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Video: Boat captain: Wagner responsible for Wood’s death

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    >> much. dennis davern is with us, along with marti ruli who worked on the book "goodbye natalie , goodbye splendsplendor." why now after 30 years? what is the new information that investigators are zeroing in on?

    >> well, you say why now? why now is because i've been trying to tell information about this for many, many years. and there wasn't really anyone listening until now.

    >> okay. well, what is the information you're relaying now?

    >> the information i'm relaying now is, i just want a thorough investigation. and that information will be brought out by the investigators.

    >> well, again, the question stands, why now? what is information? what has changed? what has come to light that you have brought to light some 30 years later that would lead the sheriff's office to reopen an investigation?

    >> i think right now this point in time, someone has actually listened. i've been trying to get somebody to listen for a long time. and now somebody is listening, and they're going to carry on with this investigation.

    >> i'd like to try one more time. what is it that they're listening to? what is it that you are saying now that's different than what has been brought to light before?

    >> i'm not saying anything different. all the information that i reveal in the past, it's all in that book. and now it's just something for the investigators to do an investigation.

    >> well, you've talked to investigators. what's the bottom line here? you write in the book about an argument between natalie wood and her husband, robert wagner . do you think that was the pivotal moment? that after that argument is what led to her death?

    >> all i can say is, i made some terrible decisions, mistakes. and it's just going to have to be left up to the investigators.

    >> sir, my question is, what happened? that led to her death that we didn't know before?

    >> i can't answer that question right now.

    >> and why not? you're referring to mistakes you made. have you changed your story from when you spoke to investigators years ago?

    >> i did lie on a report years ago.

    >> and what did you lie about then?

    >> it was just -- i made mistakes by not telling the honest truth in a police report .

    >> well, just be specific. i mean, we've talked about the broad outlines of the story. what is it that you were untruthful about?

    >> just everything that took place that weekend.

    >> was the fight between natalie wood and her husband, robert wagner , what ultimately led to her death?

    >> yes.

    >> how so?

    >> like i said, that's going to be up to the investigators to decide.

    >> the point you're making is that it's because of information in the book, information that you're bringing to them, that they would be reopening this investigation. is it your charge that, in fact, robert wagner essentially tried to make this a low-profile investigation, did not do everything he could to try to find her once she went missing after their argument?

    >> yes, it was. it was to be kept a low-profile investigation.

    >> so you're saying that wagner did not do everything he should have done to look for her after she went missing.

    >> exactly.

    >> was he responsible for her death in some way?

    >> well, like i said, i think we all made mistakes that night. and --

    >> mr. davern, that wasn't my question. was he responsible for her death? i'm not asking about your story.

    >> yes, i would say so. yes.

    >> how so?

    >> i really don't want to get involved --

    >> well how can you come on national television, sir, and accuse him of something like that but not back it up?

    >> well, that's up to the investigators. i don't want to speak for --

    >> well, you're speaking to investigators. are they not reopening this investigation, based on information that you've provided them?

    >> yes, they are.

    >> okay. so what is that information that backs up your charge?

    >> that will be up to the investigators to say.

    >> this is a statement from robert wagner that george lewis referred to. although no one in the wagner family has heard from the l.a. county sheriff's department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the l.a. county sheriff's department and trust they will evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of natalie wagner is valid and that it comes from a credible source other than those sources trying to profit from the 30-year anniversary of her tragic death. sir, the implication here is that you may be an tunist trying to do just that. you're saying robert wagner is responsible for her death but not saying how. not shedding light on why it is after 30 years they would reopen an investigation when that's a very unusual step for any investigative body to do.

    >> i'm not really an investigator here. and i'm far away from even thinking about profiting over a 30-year anniversary. i have known this information for many, many years. and my book has been out for two years. i'm not in it for any kind of profit. i'm in it for the justice of the whole situation.

    >> marti ruli, you helped mr. davern with this book.

    >> yes.

    >> i'll ask you the direct question . what happened, and what do we know now that we didn't know then?

    >> well, there was a fight aboard "the splendor" the night natalie died, a terrible argument. that was never relayed to the original investigators. and none of the survivors, walken, wagner or dennis , were forthcoming with the investigators. and it was probably in 1983 when the information about the bottle smashing came out.

