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‘I feel he is a coward’

‘I feel he is a coward’

'I think he's a coward'

Robert Wagner and his actress spouse Natalie Wooden at Heathrow Airport in London earlier than leaving to current the prizes on the Cannes Movie Pageant.Picture by PA Photos through Getty Photos

  • The circumstances surrounding actress Natalie Wooden’s 1981 loss of life have lengthy been mysterious.

  • In “Little Sister,” Lana Wooden presents a attainable offender: Natalie’s husband, actor Robert Wagner.

  • “It could imply every little thing to Natalie” if her case was lastly resolved, Lana instructed Insider.

Actress Lana Wooden has at all times believed actor Robert Wagner performed a task within the mysterious loss of life of her sister and his spouse, actress Natalie Wooden.

“I’ve at all times thought so and I selected to not say something,” Lana instructed Insider. “I simply felt it was finest to maintain my mouth shut.”

However now, 40 years after Natalie drowned off the coast of Santa Catalina Island, Lana is doubling down on her accusations in opposition to Wagner, which she first started making publicly again in 2018 — and this time, she’s not holding again.

The previous “Bond Woman,” now 75, is diving again into one among Hollywood’s most notorious unsolved instances — and the trenches of her personal private heartbreak — in a brand new memoir, “Little Sister: My Investigation Into the Mysterious Dying of Natalie Wooden,” telling Insider the e-book is supposed to set the file straight on the life and loss of life of her beloved older sister.

“There had been a lot mentioned about Natalie; some issues blatantly unfaithful and imply,” Lana mentioned. “No one was portraying her precisely.”

“And out of the blue it dawned on me that as an alternative of simply saying, ‘oh, that is nonsense,’ I wanted to have Natalie’s again.”

A loss of life in ‘darkish waters’

The Oscar-nominated Natalie Wooden, who starred in Hollywood hits like “West Aspect Story” and “Insurgent With no Trigger,” was 43 when her physique was discovered floating within the ocean off Catalina Island on Thanksgiving weekend, 1981. She had been vacationing on a yacht together with her husband, Robert [RJ] Wagner, her “Brainstorm” co-star and pal Christopher Walken, and the ship’s captain, Dennis Davern.

Her preliminary reason behind loss of life was dominated an unintended drowning. Wooden’s blood alcohol content material was 0.14% and Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi recommended the actress could have slipped into the freezing water whereas making an attempt to tie up the vessel’s dinghy.

However from the beginning, Lana was skeptical of the proposed rationalization. In accordance with Lana, Natalie had a lifelong worry of “darkish waters” and by no means would have tried to re-board the dinghy on her personal in the midst of the night time.

For 10 years, Lana mentioned she lived in anguish, tormented by unanswered questions on her sister’s loss of life, as Natalie’s husband, actor Robert Wagner, refused to supply particulars about Natalie’s ultimate night time.

In “Little Sister,” Lana alleges that following the loss of life, Wagner reduce out Lana fully, “blacklisting” her from the leisure trade and trashing her within the press.

A consultant for Wagner didn’t instantly reply to Lana’s allegations.

Natalie Wood and Sister Lana Wood pose for a photo.

Natalie Wooden and Sister Lana Wooden.Picture by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Assortment through Getty Photos

Familial struggles

Regardless of the strife between the in-laws, Lana mentioned for years she kept away from brazenly blaming Wagner for Natalie’s loss of life, in hopes {that a} relationship could possibly be salvaged with Natalie’s two daughters.

Following Natalie’s loss of life, her two daughters, Natasha Gregson Wagner and Courtney Wagner continued to be raised by Robert Wagner — Courtney’s father and Natasha’s stepfather.

“RJ was the one guardian that they had left. That they had no one,” Lana instructed Insider. “If I used to be being overly vehement and pointing a finger again then, I used to be doing nothing however hurting the youngsters.”

Lana mentioned she was consistently apprehensive about how the women, who had been 11 and seven when their mom died, had been dealing with the grief. However she had no contact together with her nieces.

“I simply felt it was finest to maintain my mouth shut and maybe I might see them, maybe I might discuss to them once more,” she mentioned. “It was hope. That was all.”

Each of Natalie’s daughters, now 51 and 47, have lengthy stood by Wagner with regards to hypothesis round their mom’s loss of life. In her 2020 e-book, “Extra Than Love,” Natasha mentioned her ongoing religion in Wagner’s innocence.

“The circumstances of precisely how Natalie Wooden ended up within the water won’t ever be clearly established as a result of she was alone when she died. And so I give attention to the issues I do know, that as sure as I’m that the earth is spherical, my father [Wagner] would by no means have harmed my mom or failed to avoid wasting her if he knew she was at risk,” she wrote.

Representatives for each Natasha and Courtney didn’t instantly reply to Insider’s request for remark.

However even again then, there was one more reason Lana resisted accusing Wagner publicly: She wished to imagine her brother-in-law, whom she had recognized since she was 9, was harmless.

“I do not hate RJ. I’ve recognized him all my life,” she instructed Insider. “It was my feeble hope that maybe it was true that it was an accident.”

“However I used to be kidding myself,” she added.

