After considering the mystery of Agatha Christie’s disappearance in January and the death of actor George Reeves in February and who killed Bugsy Siegel last month, Earl considers the circumstances surrounding the death of Natalie Wood.
HISTORY’S RICH WITH MYSTERIES
When I look at the past, I find stories about people which fascinate me, particularly those in which there is a curious mixture of fact, legend, and mysterious uncertainty. In this series of articles, I want to explore some of those stories. I think of them as mysteries swaddled in legend. While truth is always desired in most things, truth easily becomes staid and boring. Legend, on the other hand, forever holds a hint of romanticism and an aura of excitement borne of adventure, imagination and, of course, mystery.
NATALIE WOOD – Accidental Drowning or Something Else?
by Earl Staggs
Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in San Francisco on July 20, 1938, to Russian immigrant parents, she began acting at the age of four and soon changed her name to Natalie Wood. In 1947, at the age of eight, she played Maureen O'Hara's daughter in the original film version of the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street, a role which established her as one of the top child movie actors. As an adult, she starred in a number of major films including
The case was reopened in November 2011 after the captain of the boat, Dennis Davern, published a book titled, GoodbyeNatalie, Goodbye Splendour. In his book, he admitted he lied to police during the initial investigation and now stated Wagner was responsible for her death. Davern appeared in a 1992 Geraldo Rivera special, a 2000 Vanity Fair piece, and CNN interview in 2010.
Davern claimed Wagner pushed Natalie away after a drunken brawl and she fell overboard. He said he wanted to save her, but Wagner said, “Leave her there. Teach her a lesson.”
Wagner dismissed Davern's allegations as nothing more than an attempt to sell books through tabloid headlines.
In his 2008 memoir, Pieces of My Heart, Wagner acknowledged he had a fight with Natalie that night after Walken went to bed, and that both of them had been drinking heavily. As for what caused her to fall off the boat, he wrote it was "all conjecture. Nobody knows. There are only two possibilities: either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened."
"Did I blame myself?," he wrote. "If I had been there, I could have done something. But I wasn't there. I didn't see her. The door was closed; I thought she was belowdecks. I didn't hear anything. But ultimately, a man is responsible for his loved one, and she was my loved one."
After a fresh examination of the original autopsy report, the Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner in 2012, amended Natalie's death certificate. The cause of death was changed from “accidental drowning” to "drowning and other undetermined factors."
The amended document also states:
. . .the circumstances of how Natalie ended up in the water are "not clearly established;"
. . .some two dozen bruises on her body and an abrasion on her left cheek may have been sustained before she went into the water;
. . .she may have been unconscious when she entered the water.
As of now, the case is still open and unsolved. Investigators have circumstantial evidence, allegations, and suppositions, but no definitive evidence that Natalie's death was due to foul play.
As for me, I'm undecided. Maybe they had a physical altercation on deck, and she went over the side accidentally or aided by an angry, drunken husband. Perhaps she was so anxious to get away from him, the amount of alcohol she'd consumed overwhelmed her fear of water, and she braved climbing into the dinghy only to lose her balance and wind up in the water.
One thing I'm certain of. I don't believe we'll ever know for sure what happened on that ill-fated yacht on that dark night off the coast of Catalina.
What do you think?
Earl Staggs ©2016
Earl Staggs earned all Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.
He invites any comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
He also invites you to visit his blog site at http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com to learn more about his novels and stories.