"I don't think Natalie fell." Those five words have become a mantra for Lana Wood. Natalie Wood's little sister, now in her 60's, has spent the past year pressuring investigators to reexamine the mysterious events surrounding her sibling's drowning death in 1981.
Last week, she got her wish when the case was officially reopened after new witness accounts surfaced. For Lana, it's a mixed blessing.
"I'm so frightened of hearing things I don't want to hear. I would like to be told that everything is exactly as they said," she told Matt Lauer in an interview with the Today Show, on Monday.
'They' presumably include Robert Wagner, Wood's widow, and actor Christopher Walken, Natalie's co-star at the time (who's retained a lawyer since the case was reopened last week). Both men were on the Wagner-Wood "Splendour" yacht, off of California's Catalina Island, the night the legendary actress drowned in the Pacific Ocean. Their accounts of the evening, backing the initial ruling that the actress slipped and fell into the water while attempting to climb into a small dinghy, differ from recent information from the ship's captain, Dennis Davern.
According to Davern, Wagner and Wood were fighting and after the actress went missing, Wagner waited four hours before telling Davern to contact the coast guard. Meanwhile, another witness, Marilyn Wayne, has come forward claiming to have heard a woman's cry for help that night while sailing on a nearby boat.
Back in 1982, Davern denied any fighting between Wagner and his wife, but over the past year, he's partnered with Lana in attempting to reopen the case. Last week, Davern told the Today Show that he believes the heated argument between Wagner and Wood eventually led to Wood's death.
It's in stark contrast to the original accidental cause of death, as well as Wagner and Walken's account. Both claim the fall that caused her to drown was an accident, which they didn't witness.
Lana isn't convinced. "I don't think she fell, I don't know if she was pushed, I don't know whether there was an altercation and it happened accidentally but she shouldn't have died and that does stay with me and hurt," Wood told CNN's Piers Morgan.
Lana, an actress in her own right and a former Bond girl, had a close relationship with her sister. They shared everything from screen time (she debuted in her sister's film "The Searchers") to boyfriends (Wood's "Splendour in the Grass" co-star Warren Beatty dated them both). In 1984, Wood published a memoir of her sister's life, further linking her own legacy with her sister's. Her relationship with Wagner has been more fractured, particular after Natalie's death.
"RJ has never once sat down with me, face to face and answered the questions I have about my sister's death," Wood said in a 2009 interview with the Daily Mail. "I still believe there are certain things he is either omitting to say or is covering up. All I have ever wanted for Natalie is for the truth to come out."
In later years, after her daughter's bout with cancer and her mother's Alzheimer's battle she felt slighted by what she believed was Wagner's lack of support. As of 2009 she hadn't spoken to him in 10 years.
"RJ has moved on with his life," she said. "But I feel like I lost a part of myself that night and I will never be able to fully rest easy until RJ tells the truth."
Wagner isn't considered a suspect at this point and he's fully cooperating with investigation. "[I] fully support the efforts of the LA County Sheriff's Dept. and trust they will evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid," he said in a statement to press last week, "and that it comes from a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30 year anniversary of her tragic death."
"[Davern] had called me many years ago very upset, crying, obviously had been drinking and unburdening himself," she had said. "Little bits and pieces had always filtered over to me. There were so many things that were always bothering me."
The biggest mystery: how Wood, who had a notorious fear of open water, ended up in the Pacific Ocean.
"My sister was not a swimmer and did not know how to swim, and she would never go to another boat or to shore dressed in a nightgown and socks," Lana has said.
In another statement to the website TMZ, she revealed, "'[Davern] said that everyone was quite drunk and that a fight broke out and that Natalie was in the water and he and RJ did nothing to pull her out."
One thing is certain: after 30 years, Natalie Wood's death still resonates not only with her sister but with the public at large. Investigators believe it will take several months before any new answers come to light. In the meantime, Lana remains both eager and fearful for closure.
"I have spent the last 30 years preferring to believe that everything was simply an accident...although a lot of things didn't add up," she said. But an accident is just how Wagner described it, says Lana, when they first saw each other after Natalie's death.
"Robert was laying on their bed, devastated," she told CNN, "and when I walked into their bedroom he looked up at me crying and whispered, 'It was an accident, you have to believe me, it was an accident.' "
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