Saturday, April 16, 2016

N Is for Natalie Wood

This month I'm participating in the A to Z ChallengeMy theme this year is Unsolved Mysteries. Today's letter is:



At one time, Natalie Wood was one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood. You may know her from Rebel Without a Cause:



Or Miracle on 34th Street:



At one time, she was one half of a Hollywood power couple. The other half was Robert Wagner...



...who was starring on this show in late November of 1981.



Natalie was finishing up a movie called Brainstorm with an up-and-coming actor named Christopher Walken. Yes, that Christopher Walken.



On Thanksgiving weekend, Natalie, Robert, and Christopher decided to take their boat to Catalina. Here's Natalie on one of their earlier trips:



The last time Natalie Wood was seen in public was November 28th, when the three of them had dinner at a Catalina restaurant. Natalie and Robert were reportedly extremely  intoxicated. At around 1:15 a.m., a neighboring boater heard a radio call from Robert Wagner, claiming they had someone missing in an 11-foot rubber dinghy.

The next morning, the news broke. Natalie Wood's body had been found one mile South of the yacht with the dinghy nearby.



Robert eventually acknowledged they'd had a fight just before her death. Some say it had to do with jealousy over Christopher, who apparently went to bed to escape the drama. Robert said Natalie went to bed, too. He said he'd been in another part of the ship and hadn't seen Natalie when she (supposedly) left bed to go outside the boat.



The dinghy was found with its oars tied down and the key in the off position, making it unlikely she'd been trying to drive or row it away. She was wearing a coat and nightgown when she was found. Oh...and she had a lifelong deathly fear of water due to her mother telling her as a child that she would die in dark water.


Natalie and her mother

The boat's captain and Natalie's sister, Lana, seem convinced Robert had something to do with her death. Robert maintains his innocence, but in 2012, the L.A.P.D. noted the severity and amount of bruises on Natalie's autopsy report and changed the cause of death to "undetermined."


Natalie's sister recently confronted Robert Wagner on camera. She asked why he won't talk to the police. He chose to turn it back around on her. "You’ve accused me of murdering her," he said. "It’s incredible. I just can’t believe it."



Did Robert Wagner deliberately murder Natalie Wood? Probably not. However, after reading a book by the boat's captain, who was there that night, it does sound possible that they were arguing, she fell in, and he left her out there. She was, after all, found only a mile from the boat hours after he discovered she was missing. I'd like to believe if I disappeared from a boat, my husband would, you know, look for me.



Likely the mystery will outlive Robert Wagner, going down in history as yet another unsolved Hollywood death.

⬅️ M Is for Mothman

72 comments:

  1. This belongs to the type of mystery I find most frustrating. The answer seems so close... And yes, you are right it is likely never to be resolved.

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    1. It won't ever be resolved. Too much time and not enough evidence really collected at the time. Plus, at this point I'm sure the LAPD really would rather work on other cases. If he did it, he should be punished, but obviously he's not a danger to society, so there probably are more important cold cases for the police out there.

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  2. I remember when it all happened. ( And went to see her last movie.) Seems likely he just left her in the water, but we'll never know.

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    1. I know too much about this one! He claims she "probably" heard the dinghy banging against the boat while she was trying to sleep (after they got into a HUGE fight that involved throwing things) and went out to tie it down. She was deathly afraid of water (although she WAS on a boat, so she couldn't have been too afraid of it!) and her sister doubts that she would have thrown a coat on and gone out in her nightgown to tie the boat down. That does seem like something a rich, famous woman would order someone else to do, now that I think about it...

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  3. The part I find most chilling about this is that her mother's prediction about her dying in dark water was true
    Debbie

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    1. Her mother...UGH! Another reason she was afraid of water was that when she was little, a bridge collapsed on a movie set and she fell into the water and broke her wrist. Her mother didn't believe in doctors, so her wrist was deformed for life (which is why she always had a thick bracelet on whichever wrist it was). There are indications she tried to pull herself up onto the dinghy and it has been speculated that her weak wrist may have been part of the reason she couldn't. So technically, it's partly her mother's fault.

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  4. I remember when this was happened. It is just not unusual for someone to have poor judgement when they are inebriated. Robert Wagner was probably pretty drunk to the point he was blacked out or close to passing out. I'm guessing they continued drinking after they left the restaurant.
    It is another alcohol fueled tragedy.

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    1. Oh yeah, they drank and drank and drank. Isn't it funny that Christopher Walken finally said, "Enough of this" and went to bed? He still doesn't talk about it, either...and I used to think he was part of the coverup. The story has changed over time. At one time Robert said he and Christopher were up top, hanging out, and they didn't hear her screaming (although a neighboring boat did). Later Robert admitted they'd been fighting and now all of a sudden Christopher stayed in his cabin through all of the drama. Whatever happened, somebody's lying for some reason because the story has changed over the years.