    >> this was in an argument between wagner and wood.

    >> yes. now, everyone was present for the bottle-smashing. that was after the party of four left doug's harbor reef for dinner. they returned to "the splendor," were in the main salon. robert wagner , after natalie and christopher were chatting, picked up a wine bottle and smashed it hard down on the coffee table. and it shattered. everyone protected themselves from the glass flying everywhere. walken went to his cabin, never came out for the rest of the night.

    >> right. he goes to sleep. so then what -- what happens? i mean, i've just heard mr. davern say he thinks wagner is responsible for his wife's death. what happened?

    >> natalie was mortified, went to her state room . wagner followed. a terrible argument transpired that broke out to the back deck. dennis overheard the arguing, he did make an attempt to stop it, was told to go away by robert wagner . and then minutes later, natalie was missing. dennis was asked to search the boat. he did, he couldn't find natalie . he met up with wagner in the wheel house . dennis wanted to do everything. make a phone call , turn on the search light . his instincts told him something was terribly wrong. and robert wagner asked him not to.

    >> i want to stop at that point. mr. davern, wagner said not to. not to take direct steps that could help identify where natalie wood was. had she fallen off the boat. that's what you're saying.

    >> yes. we didn't take any steps to see if we could locate her.

    >> do you have any evidence, any information to say that there was foul play, that this was murder, that he was responsible for her being pushed off the boat? or was it a matter of him simply saying, "we're not going to look too hard."

    >> i think it was a matter of we're not going to look too hard. we're not going to turn on the search light , we're not going to notify anybody right at the moment.

    >> you never told the police that at the time, did you?

    >> no.

    >> why not?

    >> well, because we all had -- we all had our story to tell the homicide detectives at the time. and that's the story i told.

    >> so you agreed with robert wagner to tell a story he wanted you to tell, and not the truth.

    >> yes.

    >> why should anyone believe you now, when you didn't tell the truth then?

    >> well, at that time, my life was just totally, totally crazy at that time. and you know, i don't think there was a time where i was even able to even think straight.

    >> any message you have for robert wagner this morning?

    >> no.

    >> we're going to leave it there. dennis davern, thank you very much. marti ruli, thank you.

    >> thank you.

By
TODAY.com
updated 11/18/2011 8:43:43 AM ET 2011-11-18T13:43:43

The former captain of the boat from which actress Natalie Wood drowned in 1981 alleged on TODAY Friday that her husband, actor Robert Wagner, was responsible for her death.

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Dennis Davern said he is now urging homicide investigators to look into Wood's death. She had been boating with Wagner and his "Brainstorm" co-star Christopher Walken near Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California when she drowned.

Story: Wagner's book: Drinking didn't explain Wood's death

"I made some terrible decisions and mistakes," Davern told NBC News' David Gregory. "I did lie on a report several years ago."

He added, "I made mistakes by not telling the honest truth in a police report."

Natalie Wood death probe to be reopened

When pressed by Gregory, Davern said he believed Wagner had intentionally kept the investigation into her death low-profile. And when asked if he thought Wagner was "responsible" for Wood's death, Davern said, "yes, I would say so. Yes."

Image: Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood
TODAY
Actress Natalie Wood, right, drowned in 1981 while boating off Santa Catalina Island.

"We didn't take any steps to see if we could locate her," Davern added. "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.'"

Wagner's publicist issued a statement saying his family supported the L.A. County sheriff's department "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."

Many of the details he shared have appeared in the book "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour," authored by Marti Rulli. That book was published in 2009.

Video: Boat captain: Wagner responsible for Wood’s death (on this page)

"I'm not really the investigator here, and I'm far away from even thinking about profiting over a 30-year anniversary," Davern told Gregory. "I've known this information for many, many years and my book has been out for two years. I'm not in it for any kind of profit, I'm in it for the justice of the whole situation."

Davern also answered questions about why he would come forward 30 years later with new information when he could have told authorities much earlier.

"Why now is because I've been trying to tell information about this for many, many years, but there wasn't really anyone listening until now," he said. "I've been trying to get somebody to listen for a long time and now somebody is listening and they're going to carry on with this investigation. I'm not saying anything different. All the information that I've revealed in the past, it's all in that book, and now it's just up to the investigators to do an investigation."

