Dennis Davern, the skipper on board the yacht Splendour on the night the West Side Story actress met her watery death on November 29, 1981, is stunned the investigation is now sitting dormant following the retirement of the last remaining investigator, Detective Ralph Hernandez.
“I can’t believe it – just because (Detective) Ralph (Hernandez) retires, they decide, ‘Hey let’s just close the door on this one,’” a fuming Davern told Radaronline.com in an exclusive interview.
Davern implored the District Attorney to convene a grand jury to hear the evidence. “Robert Wagner needs to go before a grand jury (and) they should present the facts,” he said.
“What’s fair is fair, you know. Give Natalie not just a voice but the peace of mind. This guy [redacted]… he did something bad, he did something wrong, he needs to go before a grand jury, he needs to put his face out there and look at everybody in the face.”
“How could he (Wagner) sit there and freaking lie – let the people decide. The guy is piece of slime!”
As Radaronline.com reported last week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detective ended his illustrious career in March after spending the last 11 years doggedly pursing Wagner, 92, who was classified a “person of interest” in the case.
Det. Hernandez honed-in on Wagner after witnesses revealed he was arguing with Natalie, 43, at the edge of the yacht’s stern moments before she vanished into the Pacific Ocean off the California’s Catalina Island.
According to the sheriff, the witnesses failed to come forward in 1981 since they believed Wood’s case had been officially concluded after the initial coroner’s verdict was “accidental death by drowning.” But in 2011, new evidence re-opened the case and coroner’s ruling was changed to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
In 2018, Detective Hernandez determined Wood was the victim of assault on the night of her death by analyzing bruising patterns on her body. Wagner has denied any wrongdoing and has refused to speak or cooperate with investigators.
Davern, who co-wrote the book Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour with investigative author Marti Rulli and passed a LASD administered polygraph test to support his claim that Wagner and Natalie bitterly argued that weekend, believes the evidence against Wagner is clear cut.
“They had the bruises, they had everything that goes along with a case,” Davern told Radaronline.com. “It just doesn’t seem right.”
Lieutenant Hugo Reynaga, the head of the LASD Homicide Bureau/Unsolved Unit, has confirmed the investigation has been mothballed for now.
“All leads in the Natalie Wood case have been exhausted and the case remains an open unsolved case,” Reynaga told us, via email. “If additional leads surface in the future, which have not already been investigated, the case will be reassigned to a detective to investigate the new leads.”
Rulli called the decision to relegate the case to the unsolved unit "horrible" and railed against published reports claiming Wagner was “cleared” in the investigation.
“Robert Wagner is now going to his grave conscience-free! That’s what the LASD is doing for the man even though its detectives knew, and truly believed, that they had a murder on their hands,” she said, insisting the veteran Hollywood star still remains a person of interest.