The great actress Natalie Wood died in 1981, drowning under mysterious circumstances near her boat off Catalina Island in California. But now, after almost forty years, after years of speculation, the man in charge of the investigation is naming someone a ‘person of interest’ – Wood’s husband at the time, famed actor Robert Wagner.
In a show to be broadcast on Saturday on Natalie Wood’s death, Los Angeles Country investigators tell “48 Hours” the explosive news.
“As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina says of Wagner in an interview with “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty. “I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”
Wood drowned off the coast of Catalina Island in California in November 1981 after she went missing from the Splendour, her family’s yacht. Also aboard that night were Captain Dennis Davern, Wagner, and Wood’s friend and fellow actor, Christopher Walken. The next day, the actress was found floating in the water wearing a red down jacket and flannel nightgown. After a two-week investigation, the death was ruled an accident. But, in 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reopened the death investigation. And in 2012 the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office amended the death certificate, changing the manner of death from an accidental drowning to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
Rumors and speculation have run rampant for years.
At first, the three men aboard the boat — Wagner, Walken and Davern — told detectives that Wood, famously terrified of dark water, took off in a dinghy and went ashore. Over time, however, Wagner and Davern’s accounts have shifted, a red flag to the investigators.
Investigators say Wagner has refused to speak with them since the case was reopened. Corina tells Moriarty he doesn’t believe Wagner has told the whole story.
“I haven’t seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case,” Corina says of Wagner. “I think he’s constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don’t add up.”
Wood’s autopsy indicates that her body had multiple bruises when she was found. However, in the past, the bruises had been speculated to be due to unsuccessful efforts to climb back into the dinghy and save herself. Now the investigators appear to be viewing the bruises differently.
“She looked like a victim of an assault,” says Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez.
“I think it’s suspicious enough to make us think that something happened,” Corina says.
Corina was asked if he thought Wagner knew more than he was saying about Wood’s death. Corina said, “I think he does because he’s the last one to see her.”
The “48 Hours” team has been looking at the case for six years and will present the case based on the evidence interviews on Saturday. Davern has said things implicating Wagner since his original interview indicating that there was a continuing verbal fight between Wagner and Wood right up until the point that she disappeared.
Detective Hernandez has said they had not proven this was a homicide. But that they have also not proved it was just an accident.
Declaring him a ‘person of interest’ is a huge move after 36 years. But can they find anything else?
[Note: This post was written by Nick Arama]