Sunday, February 4, 2018

Robert Wagner on Natalie Wood Homicide Investigation

Natalie Wood — born Natalia Zakharenko to Russian and Ukrainian immigrant parents was an American actress who died November 28th, 1981.  

She reportedly fell off the yacht, "Splendor" while with her husband, actor Robert Wagner, Christopher Walken and the boat's captain.

The captain reported that he heard a loud alcohol fueled fight between the two. 

Recently, new witness statements have caused the investigation to gain traction, reportedly affirming the captain's statement. 

Those on the boat spent hours searching for her before alerting the Coast Guard. Her body was found, shoeless and wearing only a nightgown and red parka, in a rocky cove near Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles on Nov. 29. She was 43.

Originally ruled an accident, her death was recently reclassified as “suspicious.”

Robert Wagner, now 87, is deemed not a suspect but "more a person of interest."

What can be expected from re-intervieiwng Wagner, decades later and at age 87?

This will depend upon his mental acuity and his willingness to speak.  Since 2011, he has refused to cooperate. 

However, the witness statements can be compared to the original statements given by the captain as well as by Wagner. 

As we age, trauma's impact is often mercifully dulled.  A verbal (or sensory) "trigger" can jolt the brain into recall.  We see this, even now, with World War II vets many of whom have reportedly gone for their entire adult lives saying very little of what they experienced, only to burst into tears over some seemingly minor stimuli. 

A signalman for the US Navy in the Sea of Japan, my father suffered with nightmares for his entire adult life.

While on duty in 1945, his role meant being on deck during the "kamikaze" or suicide missions of Japanese pilots.  This meant elevated hormones, for hours at a time, of extreme fear.  These young men were also subject to "scuttlebutt" where the number of kamikaze flights were exaggerated.  They also shared a terrible fear of sharks, with some sailors unloading their sidearms, in anger, at the site of them around the ship.  

It is a reminder that professionals, in spite of what the public may think, do not  give up on cases. 

From the video, here is his statement. Is he telling the truth?

"I went down below, and she wasn't there. And the dingy was gone.  And I looked around for her, and I couldn't I didn't know where she was.  We were so in love and we had everything and in a second, in a second, it was gone. I wasn't there.  I wasn't there for her. She, she slipped and then hit the deck and rolled in. That's what we think happened."
Let's break it down. 

"I went down below, and she wasn't there. 
This is an example of what to expect:  technical truth.  Most deception is via deliberately withheld information.  At some point, he went down below and she wasn't there.  It is credible.  It is, however, contextually ill-fitting. It is used to avoid giving detail. 
This is similar to this:
"I opened the door, turned on the light and there she was.
The 'linguistic steps' are put in place which slows down the pace of the statement.  Sensitivity to "what happened" can cause subjects to slow the pace down, to make sure that they are "technically truthful."  The need for this catches our attention.
"I heard a gun shot and my wife was on the floor bleeding" is a common example of "technical truth" to avoid the event, including who pulled the trigger. 
Note how he begins with "I went down below", which is to focus upon himself, not the victim. He reports what did not exist. 

And the dingy was gone. 
The pace continues to be in linguistic steps, which not only slows down the revelation of information but introduces tangents (the dingy was not involved) and does so in the negative:  what did not exist. 
This is to lead us to follow a trail..."did Natalie drown because she decided to take a ride in the little boat?" which allows the subject to remain "technically truthful" in his statement. 

 And I looked around for her, 
"And" between sentences is a small indicator of missing information between sentences.  
"I looked for her" is lengthened to "I looked around for her", which even in a subtle way, slows down the pace and continues the focus away from the victim. 
These are the types of small verbal indicators that can be missed in the "discourse analysis" as the interview goes by.  These additional words, however, are exactly what we train investigators to key in upon. 

He "looked around" for her, with the additional and unnecessary casual "around" added. 

and I couldn't,  I didn't know where she was. 

