Wagner & I agreed on what to say: Captain

Dennis Davern, skipper of yacht the "Splendour" the night Natalie Wood drowned in 1981, on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" on Nov. 19, 2011 CBS

Homicide detectives in Los Angeles are re-opening the investigation into the mysterious death of actress Natalie Wood.

It's been 30 years since she drowned off the California coast.

At the time, the coroner ruled that her death was an accident.

But CBS's "48 Hours" and Vanity Fair have uncovered new evidence in the case, largely from the captain of the yacht she was on that night, about what really happened, reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan.

"48 Hours presents Vanity Fair: Hollywood Scandal," airs on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

"I believe that Robert Wagner was with her up until the moment she went into the water," Dennis Davern told "48 Hours."

Special coverage:"48 Hours" Presents Vanity Fair: Hollywood Scandal

Watch a preview


Davern was at the helm of Robert Wagner's yacht, the "Splendour."

Wood's body was found off Catalina Island.

Davern now reveals Wagner had been arguing with Wood, and tells "48 Hours" Wagner not only knew his wife had fallen overboard -- he claims Wagner did little to help.

Davern told "48 Hours," "I said to Robert Wagner, 'Maybe I should turn on the search light.' He said, 'Don't do that."'

Investigators won't say what new leads they have, but do say Wagner isn't a suspect. They add that Wood's death is still considered an accident.

Wagner admitted to the argument in a 2008 autobiography - but told "CBS Sunday Morning" at the time his wife's death was an accident, nothing more.

"We were so in love and we had everything," he said. "And in a second, in a second it was gone."

Vanity Fair: Hollywood Scandal
"48 Hours" Presents Vanity Fair: Hollywood Scandal, Saturday, Nov. 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT

On "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," Davern told co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis he "failed to tell" authorities everything he knew about what had happened on the "Splendour" that night. "But for the last 20 years or more, I've been trying to tell the authorities that it would be a good idea if they could take a closer look at the case."

Why?

"In the very beginning, we were just - talked it over, Robert Wagner and myself that, 'Hey, this is what happened, and this is what we say,' and that's exactly what we did."

He told Jarvis he has since "told police (about) the arguing that was going on the boat, the tension that was building between Robert Wagner and (actor) Christopher Walken (who was the fourth person on the yacht that night), of Robert Wagner's jealousy (of Walken) and, basically, the arguing."

Marti Rulli, who co-authored a book with Davern in 2008 called, "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour," told Jarvis detectives now say they "are finally going to take the old information that was never really looked at 30 years ago and give it the attention today that it did deserve 30 years ago. That information that was put out, the media back then went with the accidental drowning, and the authorities didn't ask many questions beyond that. And now, I think what they're doing is taking the old files, looking through them, and seeing what they missed. Their agreement now to reopen this case, I think, is an admission that, yes, this case did deserve more attention than it ever did receive."

Have they already been too hasty in saying Wagner's not a suspect?

"Well," she replied, "they have just begun their investigation. They are not about to name suspects. They want to give this case the months of attention that it deserved, not the three or four days that it got in 1981."

Asked by Jarvis if Wagner should already have been taken off the board as a possible suspect, Davern replied, "At the present time, I would say yes, because no one is a suspect right now."

"Who do you think did it?" Jarvis inquired.

"Well, it really doesn't matter what I think. I think the important thing is that there is a proper investigation done."

"But," Jarvis pressed, "do you think there is somebody who did this and you do think they were on board that boat that night?"

"Like I said," Davern repeated, "it doesn't matter what I think really. It's up to the investigators to figure this out."

Comments