Chuck Ross

The Investigation Into Natalie Wood’s Death Gets Curiouser. ‘ET’ Touts ‘The details you’ve never heard from the witness who’s never spoken before.’ Huh? She Was Just on TV Two Days Earlier. And What She Witnessed Was Published At Least 11 Years Ago

Nov 22, 2011

The witness in question is Marilyn Wayne. I first came across her name when I read the article “Natalie Wood’s Fatal Voyage,” which is in the current special edition of Vanity Fair (VF) that’s subtitled “Hollywood Scandal, Sex and Obsession.” The article about Wood’s death is actually a reprint of an article — by VF contributing editor Sam Kashner — that first appeared in the VF issue of March 2000. Unfortunately, the article is not available online at the VF website. So TVWeek purchased a copy of the current special edition of VF to read the article, as I have previously reported.

In that article, here’s what Kashner wrote about Wayne (The Splendour is the name of the yacht Wood had been on the night she drowned): “A few days after the tragedy, John Payne and his girlfriend, Marilyn Wayne, a Los Angeles commodities broker, contacted police to say that they had been sleeping aboard a boat, Capricorn, who was moored near Splendour that night. Around midnight Payne heard a woman yelling ‘Help me, someone please help me!’ The voice was coming from near the stern of Splendour and, Payne believed, from someone in a dinghy. He awakened Wayne, who heard the cries, too. The couple claimed they hadn’t responded because a loud, drunken party was raging on another nearby yacht, and they had thought someone was just ‘playing around.’ Indeed, they had heard a man’s very drunken voice respond mockingly, ‘O.K., honey, we’ll get you.’ They believed the voice belonged to someone at the party, which evidently reinforced their notion that the whole thing was a joke.”

I don’t know if Kashner got the account from a police report or from actually speaking to Payne or Wayne. He doesn’t say in his article, which, again, was first published in VF in March 2000.

This past Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, Wayne appeared briefly on the portion of the Vanity Fair/"48 Hours Mystery” show about Hollywood scandals that dealt with Wood’s death. Here’s what she said:

“I heard a woman calling for help. ‘Help me. Somebody please help me, I’m drowning.’ We called Harbor Patrol several times. No one answered. At 11:25 p.m., calls for help ceased.”

Wayne’s recent memory differs in some key ways from the account in VF 11 years ago. Now, the plea for help included the words “I’m drowning.” And somehow the party on the other yacht and how that confused matters for Payne and Wayne are no longer part of her recollection. Furthermore, in the new version, she and Payne called the Harbor Patrol — a key element that’s missing from the version VF wrote about 11 years ago.

On "ET," in what that show’s Samantha Harris called her “exclusive interview” with Wayne, Wayne told basically the same story she had recounted on TV two nights earlier.

Wayne added some other flourishes in her “ET” interview as well. After Wood’s death, said Harris, “[Wayne] told me about working on the same floor as the offices of [Wood’s husband Robert] Wagner’s stockbrokers and seeing him there several times. … She claims Wagner and his associate know exactly who she was,” but never approached her.

Then, Harris asked Wayne why she was now telling her story. To which Wayne replied, “Originally I remained silent because of my feelings for the family.”

What? It seems to me that this woman was basically a total stranger to Wagner and Wood, who just happened to be on a boat moored nearby.

Wayne also told ET that she had received an anonymous note saying, “If you want to stay healthy, keep your mouth shut.”

In her petition to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office asking them to reopen the investigation of Wood’s death, Wayne has yet another version of what the note said: “ ‘If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know.’ I immediately suspected it was related to Natalie Wood’s death.”

As I first wrote about last week when we first heard that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was going to reopen the investigation into Wood’s death, it seems
that most of what the cops are looking at are elements of the case that have been primarily written about years ago, as opposed to some newly found evidence that’s been brought to their attention.

And indeed, my theory was verified by Marti Rulli in interviews she gave last week. Rulli is the co-author, with Dennis Davern, of “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour.” Davern was the captain of the yacht — the Splendour–which was owned by Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.

Here’s an interview Rulli did with Erin Burnett, who hosts CNN’s “Out Front.”

Erin Burnett (to Rulli): "You turned over information to the Sheriff just a couple of months ago. Was it new or was it information from the book, which I understand was published two years ago?"

