Natalie Wood’s Death Now Deemed ‘Suspicious,’ New Witnesses


Nearly 40 years after the tragic loss of Hollywood actress Natalie Wood, new witnesses in her 1981 drowning have emerged prompting Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators to deem her cause of death “suspicious.”

The news — which was reported by CNN, and the Associated Press — comes hours after CBS News released a clip from an upcoming 48 Hours special where Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina — when asked if Wood’s widower Robert Wagner, 87, is considered a suspect — responded by saying he is now considered “more of a person of interest” in the case.

Police had initially classified Wood’s death as an accidental drowning, but the case was reopened in 2011. Wagner has long said he had no involvement in her death, and no charges have ever been filed.

Wood died on Nov. 29, 1981, off of Catalina Island in California — her body found floating in the water after disappearing after a night of drinking with her husband on their yacht, Splendour. Also on board was actor Christopher Walken, Wood’s then-costar in the movie Brainstorm, and the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern. She was 43.

On Thursday, sheriff’s officials said in a statement that they obtained new witness accounts after reviewing more than 100 tips, The New York Times reported — accounts that “portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night.”

One witness described hearing crashing sounds and yelling coming from Wood and Wagner’s stateroom, the AP reported. Separate witnesses heard a man and woman arguing on the back of the boat, voices believed to belong to Wood and Wagner.

“The statements from these new witnesses differ from the original version of events as related by previous witnesses, including the individuals on the boat,” the sheriff’s office said, according to CNN. “Do we have enough to make an arrest at this moment? No. This remains a suspicious death investigation.”

Wagner has refused to speak with investigators since they began to look into the circumstances surrounding Wood’s death again. His attorney didn’t respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on Thursday.

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood in 1959

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood in 1959

Earl Leaf/ Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

RELATED: The Twists and Turns of the Investigation into Natalie Wood’s Drowning Death

Wood was married to Wagner twice — first in 1957 (they divorced five years later) and again in 1972 until her death.

“I haven’t seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case,” Corina said of Wagner on 48 Hours. “I think he’s constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don’t add up.”

Detectives who spoke with 48 Hours noted that there were numerous bruises on Wood’s body that appeared to be new, according to her autopsy report. “She looked like a victim of an assault,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez.

When asked if Wood’s death was a murder rather than a tragic accident, Corina said, “I think it’s suspicious enough to make us think that something happened.”

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood

Roy Illingworth/Mirrorpix/Getty

In Wagner’s 2008 memoir, Pieces of My Heart, he wrote that after a night of drinking, he got into an argument with Walken over Wood’s career.

At one point, the now 87-year-old actor wrote, “I picked up a wine bottle, slammed it on the table and broke it into pieces.”

As for what caused her to fall off the boat, Wagner wrote it was “all conjecture. Nobody knows. There are only two possibilities: either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.”

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In 2016, Wagner spoke to PEOPLE about his family’s heartbreak and his close bond with his stepdaughter and Wood’s daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner.

“We were all so shattered by the loss, and we were hanging on to each other,” Wagner said. “My bond with Natasha is very, very intense. We’ve hung onto each other through the years and she means the world to me.”

The 48 Hours report includes the latest information from interviews with the detectives and Wood’s sister Lana, as well as archival interviews with Wagner, Davern and others. The show’s efforts to get comment from Wagner and Walken were unsuccessful.

Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water will air Saturday, Feb. 3, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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