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New Sequence of Events in Natalie Wood's Death

Investigators say new witnesses emerge, but case status isn't changed
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 2, 2018 8:33 AM CST
Why Natalie Wood's Death Is Once Again in the News
This Nov. 29, 1981, file photo, shows the 55-foot yacht "Splendour," belonging to actor Robert Wagner and his wife, actress Natalie Wood, as it sits in the waters at Avalon, Calif., on Santa Catalina Island, near where rescuers found the body of Wood.   (AP Photo/Paul J. Harrington, File)

(Newser) – It's back. The cold case involving the suspicious drowning of actress Natalie Wood in 1981 is once again making headlines. The impetus is a show airing Sunday on CBS' 48 Hours in which a Los Angeles County sheriff's investigator refers to widower Robert Wagner, now 87, as a "person of interest." That's not exactly a bombshell revelation, but amid the flurry of headlines Thursday, a sheriff's spokesperson added that new witnesses have come forward to "portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night," per the AP. Here is what's going on:

  • New witnesses: One heard "yelling and crashing sounds" coming from the stateroom belonging to Wood and Wagner, and others say they believe they heard Wood and Wagner arguing at the back of the boat shortly afterward. All in all, these unidentified witnesses offer a different version of events from previous accounts, says the sheriff's spokesperson, per the Los Angeles Times.
  • No change in status: "Do we have enough to make an arrest at this moment? No," says the sheriff's spokesperson. "This remains a suspicious death investigation." But "we know that even the most difficult cases can be solved when witnesses come forward." The LA newspaper adds that it's "far from clear whether the new details reflect a significant change in the case."

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  • On the boat: Only four people were on the boat: Wood, Wagner, actor Christopher Walken, and the captain, Dennis Davern, notes USA Today in its primer on the case. But people who were on nearby boats also could be talking to investigators. In older coverage reprised by the LA Times, a woman on another boat remembers hearing cries for help.
  • Investigation: Authorities initially ruled the death an accident but reopened the case in 2011. The coroner subsequently changed Wood's death certificate to cite "drowning and undetermined factors," and that's where we stand. "We have not been able to prove this was a homicide. And we haven't been able to prove that this was an accident, either," says a sheriff's investigator. "The ultimate problem is we don't know how she ended up in the water." A colleague, however, says that Wagner's account of his actions that night raise suspicions. "Some of the things we found that [Wagner] did afterwards, or didn't do, in the boat, cause us to say, 'This doesn't make any sense.'"
  • No comment: Wagner's publicist says he has no comment, reports the Washington Post. You can read his account of that night in a Daily Mail essay he wrote in 2009. He writes that he and Walken were arguing, partly about Wood's career. "I slammed a wine bottle on the table, breaking it into pieces. Natalie got up during the argument and went down from the salon to the master cabin to go to the bathroom." That was the last he saw of her, Wagner says. He writes that he later noticed that a dinghy normally attached to the boat was gone and wondered if she'd taken it.
  • Deep reading: A 2000 Vanity Fair article makes for fascinating reading. One tidbit: The coroner played down Wood's blood alcohol content of .14 after her death, in part because he'd recently taken heavy flak for providing too many details about the alcohol-related death of another actor, William Holden.
(Read more Natalie Wood stories.)

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