Saturday, July 07, 2012

Coroner changes the cause of Natalie Wood's death

As many of my longtime blog readers know, I am obsessed with the Natalie Wood drowning case.   I don't believe her death was "accidental."  And now, apparently, neither does the LA County Coroner.  The cause of her death has been changed from "accidental" to "undetermined."   Okay, not yet a "homicide"  but we're getting there.  Still, Robert Wagner's got to be calling his lawyer asking, "Does mean Columbo is going to be coming around a lot?" 

Yes it does.  It means this now becomes an ongoing investigation.  And hopefully a real one.   Natalie's sister, Lana is happy.   She told KCAL9 last year, “I don’t think ‘I’m sorry for your loss Mr. Wagner’ is an investigation.”

The change was made, according to detectives, “because some of the bruises on her body were inconsistent with death by accident.”   My question of course is, you didn't notice that until just now?
Recently, the captain of the yacht Natalie, Wood, R.J., and guest Christopher Walken were on came out with a book claiming Wagner made no effort to search for her despite being aware of her disappearance.   This has raised some eyebrows and probably would have made even more noise if the captain wasn't on a promotional tour at the time of his big announcement. 

Hey, a thought just occurred: if I say I have new information on the death of Natalie Wood in my book, THE ME GENERATION... BY ME do you think I could get on THE TODAY SHOW too?  I can just see it.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE:  Ken, your book is about the '60s.  How does Natalie Wood's death in 1981 figure?

KEN: Before we get into that, let me tell you a great story of how I threw Neil Young out of the listening booth at Wallich's Music City.

SAVANNAH:  You don't have any new information, do you?

KEN: Moe Howard of the Three Stooges was once in my car...

SAVANNAH:  And didn't you write a blog piece on Ann Curry?

KEN:  The thing that's so interesting about the '60s is that...

SAVANNAH:  This is Today on NBC. 

I hope the investigation goes well and we finally know the real story.


Sebastian Peitsch said...


Seriously though, once we find out what really happened those detectives should instantly get on the moon landing hoax.

Hey at least THAT happened in the 60s.

Chris Santucci said...

Interesting. I do have one question that I may be able to answer if I read the news reports: Why did a coroner just recently make this determination? The woman has been dead for 30 years. I'm always dumbfounded whenever new claims and facts surface years, or even decades after a mysterious death is reported.

Is this a case when one lone doctor sat up at night pondering all of the facts and hole, ala Kevin Costner out of "JFK"?

--A daily reader and fan. Chris S. (

D. McEwan said...

Oh great. I haven't gotten to your Natalie Wood revelations yet, though I have passed the young hooligans sneaking into rich people's back yards the night the night the 500th "Fifth Beatle" said The Beatles were staying in the neighborhood, when he was only off by about 6000 miles.

(You do know that recommending they have you on is why Ann Curry got the sack? They only want Stephen King,as without Today Show exposure, he'll never sell any books.)

Now if you'd titled your book Harry Potter and the 1960s or 50 Shades of the 60s, you wouldn' t need to promote it at all.

tb said...

So spill it, Ken - what do YOU think happened that night?

Max Clarke said...
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Max Clarke said...

So, Ken, who killed Natalie Wood?

Ken Levine said...
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Ken Levine said...

I think she fell into the drink, screamed for help, and RJ & Walken ignored her pleas. Whether they were just too drunk, or had reasons to believe this was a fortuitous situation, I believe they knew but chose not to act.

Had RJ originally said he heard things but didn't realize it was her or mistook the screaming for birds or something, that would make sense. But the fact that he won't acknowledge this and is covering up says to me there's more to this story.

He and Natalie were fighting earlier that night. Over what? Is there something Natalie knew that was very damaging to him or him & Walken? Again, even without knowing specifics, the whole accident explanation just doesn't hold up. Especially when the victim was notoriously terrified of the water.

When detectives re-opened the case last year why did Walken immediately get a lawyer?

Why after they later said there wasn't enough evidence to really re-open the case, did the coroner come back with a new cause of death? There's something there, folks.

And I'm a guy who believes we did land a man on the moon.

RCP said...

Ken - maybe you should play up the angle that you discovered Sonny & Cher at The Hollywood Palladium? Not only is that a laurel to rest on, but it surely will get you booked on a prominent morning talk show.

Seriously - there do seem to be too many unanswered questions around Wood's tragic death.

gottacook said...

Wood and Walken were then co-starring (as an estranged couple, no less) in a movie that was in principal photography, Brainstorm, directed by special-effects master Douglas Trumbull and also starring Louise Fletcher and Cliff Robertson. Whether drunk or not, I can't believe Walken would have considered a threat to Wood's life a fortuitous situation. They were shooting a movie in which they received top billing; why would he want it ruined by something happening to her?

The movie's release was affected by her death, of course - she still had a few scenes to shoot, which had to be finagled around, and the news stories themselves had an effect. In any case Brainstorm didn't sell many tickets, which didn't stop me from seeing it - I was a Trumbull fan ever since 2001. It was one of those movies that simply can't be experienced the same way at home as in the theater, because when its central gimmick is in use by one of the characters (a device by which another person's experiences and emotions can be recorded and played back), the aspect ratio changes to a higher number; the DVD muffles this effect by decreasing the height of the recording image instead of increasing its width.