Gregory also pressed Davern on why investigators should believe him now, as he admitted lying to them the first time.

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"At that time my life was just totally crazy, and I don't think it was a time when I was even able to think straight," Davern said.

Video: Natalie Wood death probe reopened (on this page)

On the night of Wood's death in November 1981, Wood and Wagner got into a "terrible argument" that was never reported to the original investigators, according to Rulli. Actor Christopher Walken, Wood's "Brainstorm" co-star, went to sleep in his cabin after an angry Wagner smashed a wine bottle on a coffee table that sent everyone scattering to avoid the flying glass, Rulli said. Walken has not made any comment since these new details emerged, other than the statement from his publicist Friday.

When a "mortified" Wood went to her stateroom, Wagner followed and an argument began, according to Rulli.

"Dennis made an attempt to stop it, and was told to go away by Robert Wagner," Rulli told Gregory. "Then minutes later, Natalie was missing...Dennis wanted to do everything. Make a phone call, turn on the search light. His instincts told him something was terribly wrong, and Robert Wagner asked him not to."

The coroner's report from the time of her death indicated that she may have slipped and hit her head after she lost balance from drinking several glasses of wine.

"The rest is just ghoulish nonsense," Wood's attorney, Paul Ziffren, said at the time about speculation that Wood's death was not accidental.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: Natalie Wood

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  1. Child star

    Natalie Wood started her career as a child actor and went on to adult stardom. She wasn't yet 10 when she starred in the Christmas classic, "A Miracle on 34th Street," in 1947. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Lovely ingenue

    Wood, seen here in 1955, moved easily from child acting to more adult roles. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Rebels

    One of Wood's most famous roles came in 1955's "Rebel Without a Cause," in which she starred with James Dean. She was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for her role. ( Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Hollywood love story

    Wood was just 18 when she began dating 25-year-old Robert Wagner. The two wed a year later, in 1957, and starred together in the box-office flop "All the Fine Young Cannibals" in 1959. A 1980s band took its name from the film. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. I've just met a girl named Maria

    Wood and Richard Beymer played star-crossed lovers in 1961's "West Side Story." The film won 10 Oscars, but the two stars did not receive individual acting awards. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Hollywood royalty

    Wood and notorious womanizer Warren Beatty, co-stars in 1961's "Splendour in the Grass," attended the Oscars together that year. Their relationship did not last long. (William Lovelace / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Screen star

    Wood snagged a second to relax in her dressing room in 1962. At the height of her fame, she rivaled legend Liz Taylor for magazine cover appearances. (William Lovelace / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 'Race' time

    Wood holds a parasol in a scene from 1965's "The Great Race." (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Golden night.

    Wood and Paul Newman received Golden Globes in 1966 for World Favorite Actor and Actress. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Second time around

    Wood and Wagner divorced in 1962, and she married British producer Richard Gregson and had a daughter. But Wood and Gregson split in 1972 and she and Wagner remarried and had a daughter of their own. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Seventies style

    Once her daughters were born, Wood, seen here in 1975, moved into semi-retirement from acting, and would only make four more films. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Family affair

    Wagner, Wood and their daughter Courtney (held by Wood) and her daughter Natasha arrive in London in 1976. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. With Sir Laurence

    Wagner and Wood appeared with Sir Laurence Olivier on his 1976 show, "Laurence Olivier Presents," which adapted famous plays for television. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. On the red carpet

    Wagner, sporting a rare mustache, and Wood made for a glamorous couple at the 1979 Oscars. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Final film

    Christopher Walken and Wood starred together in 1983's "Brainstorm," the film they were working on when she died in 1981. Walken was on Wood and Wagner's yacht the night she drowned. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Sorrow and Splendour

    Wood died after an evening on the 55-foot-yacht Splendour that she and Wagner owned, named for her 1961 hit "Splendour in the Grass." She was found wearing a down jacket over a nightgown. There had reportedly been an argument between the couple that night. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A lost mother

    Wagner comforts the couple's daughter, Courtney at her mother's funeral. Courtney was just 7 and Natasha Gregson 11 when Natalie Wood drowned. (Paul Harris / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rest in peace

    Wood is buried in the quiet Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, an urban oasis just steps away from busy UCLA. The mystery of her death has never been fully explained. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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