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Marti Rulli said Friday, Nov. 19, she felt a sense of relief after years of effort to convince authorities to reopen an investigation into the 1981 death of actress Natalie Wood.
The New Jersey freelance writer more than 20 years ago joined forces with Dennis Davern, who was captain of the yacht Wood and husband Robert Wagner were sailing on the night she died in the waters off Santa Catalina Island.
She has spent those years researching, investigating and writing about what happened that night. Rulli and Davern published a book two years ago about Wood and the case called Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, the later a reference to the name of the yacht.
Davern is a New Jersey native who served in the U.S. Navy until his discharge in 1971, according to his author bio. He got a job at a marina in California after the Navy, where he became a boat captain for Wagner and Wood. After Wood’s death, he was a member of the Screen Actors Guild and worked mostly as an extra when he did work in Hollywood. In 1987, Davern moved to Florida where he has operated a marina and boat maintenance business.
For months, if not years, Marti Rulli and Dennis Davern — but especially Rulli — have been lobbying the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to reopen the case. She has put together long files, with an attached affidavit from Davern, listing reasons why they should rip the lid off the 30-year-old case (the file she sent the Sheriff’s department can be read here).
This week, she got what she wanted.
“I’m relieved that the case was reopened,” she told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday, “and that professionals are going to investigate the case because it has never really been investigated.”
She and Davern contend the 1981 investigation barely skimmed the surface of what happened; and Davern now says Wagner told him not to talk about all he knew. Davern said he lied about the case when he spoke to authorities 30 years ago.
In making the rounds of the media this week, from the Today Show to CNN, Davern alone and with Rulli, have told their story. Davern has accused Wagner, who was Wood’s husband, of being responsible for her death, but has refused to give his reasons for the accusation on the air. He said he and Rulli have told police (see files attached here).
In return, many media have accused Davern and Rulli of being out to exploit the case on the 30th anniversary of her death. This just happens to be the exact weekend — Thanksgiving — that Wood died.
As a result of the publicity, CBS has moved up to this weekend a 48 Hours Mystery report on the Wood case that it will broadcast that is in part based on a 2000 Vanity Fair article.
Davern and Rulli have denied they are trying to sell books or pump up their own profile. Their publicist called The Hollywood Reporter on Friday to shout that anyone accusing his clients of being out for publicity, or trying to exploit Wood’s death for profit, are wrong. Publicist Rick Kramer said the book came out two years ago, and the soft cover version and e book came out long ago as well. He said they are only responding to media requests in making statements to anyone with a microphone or word processor who asks.
In a brief interview with THR, in between TV interviews, Rulli said she welcomed the statement Friday from Wagner, released through his publicist, that he welcomes an inquiry and will cooperate fully with the authorities. “If he does welcome it maybe he will be willing to fill in the holes and the differences between his story to the police (in 1981) and his story in his book 20 yrs later. Maybe its time for him to answer some questions.”
When asked if she was troubled that the L.A. Sheriff said Wagner was not a suspect, Rulli said that was not a surprise to her. “There are no suspects yet in their eyes,” said Rulli. “They just re-opened this case and they have months ahead of them scheduling witnesses, talking to witnesses, going through the evidence and the case files from 30 years ago. So no one is a suspect at this point. Hopefully, when they finish this investigation, Natalie will have had the investigation she deserves.”
Sophie Schillaci and Andy Lewis contributed to this report.
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