Rulli: "It was information from the book and information that I have learned along the course of writing the book. There was nothing really new with the information, but what I think made the difference was because I had sent the [sheriff’s] department after the book was published. But I condensed it. I compressed it. I put it into bullet form with the crucial and critical information standing out. And I think reading the information in that format made a difference because they saw everything in outline form. And these were a lot of things that need attention that this case did not receive in 1981.”

Alex Ben Block, a former TVWeek editor and a first-rate reporter, who is now with The Hollywood Reporter, has dug up the petitions Rulli and Davern and Wayne sent the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and you can read them if you click here.

I thought that the press conference held by Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Department on Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, was unnecessarily vague. For example Corina wouldn’t even say from whom the department had received information that compelled them to reopen the case.

However, the day before the press conference the sheriff himself, Lee Baca, was very explicit, telling the Los Angeles Times that it was comments made by Capt. Davern that convinced him the case should be reopened.

Furthermore, as I speculated earlier, it seems just too much of a coincidence that the case was reopened practically on the anniversary of Wood’s death 30 years ago, and also coincided with a TV show about the case and a magazine reprinting its original article from 11 years ago about the holes in the case.

Indeed some reporters have speculated about the timing. Here’s “Inside Edition’s" chief correspondent, Jim Moret, talking about this issue on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” on the day of the press conference last Friday: “One thing I thought was interesting is the timing. If you Google L.A. County Sheriff’s Office today, all you will see is this investigation. But, coincidentally, today is also the day a seven-person commission is investigating alleged Sheriff Department abuse of inmates at the L.A. County Jail. The Sheriff’s Department could have announced [the reopening of the Wood case] on the anniversary [of Wood’s drowning] or after the TV special if new information did indeed come out that they deemed credible. So the whole aura of the event seemed odd to me.”

Bingo! So now we’ve answered "why now." "Why now," after all this time, when the revelations being made are years old, has the case been reopened.

This answer to “why now?” also helps explain another factor. One reason to re-open the case is to see that justice is done. In this case, even if the new investigation reaches the conclusion that Wagner or someone else should be charged with manslaughter, no one can be charged, since the statute of limitations expired long ago for that offense. Yes, first degree murder charges can be brought against anyone at any time, but it’s doubtful that anyone is guilty of murder one in this case.

Look, I think there’s no doubt that there are more questions than answers in Wood’s death, and that the Sheriff’s Department should have done a much better investigation originally.

VF’s Kashner tackled that issue in his original article in VF 11 years ago: “In his 1983 book ‘Coroner,’ [the former chief medical examiner in the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, wrote] about his most celebrated cases, [including] the mysterious death of Natalie Wood — indeed he began the book with it. After acknowledging the crucial questions — ‘Wasn’t it strange that the two men on the yacht didn’t even know that she had left the boat? Hadn’t she spoke to them? Why had she slipped out to the stern of the yacht in the middle of the night, climbed down a ladder, and untied the dinghy? What was she doing? And where was she going? And why?’ and also ‘When she first fell off the swimming step into the water, why didn’t she simply swim a few strokes and reboard the yacht by way of the step? It must have been only a few feet away from her. Even with the heavy jacket, she could have accomplished this effort easily’ — he proceeded not to answer any of them. Instead he spun a dramatic yarn about Wood’s clinging to the dinghy as she attempted to propel it to the beach by kicking her feet.”

If one studies all the facts and theories and speculation related to this case that’s been written about over the past 30 years, one can craft his or her own theory of what happened. What I don’t think we’ll get at this point is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Nor will we be able to likely hold anyone accountable in Wood’s death if it wasn’t an accident.

And that’s the real tragedy of what’s quickly become just the latest media circus here in Hollywood.#



  1. Marilyn Wayne spoke about this back in 2002, her story is the same: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHyqjnguKqE

  2. What motive would Marilyn Wayne have for lying? I just don’t see it. The other commenter is right, her story hasn’t changed. How do you not interview witnesses in a death? The boat is small… really, really, really difficult for me to believe Wagner couldn’t hear her screaming for help. Who knows what happened, but the official story is not believable, considering her major fear of water, drunk or not.

  3. A jealous, over-bearing, drunk husband killed his wife. That never happens! Who the fuck is Robert Wagner? I’m too young to give a shit about who he is, but sounds like just another prick asshole. How could you let your wife drown like that? Unless he was completely asleep and passed out, there’s no excuse. How can you call yourself a man?

  4. Read Marti Rullis’ book. ‘Goodbye Natalie Goodbye Splendour’.
    There’s little doubt in my mind what happened to Natalie. 1 murderer 2 cowards

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