TODAY   |  November 18, 2011

Boat captain: Wagner responsible for Wood’s death

Dennis Davern, the man captaining the boat on the night when Natalie Wood died at sea, tells TODAY’s David Gregory that Robert Wagner is responsible for Wood’s death.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> 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.