible for his wife’s death. In fact, the bigger mystery might be how Wagner has avoided being a person of interest this long. Well, People Magazine has additional details:

Nearly 40 years after the tragic loss of Hollywood actress Natalie Wood, new witnesses in her 1981 drowning have emerged prompting Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators to deem her cause of death “suspicious.” The news — which was reported by The New York Times, CNN, and the Associated Press — comes hours after CBS News released a clip from an upcoming 48 Hours special where Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina revealed that Wood’s widower Robert Wagner, 87, is now considered “more of a person of interest” in the case.

Police has initially classified Wood’s death as an accidental drowning, but the case was reopened in 2011. On Thursday, sheriff’s officials said in a statement that they obtained new witness accounts after reviewing more than 100 tips, The New York Times reported — accounts that “portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night.”

One witness described hearing crashing sounds and yelling coming from Wood and Wagner’s stateroom, the AP reported. Separate witnesses head a man and woman arguing on the back of the boat, voices believed to belong to Wood and Wagner.

“The statements from these new witnesses differ from the original version of events as related by previous witnesses, including the individuals on the boat,” the sheriff’s office said, according to CNN. “Do we have enough to make an arrest at this moment? No. This remains a suspicious death investigation.”

Wagner has refused to speak with investigators since they began to look into the circumstances surrounding Wood’s death again. His attorney didn’t respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on Thursday.

Wood was married to Wagner twice — first in 1957 (they divorced five years later) and again in 1972 until her death.

“I haven’t seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case,” Corina said of Wagner on 48 Hours. “I think he’s constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don’t add up.”

Detectives who spoke with 48 Hours noted that there were numerous bruises on Wood’s body that appeared to be new, according to her autopsy report. “She looked like a victim of an assault,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez.

When asked if Wood’s death was a murder rather than a tragic accident, Corina said, “I think it’s suspicious enough to make us think that something happened.”

[From People]

Robert Wagner is 87 years old, by the way. If he did have something to do with her death, it’s not like he would face much punishment for it anyway. Basically, all of this is happening because Wood’s death remains one of Hollywood’s classic unsolved mysteries, like what happened in Marilyn Monroe’s final hours, or what really went down with Lana Turner, her daughter and Johnny Stompanato. Part of me thinks it’s a waste of law enforcement resources to continue to investigate this when nothing will likely come of it. But another part of me really would like some answers, g-ddamn it.

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79 Responses to “Witnesses heard Natalie Wood & Robert Wagner arguing on the night of her death”

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  1. CynicalAnn says:

    It’s been so long-how reliable are any of these witnesses anyway. Plus, yes, he’s elderly-not like he’s going to remember/be forthcoming. There have been whispers forever that he pushed her in, or at the very least, didn’t try to help her out. The whole thing is very sad and I feel sorry for her daughters.

    • Lahdidahbaby says:

      I think it needs to be settled, once and for all. I’ve always thought Wagner had some culpability in her death, and if so he still does, no matter how old he is. It was a well-known fact that she was absolutely terrified of water, especially ocean water — she even wrote about that — and her mother had long warned her to be careful or she would “drown in dark water” so Natalie reportedly avoided the ocean except for trips aboard their yacht.

      • Lahdidahbaby says:

        …oops, skipped my point there…she’d NEVER have taken off in the dinghy alone in the dark. Never. She fell or was pushed into the sea during their very heated argument. A witness (the boat’s captain?) reported that Wagner said, “Leave her out there, teach her a lesson,” or something like that. She had bruises consistent with battering when her poor body was found, especially about the head. He got away with it, and now, in his late 80s, even if he went down for it, what are they gonna do to him? Life in prison?

      • Ankhel says:

        What witness said that? A statement like that could make a trial.

    • Louise177 says:

      I wonder what witnesses. There were only four people on the boat. Although not really justice may happen, the family has the right to know what happened.

    • Bella bella says:

      This version of the story is at least 17 years old, if not more. The boat captain has said for years he heard them finding and her calling for help for a long time from the water. I edited a biography about her where we had to take out a few of the more damning details for legal reasons. I have never been able to like anything Wagner has done because of this, and believe Christopher Walken will forever be haunted by that night.

