Friday would have been actress Natalie Wood’s 80th birthday, if not for her tragic drowning death in 1981 at the age of 43. To mark the occasion, American Media Inc. has released the first two episodes in a 12-part podcast series, Fatal Voyage: The Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood, which seeks to answer whether foul play is to blame.
Back in February, Rolling Stone reported that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, which reopened their investigation into Wood’s death in 2011, had honed in on actor Robert Wagner as a “person of interest.” Wagner and Wood had been married, for a second time, since 1972 (their first union lasted from 1957-1962) and Wagner was with Wood aboard her yacht off the coast of Santa Catalina Island, California, the night in late November 1981 when she suddenly disappeared. The yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern, was also there, as was actor Christopher Walken, Wood’s then-costar in the movie Brainstorm; Wood’s nightgown-clad body was discovered floating a mile away the next morning.
Wood’s death was initially ruled an accidental drowning, but the actress’s fear of deep water; conflicting statements from the other passengers; and unanswered questions about how she, along with the yacht’s dingy, ended up in the water, have long provoked suspicion that something more sinister occurred. In 2012, a year after the investigation was reopened, the coroner amended the autopsy to “drowning and other determined factors.”
Those “other determined factors” are revealed in more detail in the first episode of Fatal Voyage. According to Ralph Hernandez, a homicide detective for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, bruises found on Wood are consistent with her being the “victim of assault” and not, as the original autopsy indicated, the result of her trying to climb back on board the yacht.
“The fact is that we have a lot of information as to the events of what occurred that evening,” Hernandez says in the first episode. “We have a lot of evidence that tends to point to a very suspicious death and would certainly indicate the possibility of foul play.”
The podcast is hosted by AMI’s Dylan Howard, who, along with a small team of investigators, has been digging into the case files for the last seven years. As the company’s vice president and Chief Content Officer, he oversees Us Weekly, OK!, Star, The National Enquirer, Globe, The National Examiner and RadarOnline.com.
It’s worth noting Howard’s own recent tabloid history. First, the Australian-born executive and investigative journalist was named in Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker article detailing Harvey Weinstein’s attempts to silence accusations of sexual assault; the piece claimed that Howard, while working as a top editor at the National Enquirer, sent a reporter to uncover derogatory information about a woman who had accused Weinstein of rape, which Howard then passed on to the movie producer. (Howard said he was seeking that information as part of “due diligence before entering into a business relationship with Weinstein.”) That controversy was followed by reports that Howard himself had been accused of “sexually charged conduct” by former employees and coworkers. Howard told the AP the allegations were “baseless.”
While Howard’s personal and professional history may lead some to pass on the podcast, his description of Fatal Voyage suggests listeners can expect a dramatic whodunit mystery chock full of shocking – and at times salacious – new details. In addition to interviews with law enforcement, and dozens of Wood’s family members and friends, the podcast will hear from Wood herself, in previously unreleased interviews and excerpts from her unpublished memoir.
“Did Natalie jump? Did she slip? Was she unconscious before going overboard? Or was she pushed? And if so – by whom? And why?” Howard hinted in an interview with Us Weekly. “It’s a hell of a story. Forbidden affairs. Twisted lies. And murder…. And in the end, the listener can decide what happened to the ultimate screen siren … and just who was responsible for her death.”
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the movie Walken and Wood appeared in together was called Braintrust; it was called Brainstorm.