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  5. I didn't realize that Natalie Wood was the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street.

    Having someone fall overboard from our boat is one of my biggest fears. Even if you do find them, getting them back on board can be a real issue, especially if the person who goes overboard is big and the person trying to get them back on board isn't very strong. Let's hope I never have to worry about this in real life.

    Cheers - Ellen | http://thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com/2016/04/n-is-for-nautical-miles-nancy-drew.html

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    1. Really?! I learned she'd died right before I watched that movie. I was 11 or 12 and I remember thinking a lot about death while watching it and that little girls grow up and get "old" and die someday.

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  6. I just came from someone else (Beverly Stowe McClure @ The Story of a Writer) who posted on Natalie for their Day 14 post. Haha! What a coincidence. Beverly didn't go into details about Natalie's death, but man! what a sad way to die. Reminds me of a book I read (blanking on the author's name) but the victim died on a boat with seven (or six) other men, all friends, and they covered up her death until one of them snapped decades late and started killing them one by one (dressed as the dead woman). Make it seem like she came back from the grave to kill them for hushing up how she really died...

    At least Robert Wagner wasn't involved in more murder. Make us think he's a black widow or something.

    As you surmised though, it could have went either way with Robert - could have left his wife out there, could have been too inebriated to know she fell off in the first place.

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    1. Awesome! I'm going to have to check that out. From what I've read on it with all the bruising and what the captain said he heard, it sounds like they were fighting outside the boat, near where that dinghy was. Next thing anyone knew, she was "missing." It's just a theory--but it's possible she fell in while they were arguing and he just left her there to find her way back onto the boat. It may not have occurred to him that for whatever reason she couldn't pull herself up. There was a lot of bruising--enough that the police reopened the case because it didn't look like it was only bruising caused by trying to pull yourself out of the water. The autopsy drawing is out there showing where all the bruises were.

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  7. I remember this vividly! I liked Natalie Wood as an actress and this whole scenario sounded fishy. Poor Natalie.

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  8. P.S. maybe Robert Wagner will whisper a solution when he's on his death bed. If not, we'll never know what happened. Or Walken has some insights that he's not telling...

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    1. IF Walken knows something, he's been hushed. I wonder if he knows, though. He may have gone off to his cabin because he didn't want to be involved...or they were just too drunk and acting stupid and he was the only one with any sense that night!

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  9. I remember this. At the time, my mom said he must have been pretty drunk to not try to fish her out when she went out on the water like that. For some reason, I didn't remember Christopher Walken was there, too.

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    1. Right? And a mile from the boat. Check to make sure she isn't anywhere around the boat, start the engine, and drive around and look for her. Why would you call the coast guard and just sit there for hours? You wouldn't be able to stop me from firing that boat up.

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  10. Now of course, I remember this one. Wood's death occurred more than two weeks after that of William Holden, who had been in a relationship with Stefanie Powers, Robert Wagner's co-star on "Hart to Hart."

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    1. Tragic! And the woman Robert Wagner married (and is still married to today) looks a lot like Stefanie Powers, I think.

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  11. Great theme, Stephanie! Very interesting! I was aware of this news story, but did not know all these details.

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  12. I remember this vaguely. What can I say I had just finished high school. Maybe Wagner was so drunk that during the fight he might have bumped her or even pushed her overboard and then either couldn't get her out or just left her there. If they are covering it up they sure are doing a good job at it. So sad.

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    1. Now I can't remember what it was exactly but the book at some point indicated there were marks on her that matched the coating on the back of the boat...as if she'd been dragged across it. It's that non-slip coating. Also, a test of Natalie's bloodstream indicated she wasn't drunk, but it was hours later, so would they have been able to tell she wasn't drunk hours before?

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  13. It seems so silly that they didn't just tell the truth in the beginning. Maybe it is me but it is a lot harder to keep my half truth's straight than to just tell the truth and deal with the outcome. Obviously drunk and stupid don't ever lead to anything good.

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    1. Absolutely--and drunk, jealous, and out on the middle of a large body of water definitely don't go well together!

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  14. I had such a crush!

    I think he had something to do with it for sure.

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    1. By the time I knew who he was, I was 12 or so and he was in his 40s, so I thought of him more as "old." Funny how your perception of that changes as you get older!

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  15. I too think he had something to do with her death. To what extent I don't know, but with the arguing and now all those bruises, something happened.

    The rich and famous are treated differently where the law is concerned. We all know that too.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. ESPECIALLY back then. It isn't as easy now with TMZ and everyone having a smartphone. In fact, I'm pretty sure the video of Lana confronting him was just shot with someone who had a smartphone--although Lana could have set someone up to record. PR people in Hollywood have a LOT harder time covering things up now than they did. Plus, it happened out on the water...not sure how jurisdiction worked with that, so that complicated things. All a rich celeb would have to do is "lawyer up" with a bunch of OJ-style power attorneys and the police wouldn't be able to get past the giant smokescreen they'd throw up.