Here he self-censors, stopping what he was about to say, on the pronoun "I", and it is also, given dark water, technically truthful. 
Then he moves to editorializing "what happened", yet even here, he gives us information: 

 We were so in love and we had everything and in a second, in a second, it was gone.
He stops "what happened" and moves to passivity in language. Natalie was not gone, nor was "she" gone; but "it", "our love" was gone.  
The investigators should consider that Robert Wagner blames Natalie Wood's death on the victim. 
Being "so in love" is an attempt to manipulate emotions; something actors are talented in doing.  
"We had everything", but "it was gone", is to not say "Natalie was gone, but "everything" that "we" had. 
The pronoun "we" is very important.  He saw them, even at this point, with unity.  This very likely means that he did not intend or pre-meditate her death.  "We" is very powerful and it indicates unity from his perspective. 
Passivity in speech is used to conceal responsibility.  The "gun went off" is an example of how someone can be technically truthful while avoiding the responsibility of the shooter. 
The focus continues upon himself. 
 I wasn't there. 
This begins as a strong statement.  If he wasn't there, he could not have pushed her in anger.  
Each of us has a subjective dictionary and we do our best work by believing the subject and letting him define his own words.  What does he mean by not being there?
We are not made to wait long to find out his subjective meaning of "not there" is: 

 I wasn't there for her. 
While attempting to remove himself from the scene, if untrue, it would be a very rare direct lie. 
Direct lies are almost instantaneously rejected by the brain.  They are stress inducing as they increase the risk of being caught. 
He modifies his answer by defining what he meant.  He can now later claim, "I didn't say I wasn't there when she fell in.  I wasn't there for her, you know, to catch and save her."
I believe this is also an example of leakage, in which investigators may have learned more about the cause of the fight between them, and that Wagner was likely accused of wrongdoing by the victim, leading him to acknowledge that he wasn't there when she needed him.  This transporting of an idea from one setting to another is more common than people realize.  It is a way for him to express remorse, in some form, while not implicating himself. 

She, she slipped and then hit the deck and rolled in. 

In spite of halting on the pronoun "she" (and avoiding using her name), there is nothing within this sentence to suggest direct deception.  
It may very well be that he pushed her, she slipped, hit the deck and rolled in.  
Then there is the psychological retreat to avoid being alone: 

That's what we think happened."

Analysis Conclusion:  Deception Indicated. 

Robert Wagner withheld critical information about what happened to Natalie Wood.  He used common techniques, including slowing the pace, adding "steps" to the statement and employing passivity.  He had a need to portray himself in a positive light and withholds essential information. 
He gives indication of personal guilt, though her death was likely a result of an intense personal fight that he may even be taking responsibility for causing the argument, while avoiding responsibility for the physical fight and its result. 
The investigators who claim that Robert Wagner is withholding information about the death of Natalie Wood are correct. 
For training in Deception Detection, visit Hyatt Analysis Services
We offer seminars and at-home training for law enforcement, businesses, and the private sector. 


ima.grandma said...

To quell the ensuing rumors, Robert Wagner put out his version of the final hours. This is how it’s quoted in the 1986 hagiography Heart to Heart with Robert Wagner:

"We reached the boat in a happy frame of mind after spending a few hours at the restaurant eating and drinking. During dinner, I got into a political debate with Walken and we continued it aboard the yacht. There was no fight, no anger. Just a lot of words thrown around like you hear in most political discussions such as “you don’t know what you are talking about!” Natalie sat there not saying much of anything and looking bored. She left us after about a half hour, and we sat there talking for almost another hour. Then I went to kiss her good night, and found her missing."

Wagner goes on to theorize about how Wood had gotten into the water:

"It was only after I was told that she was dressed in a sleeping gown, heavy socks, and a parka that it dawned on me what had really occurred. Natalie obviously had trouble sleeping with that dinghy slamming up against the boat. It happened many, many times before, and I had always gone out and pulled the ropes tighter to keep the dinghy flush against the yacht. She probably skidded on one of the steps after untying the ropes. The steps are slick as ice because of the algae and seaweed that’s always clinging to them. After slipping on the steps, she hit her head against the boat. . . . I only hope she was unconscious when she hit the water."

"and I had always gone out and pulled the ropes tighter to keep the dinghy flush against the yacht. She probably skidded on one of the steps after untying the ropes." 

(if Wagner 'pulled the ropes tighter" to remedy the slamming dinghy, why would he assume Natalie would do the opposite by 'untying the ropes?) especially since it happened many, many times before.


Lilstr said...

Thank you so much Peter doing an analysis on this case!

Bobcat said...

This reminds me of Davey Blackburn's claim that he "didn't see, didn't see" Amanda in the bathroom on the morning of 11/9/15

General P. Malaise said...