      • Bella bella says:

        finding –> fighting

      • Ankhel says:

        Yes, the boat captain has said he heard them fighting. Nothing about Natalie shouting from the water. That would’ve been damning for all onboard, since no search began until the next day. The captain’s said he only realized Natalie was missing in the morning.

  2. Erinn says:

    I saw this pop up on my news feed last night. I’ve never liked Wagner.

    Though, if he is involved in her death, he deserves to have that keep coming up and at the very least have it damage any legacy he leaves behind (because at 87 how much punishment are they going to manage). At the same time – if it was a genuine fluke accident that he had no hand in, I kind of feel sorry that at 87 he’s dealing with it again.

    It’s one of those cases that kind of pulls you in. Especially now that we’re all used to having answers to everything at our fingertips – it drives people nuts not knowing. And there are sooo many variables that could have happened. She could have killed herself. She could have been drunk or sleepwalking and just fallen. She could have been murdered. I’m not sure that we’ll ever actually know what happened.

  3. Juliette says:

    Natalie Wood was so beautiful and stunning. I’m so sorry for her, she had an unfortunate life.

    • Christin says:

      She was beautiful, a good actress, and seemed likeable. She really did have a bumpy life, and worked basically her entire 43 years.

      I feel sorry for her daughters, who might want to know the truth, but then again may not.

      • Jayna says:

        Her daughters love their father. The one daughter wasn’t even his, it was hers by the marriage in between their first divorce and subsequent remarriage to RJ. That daughter continued to live with RJ also, though, with her biological father’s consent, and he raised her after Natalie’s death. He also had another daughter from a relationship. Then the daughter I had together. Those girls love their father, and I don’t believe they want anything to happen to him. The stepdaughter stands by him. She said she and RJ became even closer after her death and she loved her sisters.

        Maybe at the end of the day they do believe it was a drunken night of partying and then fighting and that Natalie got mad and went to leave and tragically fell in and drowned. Even if he did nothing, which very well may be, the guilt as far as the fighting and separating from each other while on the boat would be heavy for the rest of his life.

  4. LadyT says:

    If they had investigated properly 40 years ago this could have been a solveable, convictable crime. Now, although interesting, it’s a waste of valuable resources.

    • Claire says:


    • Milla says:

      Imo who ever was protecting Wagner, doesn’t care anymore.

    • Adele Dazeem says:

      Amen seriously. And why on earth when the autopsy report clearly stated she looked as if she’d been assaulted—didn’t SOMEONE PURSUE THIS?? I jokingly say if Mr Dazeem ever ends up dead I will be thrown in jail immediately…both because of the things I say when we are fighting (lol) and the whole ‘when someone dies look first at the spouse’ mentality we all have. Too much Dateline NBC watching on my part? Probably. But still, the fact that no one was charged mystifies me…

      • Ankhel says:

        None of the coroners (there were two I believe) wanted to state when the bruises were made. Before or after death. The original coroner said her bruises and abrasions were consistent with a fall, followed by a struggle to get back out of the water. No coroner, including in modern times, were keen on murder.

      • Tourmaline says:

        I think the bruising was always known to investigators at the time but it was pretty much attributed to bruising from her slipping off the boat and scraping up against it and scrambling to try to get in the dinghy.

        edit: Ankhel we posted at the same time JINX!

      • Ankhel says:

        @ Tourmaline 😊

      • NotSoSocialButterfly says:

        Because Hollywood protected him.

    • marymoon says:

      Hear hear!

    • Jordan says:

      Justice for a dead woman has no expiration date.

  5. LadyMTL says:

    Oh, I’m sure there’s more to it than just “she drank too much, slipped and fell into the water” but after such a long time (it’s been nearly 40 years!) it’s going to be very difficult to ever truly get to the truth. Memories change, people forget things or misremember, and so on. I’m curious about it, but at the end of the day I think it will always remain a mystery.

    • Fleurucci says:

      There could be. Sadly I knew someone who did fall in the water and died (we think, no way to know.)

    • Jayna says:

      Maybe not. We had a woman, a functioning alcoholic, a beautiful professional woman, well liked, with her boyfriend on their boat docked, where other boats were docked. People would socialize on different boats, drinking, etc. She couldn’t be found and was eventually found drowned. Her boyfriend had to, of course, be a person of interest, as others. But these were all professionals in their late 30s to 50s. It was kind of a big deal at the time. Her boyfriend was semi-famous in the city. or at least known because of is job. But after a lengthy investigation, It was found she had wandered off back to their boat and and fallen and drowned. I’m hazy as to everything, because it was back many years ago. I felt bad for her boyfriend, because many people were, of course, reading the news thinking he did it until the investigation and autopsy results, etc., finally were complete and the findings released.

