The Investigation Discovery network calls this event "one of the most enduring mysteries in American history." In 1981, Hollywood lost a starlet and three-time Academy Award nominee when Natalie Wood drowned after disappearing off a yacht near Santa Catalina Island, according to the original report in The New York Times. A new special, American Murder Mystery: Natalie Wood focuses quite a bit on the captain of the Splendour who was reportedly one of the last people to see Wood alive. Where is Dennis Davern in 2018?
The West Side Story star boarded a yacht with Davern, her husband actor Robert Wagner, and recent co-star Christopher Walken around Thanksgiving. According to CBS news, those three men told the authorities that they assumed Wood had taken off in a dinghy before accidentally drowning.
In 2018 Wagner, now 88 years old, has recently been named a "person of interest" in the case by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, according to The New York Times. He's not an official suspect, as a person of interest in a crime has neither been arrested nor formally accused. Wood's death, once declared accidental is now labeled "suspicious." According to the Times, two new witnesses have now come forward with new claims. A statement from the Sheriff's Department reads:
“A witness provided details about hearing yelling and crashing sounds coming from the couple’s stateroom. Shortly afterwards, separate witnesses identified a man and a woman arguing on the back of the boat. The witnesses believed that the voices belonged to Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner.”
According to the Times, Davern claimed in 2011 that he witnessed a drunken fight between the married couple the night that Wood vanished, and the statements from these new witnesses seem to corroborate his. In 2011, Davern made claims regarding a cover-up in an interview with CNN, below.
"My life after Natalie Wood died, for many years, was very sad," Davern said in an interview with CBS News for 48 Hours earlier this year. He continued:
"Any time there were any questions asked by the homicide detectives I was not allowed, really, to answer anything unless I was with my lawyer. Their investigation really wasn't very much in depth. The investigation was smoothed over with just what we said, and nothing was ever looked at any further. Robert Wagner was very serious about having the stories being the same. To eliminate any investigation. If all the stories are the same, there's really not much to investigate."
He said that he remained quiet regarding the case because he was thinking of Robert Wagner's children. "I was happy go lucky," Davern said in another CBS News clip about his former job. "Everything was wonderful. Worked for celebrities. Everything was great. After Natalie was... passed away, things weren't so nice anymore."
According to Rolling Stone, Wagner has commented publicly on the case, including writing about it in his autobiography. He has maintained that he had nothing to do with Wood's death. Again, he has not been named as a suspect. The Hollywood Reporter noted that he has declined to speak to authorities in this new investigation.
In 2014, Davern and his friend Marti Rulli co-authored Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour which further detailed Davern's account of events. It also provides a small update on his life. "Dennis Davern was a boat captain for Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood," reads the author bio in the book, according to Amazon, "and was on the yacht Splendour on the night of Wood’s death. He currently owns and operates a marina and boat maintenance business." Rulli's investigation and research for the book was key to the LAPD reopening the case back in 2011, according to her author bio.
In 2018, First Coast News reached out to Rulli and discovered that Davern lives in St. Augustine, Florida, for part of the year. So overall, Davern kept out of the spotlight after the traumatic Thanksgiving trip. He has given what he claims to be a true account of events in an attempt to help finally solve the case. The fact that two more witnesses have come forward and corroborated his story means that there is still more to learn and uncover about this tragedy.