"She, she slipped and then hit the deck and rolled in. That's what we think happened."

Peter, could this be true and he saw this? then added "that's what we think happened" to head off the obvious question. you saw her fall?

Peter Hyatt said...

Yes, excellent point.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Please check above link. It's an insider account of what really happened, apparently. It does mention him witnessing a fall if I remember correctly.

ima.grandma said...

Wagner, as an alleged guilty party, was thinking about what he did, while answering a question, or making a statement with an attempt to deceive and protect himself.

What if Wagner 'slipped' and accidentally said what he knows to be true, when he meant to say something false or misleading. What if he intended to lie or omit, but ended up speaking honestly by mistake.? The intent to deceive was still there but the overwhelming internal stress involved in telling a direct lie brought conscience to the forefront; of course, quickly followed with an all-inclusive CYA.

Is it still deception?

Anonymous said...

Robert Wagner is a person of interest just as Walken and the Capt. are-they were on the boat, too.

At the age of 87, one has to wonder why they wish to torment an old man and why not 30 years ago? Do they think they'll get a conviction? I doubt it. Do they hope to capitalize off a memoir or something else? Most likely.

A person of interest means nothing but mob rule for the papers.

Bobcat said...

"She, she slipped and then hit the deck and rolled in. That's what we think happened."

What happened between her slipping "and then" hitting the deck?

He changes to "we" language regarding what he "thinks" "happened".

That's very different from something along the lines of "That's what I know happened."

ima.grandma said...

The victim in this tragic mystery is Natalie Wood's legacy. Her name has been dragged through the mud at the bottom of the ocean ever since she drowned. 

That though the radiance which was once so bright be now forever taken from my sight. Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower. We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind. 
~ William Wordsworth

RIP Natalie

Lucia D said...

Thank you for this Peter. Always thought Wagner was dodgy about what happened that night.

Foolsfeedonfolly said...

"I went down below, and she wasn't there. And the dingy was gone. And I looked around for her, and I couldn't I didn't know where she was..."

Why would he not just say, "I went down below, but I couldn't find her."?

For some reason I'm bothered by "I went down below, and she wasn't there.". The "and" feels like storytelling. Telling me where she wasn't is not the same thing as not being able to find her. He sort of tosses out the remark about dingy being gone (hoping the listener will latch onto it). He has no issue detailing that the dingy is gone, yet his wife "wasn't there" and he "didn't know where she was".

Why did he go below? Why did he choose to start his narrative there?
Admittedly this may be a little naive on my part, but why would an innocent person refuse to talk to police? Especially if they're calling me a "person of interest" in somebody's death (much less my spouse's) and I didn't have anything to do with it. I think I'd be pretty angry and pretty vocal about it. I think I'd feel compelled to "shout down" the unspoken accusation.

Foolsfeedonfolly said...

If you're deathly afraid of the water and you're on a boat, you're very aware every time you plant your foot on the deck. I'll grant that may have been blunted somewhat by any drinking that may have proceeded it, but I have a very hard time believing Natalie had the presence of mind to put on a red parka but not some type of soled shoe...not for someone with a lifetime fear of the water. IMO, that level of fear equates to cautious about wet decks, wet stairs, etc. on the boat as well. I seriously doubt she'd have been roaming the yacht in the dark, in stormy rough weather, in socks. I could be wrong, but the socks don't seem to fit her fear and the narrative both.

Chris said...

"That's what WE think happened."
Was Wagner attempting to align himself with investigators?
Also, in order to tighten the ropes on the dinghy, must they first be Untied?
I wonder if Wagner checked to see whether Natalie had gone belowdecks, only to find her in Walken's stateroom...

Anonymous said...

"She, she slipped and then hit the deck and rolled in."

He's recounting.

"That's what we think happened."

This is him telling US what we are going to believe--case settled, that's it, and that's the way it's going to be. WE--he has already decided for US what we are going to believe.

Mike Dammann said...

"and I couldn't, I didn't know where she was. "
He isn't clumsy like many would be with his statement. And appears to be smart enough not to indicate a need to create an alibi (if of course he was responsible for her death)
So I am interested in the more hidden parts. "I couldn't " inserted here would seems off.
"I couldn't " is something that you would expect in a sentence like "I couldn't have done it".
A reassurance that "I couldn't know where she was".
And again: it wouldn't be a lie that at some point he wouldn't know where she was floating.