      I was interested in it, even though I lived in another state, because I had dated the man she had lived with before. Her drinking was pretty bad. So it was believable.

      • Ankhel says:

        There was a country singer who drowned not far from where I live, a year or so ago. She and her husband had gone by boat to a party, and left the party at different times. Husband, probably quite drunk, didn’t notice his wife never came to bed. They found her body in the morning, under the boat. Police thought she’d slipped when trying to climb up, hit her head and drowned. Water and alcohol is a dangerous mix.

  6. lucy2 says:

    I’m amazed that after 40 years there are new witnesses? Where have they been all this time?
    I do hope the truth comes out, but I doubt it ever will.

  7. Mia4s says:

    Unless someone breaks down and confesses we won’t ever know. There won’t be closure. Too much time has passed, too much reasonable doubt.

    My take on it is I’m not sure even the people on the boat are clear on what happened. As I recall they were both alcoholics and /or addicts and who knows how much of what was consumed that night by all parties. This could have led to accidents or it could have led to violence. I just don’t believe we will ever know.

    • Bridget says:

      For both the captain and Walker to be completely silent about it over the years, it makes me think that it was something not so straightforward. Theories abound, but as you said we’ll never know with 100% certainty this long after the crime without a confession.

      • Laura says:

        From what I saw on the clip from 48 Hours, it was the boat captain that led the petition in 2011 for the LAPD to open the case back up. He’s also interviewed for the show and it seems like he believes it was some kind of foul play.

      • Allyson says:

        The captain hasn’t been silent. He lives here in St. Augustine and has been telling people for as long as I can remember what happened that night. His story hasn’t changed.

  8. SMDH says:

    SMDH is SMDH. So where were these witnesses 40 years ago? This will never go anywhere as any new witness testimony from 40 years ago isn’t credible.

    Wagner is in his late 80s and they aren’t going to prosecute him either. He’s had to live with the memories of that night and look at his their daughters. And right now they are the ones I feel for. How do they process this yet again?

  9. aims says:

    The story of her slipping and drowning doesn’t make sense too me. She was terrified of water, didn’t know how to swim. Wagner story has changed through the years. That’s a red flag.

    My theory is that everyone was drinking. Wagner is a mean drunk. Natalie and he had an extremely toxic relationship. They get into an argument and Wagner loses it and pushed her off the boat causing her death. That is what my gut is telling me. I believe he is responsible for her untimely death and she deserves justice and the real story.

    • Christin says:

      I remember reading that witnesses reported all three passengers had been drinking earlier that evening at a restaurant/bar on shore. It sounded as if none of them were likely sober. Add the argument aspect, and it’s hard to know the real story.

    • IMHO says:

      I am among those who find it reasonable that NONE of the parties involved have a clear recollection of what happened. Someone being silent to the press about a tragic event does not necessarily lead my ‘gut’ to label them guilty.
      The boat captain lobbying to reopen a case thirty years after the fact strikes me as strange as well.

  10. Sansa says:

    I’ve been on a boat at night when everyone was very drunk and I was suddenly afraid that if we fell into the water it would all be over. I’m sure she had to have been drinking . I doubt she was murdered my take is it was a horrible accident.

    • Ankhel says:

      Autopsy report said she’d been drinking some, and taken pain killers and pills against motion sickness too. The coroner actually stated that those drugs with alcohol were a bad mix, enhancing the alcohol. She likely wasn’t too steady on her feet.

    • Jayna says:

      I agree, but no one will ever know one way or the other 100 percent.

      • Ankhel says:

        True. He COULD have killed her. He had a temper, they fought often. But it could just as easily have been an accident. So nothing will happen to him, IMO.

  11. Sam says:

    I thought this was known already?