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  16. I don't think I ever see anything with her in it.

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    1. Wow, really? You must watch Miracle on 34th Street this Christmas!

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  17. Another of those sad tragedies that might have ended differently. I've always suspected Robert might have been responsible though he might not have intended to harm her. When people have been drinking, as it seems they had been, their brains don't always think clearly. Still, wouldn't a normal reaction if someone fell in the water, to rescue them? Just my thoughts. I really liked her. (Thanks for visiting my post. We thought alike today.)

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    1. Oh so true. Of course, even drunk, I can't imagine I wouldn't do everything I could...but there are a lot of behaviors I see in crimes of passion that I just don't understand. I don't know how police do it day in, day out. Seems you'd just see the dark side of human nature.

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  18. I don't believe it was out-and-out murder. But it was certainly a tragedy to lose such an incredible actress, and beautiful woman.

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    1. She was quite beautiful. A very exotic look. Her daughter looks SO much like her:

      Natasha Gregson Wagner

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  19. Such a tragedy. I never thought Robert Wagner had anything to do with it. I believe it was a tragic accident.

    Fran
    @FranClarkAuthor
    Writing Women’s Fiction

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    1. Could be...but why were there bruises and abrasions in so many weird places? Check out the autopsy drawing (it isn't a photo-just a drawing of where the bruises were). This was what reportedly prompted the LAPD to reopen the investigation, but there just isn't enough evidence now to charge him. It's been too long and the police back then didn't have the tools we have now:

      http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_jATtm8oCX3E/S4FsXlJCiII/AAAAAAAAAFY/2E65GMDLHHc/s640/NATALIE+WOOD+frontal.jpg

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  20. I've seen Rebel and 34th Street. I've also done some reading about Natalie Wood's life and death, and was saddened to hear about some of the things she dealt with.

    Bruises on an autopsy report shout foul play. Not that I'm saying the husband was behind it, but I wonder if the police refrained from investigating him back then because of his fame and fortune.

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    1. Yeah, the autopsy report was something else. He claims, I believe, that all those bruises came from her trying to climb into the dinghy, but they were in places where that wouldn't have been logical. You've probably read some of the same books I have! To Robert's credit, a lot of it is slanted by Lana...who tends to like to be in the spotlight. Her book about Natalie's life was WAY too much about herself.

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  21. I always just thought Natalie Wood just drown...guess I never took the time to look up story- so intriguing- i just learned something new. Again-these posts are great. i'm loving them.

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    1. Ugh. Don't read the book I linked...they decided it was wise to describe what Natalie would have gone through when she drowned. It was very difficult to read. I was listening on audio and I was driving at the time...I kept wanting to fast forward through it but I was afraid I would miss something if I did...I really don't need to know what drowning is like.

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  22. I believe it was probably manslaughter or gross negligence. I remember this so well when it came out and that a lady heard a woman's screams late that night. Others heard it as well but yet, neither Wagner or Walkin heard?? There were unfounded reports she was having an affair with Walkin and that there was an argument that ensued between them. Walkin went to bed but I believe the 2 who were drunk kept fighting and he may have pushed her or slapped her which would cause her to lose footing. She either fell I the water or was still on the boat. Wagner may have thought she was dead and did his best to cover up the crime by throwing her into the water believing she was dead. I don't believe it was premeditated but I know he was involved somehow and Walken may know but has kept quiet.

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    1. I think your theories are very good...and I think, like me, you've followed it pretty closely. Yeah--a woman on a nearby boat heard her crying out. The boat captain never quite recovered. He issued a statement through PR people that he backed up what Wagner said about the night...but he claims he was pushed to do it. I know the boat captain has been discredited because he has had drinking problems but he seemed to have genuinely grown to care for Natalie. And yeah...I don't really believe anything was really going on between Natalie and Christopher--you probably don't, either. But Robert and Natalie had a long history and I believe (can't remember now?) she left him for a co-star the first time they were married--Warren Beatty, right?

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    2. Yes she did leave him for Beatty and they had an off and on relationship...it was not all peaches and cream the 2nd time around. I don't think she was having an affair with Walkin but she may have been close friends with him to confide in. I think Wagner is guilty but just don't think we will ever find out. What is wild is that at this time Wagner was in the tv show Hart to Hart with Stephanie Powers and her lover(former??) was William Holden and he died around the same time from what I can remember. They said he was drunk and hit his head on a dresser and bled out. I always wondered if Wagner and Powers did something more. This very well could be my young mind going on overdrive from reading many Agatha Christie novels

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  23. Omgosh yes, I totally remember all this. So crazy.