James said...

The most important question in this: if RJ goes to jail, does that mean Jill St. John is back on the market?

Johnny Walker said...

I'm obsessed with the Kurt Cobain case, so I know how it feels when someone dies needlessly, and you can't let it go.

That said, as an impartial observer, could it not be something along the lines of a simple lover's tiff? It certainly doesn't exonerate Robert Wagner, but it sounds more likely than a conspiracy.

He pig headedly let her flounder for a bit, not really thinking she was actually in any danger, and by the time he got his drunk ass together, it was already too late.

I'm not as familiar with the case, of course, it just seems a more likely scenario than two major actors creating their own real-life Hitchcock movie.

Wagner and Walken would still be culpable, of course.

cshel said...

I can't remember all of the details of this case, even though I read about it last year when this came up. It seems to me it could go either way.

Wasn't Wagner suspicious that their might be something going on between Wood and Walken and that started the fight earlier? (Too many W's.) She was afraid of the water - but did she know how to swim? People are braver when they are drunk. She may have gone up on deck, drunkenly fallen, getting some bruises, and then stumbled around and fallen into the water. Then the others were passed out drunk and didn't hear the commotion while she drowned.

The captain was supposed to mind his own business and leave the celebs alone. Maybe he was a sound sleeper. Maybe he just wants the attention which is why he's saying something else now. Or, maybe she came up on deck while W&W were drunkenly sleeping and the captain tried to rape her. She fought with him (bruises) and then he drowned her. Now he's trying to shift suspicions.

Ken - Why would Walken have been in cahoots with Wagner? That makes no sense to me.

Wagner is older and less sharp these days. He's not a star anymore. They should should drag him into an interrogation cell and have an expert detective grill him for hours. I say they can break him and get a confession - even if he isn't guilty.

Marti Rulli said...

Hi. I'm the author of GNGS and, well, want to defend myself for a moment here if you'll allow me. We tried for 25 years to get the authorities to listen to our story. Getting GNGS published took an arm and a leg because we didn't have the law behind us until my concentrated AFTER GNGS to get the case looked at again was finally appreciated. We did not purposely try to time our book with came out in 2009, and then took close to two years for it to receive any respect by the authorities, but they do now respect it. They have based a lot of the new investigation on what we provided them. That the reopening happened to fall near the 30th anniversary of Natalie's death was by chance...nothing was done for publicity for my book; it was done to serve Natalie the justice she deserves. And, now we are getting results. The change of status in the case is a start. We're hoping for more, just like everyone else who cares about Natalie hopes for more. Glad to see so many people do care. She was a gracious woman and deserves the truth attached to her legacy, and I spent the past 28 years trying to give her that. Thanks for listening. Marti Rulli

ManhattanHillbilly said...

SAVANNAH: Enough about the book, Ken. I hear you have a great recipe for ballpark-style hotdogs. Can you show the folks at home how to make them?

KEN: Certainly, Savannah. First you're going to need to preheat your oven to 350 ...

Beth Ciotta said...

I'm obsessed with the case as well, and spent several restless nights after reading "Goodnight Natalie, Goodnight Splendour". The last quarter was particularly disturbing. I also read two others books on the subject as well as many articles and the autopsy report when it was published. Told you I was obsessed. What boggles my mind is that the authorities could ever think it an "accident". Here's hoping justice is finally served.

Anonymous said...

Analytically speaking one cannot have it both ways -- there cannot be bruises inconsistent with accidental drowning AND the theory that on her own volition she accidentally fell into the water but then no one saves her. So I am not sure that Kens theory matches. The autopsy findings seem to indicate that she suffered a bruise before hitting the water or different from perhaps hitting the side of the boat falling out or once in the water. Pure speculation but perhaps RJ and Natalie had a physical altercation in the hours before or at the time of drowning. Lots of domestic abuse situations are a result of alcohol. And drunk people do tend to pass out and do not hear a thing. Main point: I just think Kens theory may need updating.

MikeBo said...

One of my recollections from that case was that it became a career-killer for Dr. Thomas Noghuchi, Los Angeles' reknowned "Coroner to the Stars," L.A.s Medical Examiner at a time when he took personal charge of autopsies and the forensics of cases involving famous people from Robert Kennedy to William Holden, and, of course, Natalie Wood. His handling of the Natalie Wood case rankled some of the powers at the LA Hall of Administration. As far as I know, Dr. Noguchi is still toiling as an autopsy surgeon at County USC Medical. As a reporter, I always found him very accessible and more than willing share information about his famous subjects with reporters. Eventually that ticked off some powerful people and he was forced off the stage. His name is already starting to pop up in connection with this new investigation.

The Rush Blog said...

I'm curious. This guy who claimed that Wagner had ignored Wood's cries for help . . . did he make an effort to save her himself? If he couldn't get Wagner or Walken to help save her, why not gather some of the crew to do the job?