  12. Luca76 says:

    It’s a shame he probably got away with murder but yes this seems like a waste of resources for a Lifetime movie contract oh and I wish you’d stop saying 40 years 81 is not 40 years ago lol it’s making me feel even older than usual because I remember this from my childhood.😂

    • OT Hush says:

      Hi Luca,
      I too remember this happening. At the time the story was Natalie had a down jacket on, and when she fell in the ocean the weight of the wet feathers had caused her drowning. I think this was one of Wagner’s excuses. Now that we know she was physically abused it changes things for me. Also RJ didn’t wait very long to marry Jill St. John after Natalie’s death. I can’t believe I bought the “drowning by feathers” story because I had a crush on RW. HAHAHA

      • Ankhel says:

        No, the “drowning partly because of waterlogged down jacket” was the first coroners theory. He mentioned it in his biography. Her body was found in a down jacket over pajamas. Wet, it weighed so much it would’ve made it very hard for a small woman to hoist herself back up into the boat.

    • IMHO says:

      @ OT — we don’t know that she was physically abused. We know from the coroner report that her body (which was in the water for several hours) sustained bruising and abrasions. I admit to not knowing all of the details because I’ve lost them to time, but I don’t recall evidence of DV between the two.

  13. adastraperaspera says:

    I thought authorities already knew that Wagner was arguing with her, and they had many fights. Not sure what is new about this news. I thought everyone assumed he was responsible in some way for her death (drunk accident, homicide?), but there just wasn’t enough evidence to prove it. Tragic loss of life, and I hope bringing it back up isn’t just to advertise a new movie about it or something.

    • Ankhel says:

      Wagner himself admitted to having an argument with Natalie that night years ago. The captain’s been saying it too. You’re right, this isn’t news.

  14. DiligentDiva says:

    I mean it’s obvious he did it and got away with it. No way a woman who was terrified of drowning as much as Natalie Wood went in that rowboat by herself.
    Whether it was just him drunkenly not helping her back up on the boat or whether he pushed her, he had to be involved with the death. It was always reported that they were fighting that night, that Natalie was “flirting” with Christopher Walken (I think that was probably Wagner’s abusive mind making shit up) and that Wagner was very upset over it.
    Poor Natalie Wood, abused by everyone who was supposed to protect her.

    • Nancypants says:


    • lissanne says:

      I find it hard to believe the story that she was terrified of water. If she was, why would she agree to go out in a boat at night? Also, the idea that she was flirting with Walken doesn’t impress me much, as there were also claims that Wagner and Walken were lovers and that’s what started the fight!

  15. Shappalled says:

    This story is so last century.

  16. NeoCleo says:

    I’ve been saying for decades that someone on that boat got away with murder. I’ve never been able to look at Robert Wagner the same way since.

  17. Squirrel4Ever says:

    I actually came across this yesterday and it made me think.


    I know it was a toxic relationship, and i haven’t followed much about Wagner, but it was an interesting read.

    • Jayna says:


      • Carol says:

        The Huff Post article is very interesting. So the medical examiner and investigators used actual evidence like physical evidence on the boat, the results of her autopsy, weather patterns that night, and the physical characteristics of the cove to explain everything about that night, but I should just believe rumors and witnesses who stayed silent for decades to convict Wagner. Okay then.

  18. Bobafelty says:

    Wagner heard rumors that Woods and Walken were having an affair (they were on a movie together at that time). They went on boat and Wagner thought those two were flirting. A fight started. Walken didn’t want involved in their fight and went back to his cabin. Claims he fell asleep and heard nothing. The boat captain claimed he heard fighting and other odd noise. Seems suspicious right? Except everyone including Woods were really drunk. Then the captain kept giving interviews for money, and his story changed over time. Then the captain admitted to following Woods to a hotel after her previous fight with Wagner, because he was attracted to her and thought he had a chance. Talked about hating Wagner. So the witness with most damning claims against Wagner lost credibility. Maybe Wagner and Woods got in a fight and he ended up killing her. Maybe she was drunk on a boat and slipped. I just don’t see how anyone can prove either way. Especially this long after.

    • SMDH says:

      Maybe not. Lana Wood (her sister) doesn’t think so. She stated she believes Natalie did have a serious crush on Walken but Apparently Walkens wife was on location with him while filming ….so there’s that. (I does call the question why he was with NW and RW on Thanksgiving weekend without wife though). LW felt the crush was one sided and not consummated physically.

    • IMHO says:

      Eh, I have also heard that she walked in on Wager and Walken in bed with each other and that’s what started the fight.
      I guess it would be boring if it was just a tragic accident.