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  24. The only thing bigger than this story was is the complacency of authorities in finding out the truth. I never looked at either Wagner or Walken the same way again. You'd think they'd want to clear themselves.
    It gives me chills to think her mother told her she would die in dark water.

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  25. I remember this, and the movie Brainstorm which was quite interesting. Wicked cool house in it, too.

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  26. That does sound like she fell in and drifted off. Sad.

    ~Ninja Minion Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

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  27. I'm familiar with this story -- it's a shame that it will most likely never be resolved.

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  28. I'm familiar with this story -- it's a shame that it will most likely never be resolved.

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  29. I was always bothered by the way he acted. I recently heard rumors he and Christopher were having a fling and Natalie walked in on them. Yay..who knows!
    So, sad~ I remember seeing her in movies and thought she was so talented and beautiful~

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  30. I remember hearing about this one over the years as it has been brought back into the light. I am not sure what happened, but it does sound like more went on behind the scenes when we will ever know!
    ~Jess

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  31. Okay that's just weird. I would certainly hope my husband would at least look for me!

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  32. That's sad, Robert definitely should have gone after her!

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  33. It sounds like Robert Wagner was too drunk to be of any help. Sad!

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  34. Fascinating story- I loved her!

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  35. Poor woman! I'd be sorry to be in husband's shoes, having to live with the moral responsibility, whether he had anything to do with it or not.

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  36. That, I think is the point, they were drunk. I personally know of a similar story involving my parents although in this case my mother was hauled out of the water by my father. She was in full evening dress which didn't help. They too had been fighting.

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  37. I'd heard of this story. I guess we'll never find out the truth. Great post, Stephanie.

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  38. I watch a lot of true crime. If Wagner is guilty, he has to look at himself in the mirror every day knowing that he's a murderer.

    Piper Presley
    N is for Novel: Blogging from A to Z

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  39. Two thoughts. I doubt she was truly afraid of the water...who spends that much time on the water, which they're supposedly deathly afraid of. Second: if I'd wanted to kill my wife, I could have come up with a more likely scenario.

    But maybe I'm biased because I love RW

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  40. she was such a good actress and so lovely. Such a shame - but a bit of a tormented soul. Unfortunately I think this was an accident - alcohol, arguments, and water - not a good combo.

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  41. I have always thought that was such a tragedy. And as much as I love Robert Wagner the circumstances, even if an accident, were suspicious. And the part about her mother saying she would die in dark water...woo woo.

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  42. Such a tragic death...another one too young. I didn't know about her mothers premonition...spooky!
    ~Katie
    TheCyborgMom

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  43. I forgotten about the circumstances of her death, but at the time, I remember thinking that it was suspicious. My brother was murdered and we all know who did it, but there just isn't enough proof. I wonder if this was similar... we'll probably never know.

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  44. I remember when she died and wondered if the mystery was ever solved. I guess not. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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  45. I had almost forgotten about the mystery surrounding Natalie Wood's death. My husband is older than I am and he was always fascinated by her tragic death. He is not convinced Robert Wagner killed her, but he feels certain she did not fall over by herself and believes the other passenger on the boat quite possibly pushed her. My husband's biggest issue is that to him it appears she could have been saved. Why didn't they try and get her out of the water right away? And wasn't there some discrepancy between the time she went over and when they called for help, like when other people heard her calling for help. I seem to remember reading that Wagner and the other passenger were both caught giving several misleading statements or that their testimony changed drastically, but I don't know enough about it to say that for certain, but my interest is piqued and I am about to go and research it. You've done it to me again Steph. I am just loving your theme. The only problem is that once I read your post, I'm pretty much done for the day because I'm off researching and reading about unsolved mysteries. I've even changed the letter U topic of my blog post for this year to "Unsolved Mysteries." Don't worry, I'm not taking from any of your post. I'm sticking to my crime fiction theme and covering an unsolved crime right here in Louisiana. I hope you don't mind.

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  46. Sephanie: you say MY posts give you nightmares? I can barely bring myself to read yours at all!! Give me a good basic nose-slashing over an unresolved death mystery any day!!

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  47. It's interesting that this is still a subject that is debated. Obviously, no one is comfortable with the first outcome -- but we'll never know.

    Cherdo
    Cherdo on the Flipside
    "Favorite Characters, Favorite Lines" on the A-to-Z Challenge 2016

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  48. Natalie was one of my favorites. I cry every time I see her in Splendor in the Grass. As for me, having been married to an alcoholic boater, I can fully understand how Walker night not have responded if she fell in. My ex wouldn't remember anything when he was drinking.

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  49. Alcohol, bullying, and jealousy were probably the cause. Robert made a huge mistake, and most likely regrets it every day.

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  50. Well, if he didn't do something to her, it's likely in her drunken state she somehow managed to accidentally kill herself. But without proper evidence, it's hard to say.

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