Natalie Wood Case: What's the Yacht Captain's Motive?Annemarie McAvoy in Eonline, November 18, 2011
Dennis Davern is the man at the center of the reopened Natalie Wood case, but why?
Why is the yacht captain telling NBC News he lied nearly 30 years ago to authorities who ruled Wood's death an accidental drowning, and that he really believes a fight between Wood and husband Robert Wagner led to the actress's watery death? What's his motive?
1. He's Unburdening Himself: "Very often there'll be a change in the status of the witness's life," says Rich Graham, a private investigator who specializes in cold cases. "Perhaps they are at the end of their life, maybe they want to have a clear conscience, make it to heaven."
2. He's Selling a Book: For sure, Davern is selling a book, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, an in-depth look at the Wood case—its title references the boat Wood, Wagner, actor Christopher Walken and Davern, its captain, were on the night of the West Side Story star's death. At last check Friday, the volume had jumped to 26th place on Amazon's list of best-selling biographies and memoirs. (A free preview is available on Google Books.) But as to whether Davern's talking because he's selling a book? Fordham Law adjunct professor Annemarie McAvoy, a former federal prosecutor, allows money can be a factor for some. "There are lots of things that motivate people," she says. "Look at the things people will do to get themselves on television."
3. He's Embracing the Moment: Or, to put it another way, Davern's been talking publicly, and saying much the same things about Wood and Wagner for years (even his book's not new—it was published in 2009); the difference is now when he talks he's got the aura of credibility that a formal police investigation extends—and not the taint that a tabloid interview, rightly or wrongly, brings. (Davern talked to the Star as far back as 1985.)
As things stand now, McAvoy thinks the intrigued public should take a cautious approach to Davern and his version of events. "It's a situation where it could be genuine information, and it might not be," McAvoy says, "and right now we don't know."
As the revived Wood probe reminds, some things just need time.