  19. Catherinethegoodenough says:

    Incident occurred in 1981, case reopened in 2011. What would prompt new witnesses to come forward now?

  20. Mina says:

    I guess we’ll need to watch the whole special to know, but what I don’t get is that the captain of the boat has been saying for as long as I remember that he heard Natalie and Wagner arguing the night she drowned. I wonder if they have anything that’s actually new. But it doesn’t matter, this will never get solved, too much time has passed and they won’t find any new evidence. Wagner doesn’t have to answer questions if he doesn’t want to, so I highly doubt this case will go anywhere.

    • Dave says:

      Just because they were heard arguing isn’t proof of murder.

      And how can there be new Witnesses, surely they would have to have been on the boat and have been interviewed at the time.

      • Mina says:

        Exactly, I can’t imagine what new evidence or witnesses they could have. I think they are just pumping it for ratings.

  21. Mary Rose says:

    Go to CDAN to read his version of what happened. I think it’s the real story. It’s a doozy.

    • K. T. says:

      Which CDAN story, please? I’m curious about this case even though I don’t really know the details. Heavy drinking on boats IS an accident waiting to happen. But, with relationship arguments and interpersonal stuff… falling off a boat, at night, is a ‘how to murder and get a way with it’ crime. See:Cruise liner deaths. Its like the hiking and oops they fell of a cliff thing…ugh, will wait for more details.

    • Jayna says:

      CDAN? LOL I’ll pass.

  22. Shelley says:

    How is any attempt to find out the truth about someone’s death a “waste of law enforcement”? Even if convictions cannot happen for whatever reason, cases need to be solved.

  23. Godwina says:

    No. Investigate away. Investigate the investigators, and for land’s sake investigate the shit out of Wagner and Walken. This has always reeked, and so have the actors on the boat and cops involved in the original investigation. Anyone guilty deserves at the very least to lose their reputation–I don’t care how old they are.

  24. Harryetcraig says:

    I think most people have always thought the details of that night were pretty sketchy.

  25. Anare says:

    In Wagner’s book didn’t he say she either was trying to leave on the dinghy or tie it up and must have fallen into the water. If I was pissed at my husband and was going to split by boat late at night I would probably not leave in my nightgown. Even drunk I would have the wherewithal to put some clothes on. This is saying nothing about how far fetched it is for a woman who must have had issues with getting seasick and was deathly afraid of the dark water to decide she is going to hop in a dinghy and leave by herself. Wagner of all people would know she would never do that so that was a odd explanation. The whole thing always sounded suspicious AF, still does. But I’d be shocked if the real story ever comes out.

    • Pandy says:

      Well, it would certainly be a dramatic move to row off into the night, drunk in a negligee. to out of the realm of possibility to me.

    • lissanne says:

      She was wearing a down jacket over the nighty. If you read the linked HuffPo story, you will get an actual medical examiner’s take on what happened. An interesting point: She used the dingy to get back and forth to shore frequently, so she was not so afraid of water.

  26. Evie says:

    This case has always been baffling with far too many unanswered questions.
    While there is no statute of limitations on murder, I doubt that the authorities could charge and convict Wagner at this point. What’s puzzling to me is why law enforcement has decided to re-open the case now. A few years back they also said Wagner was a person of interest. Now they’re saying it again. So why all the stops and starts and continuing question marks.

    Hollywood is full of sensational cases like Elizabeth Short aka the Black Dahlia, Marilyn Monroe, George Reeves (who played Superman), silent film star Thomas Ince (who was rumored to have been shot accidentally by William Randolph Hearst’ aboard his yacht in a case of mistaken identity), Bob Crane and Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls to name a few.

    From the sounds of it, there are no new witnesses and no new evidence in Natalie Wood’s death. However, they may have come to new conclusions around the original evidence.

    Natalie Wood was always deathly afraid of the water and drowning. Even if she did accidentally fall overboard while impaired, the biggest red flag, IMO in this case is that Wagner initially was unconcerned and didn’t appear to try very hard in those first hours to find her or raise the alarm.

    But why did they decide to reopen the investigation now? I do think that the authorities should fully investigate this after nearly 37 years and come to some conclusion: either charge Wagner for something or close the book on the case.