Guest Author - Kathie LoMonaco
For the past several weeks, as Thanksgiving approached, my thoughts would stray to the upcoming 30th anniversary of the shocking death of Natalie Wood, one of our most beloved Hollywood icons. As a young girl I grew up having my father buy me every magazine that featured Natalie on the cover. She was my idol. She was, and will always be, the epitome of beauty, grace and elegance - she is timeless.
As I sat down early this morning to type my current article, I had already decided that the topic would be the 30th anniversary of Natalie’s death on that fateful Thanksgiving weekend thirty years ago - the suspicious death of Natalie swirling around in my mind - and thought about how I would want to present my article.
As I began to type I heard a voice from the TV in the next room from my den, the Today show apparently conducting an interview, with none other than the Skipper of Natalie and RJ Wagner’s boat, ‘The Splendour‘, by the name of Dennis Davern. To bring you current, I had several contacts with Marti Rulli last year, who, along with Dennis Davern collaborated on the book that had come out approximately one year prior to that, entitled, “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour”.
At that time, I immediately went out and obtained the book - and to say it was shocking, would be an understatement. I told some of my family and friends to go out and get the book and to give me their feedback. As I stated in a previous article that I wrote last year on Natalie’s death and Ms. Rulli and Davern’s book, the scenario that was described in the book painted such a disturbing picture of that fateful weekend on the yacht, Splendour, - RJ's violent behavior, the angry outburst on the boat describing how Wagner slammed a liquor bottle down on a coffee table so hard that shards of glass sprayed up and around Natalie, Christopher Walken and Dennis as they were all sitting around a table drinking in the Main Salon.
Ms. Rulli wrote that Walken’s hands were trembling as he immediately got up and went to his room, never to be heard from again that night. As told to Rulli by Davern, Natalie was humiliated by Wagner's (drunken) tirade (words to this effect) and retired to her stateroom after confiding to Davern that she was going to see her lawyer Monday morning - she was that angry with her husband.
Again, according to the book, Wagner followed Natalie to their stateroom shortly thereafter attempting to smooth things over. That is when Dennis heard a horrible altercation coming from their room - from the way he described the argument, it sounded like someone (Natalie) was being thrown or beaten (Natalie was only about 90 to 95 lbs.) The next thing Davern saw was RJ with Natalie on the back deck of the boat - however, seconds later, when he looked back towards where they had been standing just several moments before, Natalie was nowhere in sight - only RJ was standing there.
Davern stated RJ directed him NOT to turn the outside light(s) on - and stalled Davern when he wanted to call the authorities - waiting hours before agreeing to report her missing. There was also a woman whose boat was anchored fairly close to The Splendour who allegedly heard a woman crying out for help for a while (at about the same time). That woman, according to the book, has even stated she discussed with her husband rescuing the person who was calling out for help, as she was an excellent swimmer. She changed her mind after hearing a man's voice calling out to the panicked woman in the water. That 'witness' was never questioned by police according to accounts.
And, as if that was not be enough to revisit the tragic case with fresh, clear eyes - another suspicious detail emerged. Davern had found one of the earrings Natalie had been wearing in the far corner of her stateroom (bedroom) on the floor. How would her earring have ‘landed’ in a far corner, on the floor, unless there had been a tumultuous situation wherein that earring became airborne and landed way off in that far corner. There were so many blaring, suspicious facts to be looked into - yet that investigation was closed way too quickly. To say that it was irresponsible and unprofessional would be putting it mildly.
The detailed account of what transpired that night should have prompted the Los Angeles police to reopen the case years ago - but it has taken all this while for them to somehow come to the realization of what a shoddy, incomplete investigation they had conducted thirty years ago.
When Natalie’s body was found floating near Isthmus cove, her head was hidden under the water-filled, red ski parka which apparently acted like a flotation device, actually keeping her body from sinking even further under the shark-infested waters off Catalina Island. It was badly bruised, according to Davern in the book (according to reports, she did not drown, she suffered hyperthermia which led to her death). Davern also recounted how Wagner did not want to view Natalie’s body at the make-shift morgue on the island - instead he made plans to leave almost immediately by flying back to Los Angeles. According to Davern, Wagner directed him to view the body in his place and make the identification.
How was it that Wagner was allowed to just take off and return to Los Angeles? Why didn’t the authorities question all the bruises on Natalie’s body - and the 'upwards' bruise on her face? There are many, many unanswered questions. It still gives me the creeps when I think of what Davern stated in the book about one of the police investigators taking Natalie’s picture when her body was lying in the morgue and randomly showing it to people that he chose to show it to - how macabre, not to mention unprofessional first and foremost! How did he get away with doing that? And, what about the fact that Davern was quite certain he had secured the dinghy to the Splendour that evening?
As I listened intently this morning to the short interview, I could immediately pick up on the fact that Davern is even now, thirty years later, apparently still intimidated by Wagner and very possibly afraid of retaliation for coming out with his story. After all, Wagner has always been a major player in Hollywood, and hobnobs with many influential people. And, to address David Gregory's implications that maybe Davern was waiting all these 30 years - just to 'cash in' - Cash in? Well, if that was the case, he missed that opportunistic 'boat' 30 years ago when Natalie and RJ were at the peak of their careers and popularity - with RJ, in particular, starring in the very popular 'Hart to Hart' with Stephanie Powers.
Puhleeze, let’s get real. The so-called ‘window of opportunity’ for Davern was when it happened 30 years ago -- and he did absolutely nothing but try to disappear. I would suggest to interviewers such as Gregory that they do their due-dilligence first before trying to vilify a person like Davern who I believe genuinely wants to see the truth come out, and, instead of trying to point a finger - research your facts thoroughly - i.e., when a person goes through a traumatic situation - studies and reports done by doctors say that it could take years for (especially disturbing) memories to surface that the mind tries to avoid or bury after going through a traumatizing incident. I think the Skipper, Davern, should be looked at as courageous in speaking out and wanting truth and justice to prevail - in the face of all odds.
I believe that is why Davern, still now, is afraid to speak out, as witnessed on the interview this morning. I saw fear on that man's face. To my way of thinking, he still looks somewhat traumatized, even after all these years. I do wish he would have pointed out some of the details that were in the book that strongly suggest foul play.
Let us not forget the ones who suffered the most in this -- Natalie’s precious daughters - Natasha and Courtney. They were robbed of their Mother, at a very young age. I’m sure they clung to Wagner - as to lose both parents simultaneously would be more than any child could, or should, bear. To ponder the possibility that they have been raised by a man who may have been involved in their mother's horrific demise is both terrifying and sickening. They were very young then, and impressionable, but I wonder what they are thinking now.
There were four people on the boat that weekend - out of the four, one is dead; that leaves three people -- at least two of which know what happened.
After all, don’t we all want justice for Natalie, one of our most beloved and cherished icons? I know I do.