A break within the case

In 1992, greater than a decade after Natalie’s loss of life, the yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern, contacted Lana, confessing he hadn’t instructed police every little thing he knew about that fateful night time. He alleged the vacation had been tense from the beginning and remembered Wagner expressing anger about Natalie inviting Walken on the journey.

The captain additionally instructed Lana that he heard Wagner and Natalie combating behind the boat earlier than studying Natalie had gone lacking. In accordance with Davern’s personal 2006 memoir, the captain mentioned Wagner instructed him to search around for Natalie, however instructed him to not radio for assist, out of concern that the publicity may “tarnish his picture.”

Davern didn’t instantly reply to Insider’s request for remark.

Davern’s admissions to Lana got here across the identical time that she gained entry to the unique police report, sparking her personal investigation into the incident. In accordance with Lana, she was struck by numerous regarding parts, together with experiences that Wagner had been interviewed by authorities for lower than 10 minutes within the fast aftermath of Natalie’s loss of life and witness statements that appeared to have been dismissed by the preliminary investigators.

“Issues like which have been completely haunting me eternally,” she mentioned.

In 2009, a crowdsourced petition, spurred by Davern’s new revelations and Lana’s newbie sleuthing, referred to as for a brand new investigation into Natalie’s loss of life.

Two years later, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Division reopened Natalie’s case, citing “further info,” and in 2018, detectives labeled her loss of life “suspicious,” for the primary time. However essentially the most crucial improvement got here later that yr when authorities formally named Wagner a “individual of curiosity” in Natalie’s loss of life. In “Little Sister,” Lana describes her less-than-enthusiastic response to the pivotal replace.

“I stored ready to really feel pleasure, or shock, or reduction,” Wooden writes. “It did not occur … ‘Particular person of curiosity’ was progress, however ‘not a suspect’ meant there was nonetheless an extended option to go earlier than possibly, lastly, [Wagner] can be correctly interrogated.”

A detective for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Division instructed Insider that Natalie’s loss of life continues to be thought of suspicious, given the remaining unanswered questions.

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“Her husband on the time, Robert Wagner, is the final recognized individual to be with Ms. Woods [sic] previous to her loss of life, and Investigators want to interview him,” Detective Ralph Hernandez mentioned in an announcement. “The objective of the investigation is to substantiate the reality of how she ended up within the water, thus offering the style of her loss of life.”

The case will stay open till it’s solved, he added.

Natalie Wood and Lana wood pose for a photo.

Actress Natalie Wooden and sister Lana Wooden pose for a portrait in Los Angeles,CA.Picture by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Photos

Coming to her personal conclusion

Few consequential updates within the case have come within the years since, and Lana acknowledged it is probably she’ll by no means see her sister’s case resolved.

“I do not know that it’ll,” she mentioned. “I like surprises. I like if issues go the suitable means, however I simply critically do not know.”

“I simply want he had the capability to easily inform the reality,” she mentioned of Wagner. “I feel he is a coward and I’ve no respect for him.”

The seeming stall in Natalie’s reopened case hasn’t stopped Lana from conceiving her personal model of what she believes occurred on the again of the Splendour that fateful night time.

“I imagine … RJ delivered a blow to the left facet of Natalie’s face that knocked her unconscious,” Wooden writes, citing the bruises and reduce discovered on Natalie that had been recorded by the LA Coroner’s workplace.

“I imagine that, out of the blue panic-stricken when he realized what he’d achieved, RJ made the deadly determination to place Natalie within the water to keep away from being held liable for what had occurred,” she wrote within the memoir. “I imagine that every little thing he did afterward … was all about overlaying up … the drunken, jealous, rage-filled second.”

A consultant for Wagner didn’t instantly reply to Insider’s request for remark concerning Lana’s accusations. The 91-year-old has beforehand denied wrongdoing in Natalie’s loss of life.

Maintaining Natalie’s reminiscence alive

The resurgence of curiosity in Natalie’s loss of life lately has been each difficult and gratifying. “I do not need Natalie forgotten,” Lana mentioned.

Her memoir comes practically two years after Natalie’s daughter, Natasha, produced an HBO documentary honoring her mom referred to as “Natalie Wooden: What Stays Behind.” Within the hour-long movie, Natasha sits throughout from her stepfather, whom she calls “Daddy Wagner,” and discusses the occasions of November 29, 1981, in an effort to dispel rumors that Wagner performed a task in her loss of life.

The movie rubbed Lana the improper means and partially impressed her to publish her personal interpretation of occasions, she mentioned.

“It was good that Natasha wished to do this. However all Natasha is aware of is what RJ instructed her about it,” she mentioned. “In order that upset me.”

Lana instructed Insider she does not assume there’s a lot hope left for a attainable reunion between her and Natalie’s daughters.

“If there’s, that is past great,” she mentioned. “If there is not, that is the best way it has been for a while now.”

However she hopes that this new e-book will assist maintain the reminiscence of Natalie — “not merely as a film star, however as an individual who had a full life” — alive. And even perhaps result in some long-sought-after peace.

“It could imply every little thing to Natalie” if her case was lastly resolved, Lana mentioned. “She might relaxation.”

Learn the unique article on Insider

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