Natalie Wood's Death

The Murder of Award-Winning Actress Natalie Wood in 1981

Natalie Wood

The mysterious death of Natalie Wood in 1981 stunned Hollywood. Her husband, Robert Wagner, and her costar Christopher Walken told investigators that she accidentally fell off their yacht into the dark water after arguing with them about her fear of the ocean.

But her body was found with relatively fresh bruises that didn’t seem to have come from the boat. Check out Natalie Wood Murder for more information.

Cause of Death

For the past three decades, Hollywood star Natalie Wood’s death has been shrouded in mystery. The child actress who gained fame as a teenager in classic films like Miracle on 34th Street and Splendor in the Grass earned three Academy Award nominations by age 25, but she died under mysterious circumstances just short of her 43rd birthday.

The cause of her death remains a mystery, although the investigation has been reopened twice over the years following scores of tips. Her autopsy report shows she had bruises on her body and arms, as well as an abrasion on her cheek, but investigators can’t determine whether those wounds occurred before or after she drowned. Bruising could have been caused by her fall from the yacht onto a small Valiant-brand inflatable dinghy, but it’s impossible to say whether she was alive when that happened.

Wood’s husband, Robert Wagner, claimed she fell into the water after arguing with co-star Christopher Walken aboard their 60-foot yacht Brainstorm, which was docked at Two Harbors on November 29, 1981. He reported her missing shortly after midnight, and a search found her body about a mile away from the boat, with a small dinghy beached nearby.

Authorities believe she accidentally slipped into the water after trying to get out of the yacht through a porthole, but her husband’s claim has been called into question. A number of experts have pointed out that a woman with her weight would have been pulled underwater by the force of the waves and couldn’t have managed to escape from the dinghy.

In the wake of Wood’s disappearance, several conspiracy theories emerged, including one from her sister, Lana, who claims she was raped by a powerful actor at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles prior to her death. Her book Little Sister: My Investigation into the Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood, published in 2021, named Kirk Douglas as the alleged assailant. Nevertheless, Wood’s family and friends have consistently denied the allegations that she was assaulted or murdered.


One of Hollywood’s most enduring mysteries is the death of Natalie Wood. Her body was found floating in the Pacific Ocean on November 29, 1981, wearing a flannel nightgown, blue wool socks and a red down jacket. Her yacht’s rubber dinghy was found nearby. An autopsy revealed superficial bruises on her body that were considered consistent with drowning.

Wood’s husband, Robert Wagner, actor Christopher Walken and the yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern, all gave differing accounts of what happened to her. The case was reopened in 2011 after new information came to light. Investigators have not commented on the new information, but it is believed that it may have come from Davern, who has been critical of Wagner since her death.

During the initial investigation, Davern told investigators that Wood left the boat voluntarily to buy a sweater at a store and that she fell into the water trying to secure or board the dinghy. This was a major conflict with the version of events that Wagner gave to investigators. Nevertheless, after a two-week investigation, the death of Natalie Wood was ruled an accident.

Then, in 2008, a book was published titled “Goodbye Natalie Goodbye Splendour.” In the book, Davern alleged that Wagner and Wood had an explosive argument before everything went silent and the actress disappeared from the yacht. The revised account of the incident prompted the reopening of the case in 2011.

According to the new evidence, there is now cause for concern that foul play was involved. A former assistant U.S. attorney and longtime lawyer claims his five-year probe into the case reveals riveting facts never before seen.

The book states that Natalie Wood was a woman in turmoil, a result of a life of psychological damage and abuse. She had been manipulated and exploited by her mother, directors who used her, and studio executives who looked the other way. She was also paranoid and suffered from deep-seated fears, including a prophecy from her superstitious Russian mother that she would die in dark water. This led her to spend her entire life avoiding water, and ultimately she ended up meeting her demise in it.


The murder of award-winning actress Natalie Wood in 1981 has remained one of Hollywood’s most enduring mysteries. In life, she was the epitome of a dutiful starlet, trained to keep quiet and never rock the boat. In death, she was a victim of the same systemic corruption that has plagued the industry for decades: the directors who exploited her, the studio executives who looked the other way and the law enforcement authorities who bungled the investigation.

In a downtown news conference, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide investigators revealed new details in the case. More than 100 people came forward with information since the case was reopened in 2011, and they helped police to articulate the timeline. However, they haven’t been able to bring any charges against anyone.

It was during the Thanksgiving weekend of 1981 that Wood, who was 43 at the time, died off Santa Catalina Island. She was on board her yacht Splendour with husband Robert Wagner, fellow actor Christopher Walken and their regular captain, Dennis Davern.

At first, the three men aboard the boat said they assumed Wood, who was terrified of water, took off in her dinghy and ended up on shore. But over time, their stories have shifted, and this has raised red flags for investigators. Davern’s account has also shifted, and he has refused to talk to investigators.

The forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Wood’s body noticed bruises that suggested she was attacked, but no one followed up on this lead. An intern in the medical examiner’s office who viewed the autopsy photos noticed that some bruises looked like they were made by a belt. This prompted the sheriff’s department to take a closer look at the case.

Lana, Natalie’s younger sister, is convinced that her brother-in-law, Wagner, has something to hide. She has accused him of beating her, and he has denied any wrongdoing in the past. After her death, he treated her with outright hostility, refusing to invite her or their mother to dinner and dragging her family through the press after she sold some of her clothes.


The story of Natalie Wood’s death has captivated Hollywood fans for decades. Her untimely death in 1981 was the source of numerous rumors, scandals, and theories about what really happened to her. However, there was never any evidence to hold anyone accountable for her death, and it was ultimately ruled an accident. But her death sparked a firestorm of questions, especially about her husband, Robert Wagner, and her Brainstorm co-star, Christopher Walken.

At the time, the pair were married and living a very public life. They were both stars in their own right and had a very complicated relationship. Rumors swirled that their marriage was plagued with infidelity, jealousy and bitter fights. When they teamed up on the set of Brainstorm, their on-screen partnership was hotly contested as well.

On the night of her death, Wood was a passenger on a yacht called the Splendour. She had been spending the weekend with her husband, Wagner, and Walken, who was also a passenger on the boat. They had eaten at a mainland restaurant that night and all three were very intoxicated, according to reports. A manager at the restaurant said he was worried that they would all be too drunk to make it back to their yacht, which was moored nearby. He said they left the restaurant just before 10:30 p.m. Wagner and Walken returned to the yacht soon afterward, but Wood was nowhere to be found.

When they returned, Wagner told them that she must have gone off in a dinghy to go to the bathroom, and that he did not know where she went. He reportedly went out looking for her after she did not return, but she had apparently slipped into the water and drowned. Officials ruled her death an accident, but many have always suspected otherwise.

Investigators reopened the case in 2011, and new witnesses came forward. They noted that the bruise pattern on Wood’s body did not match the story she and the other two men on the boat, Captain Dennis Davern and actor Christopher Walken, gave to original investigators. The bruises looked like they were the result of a struggle, rather than an accident.