On November 29, 1981, 43-year-old Hollywood icon Natalie Wood drowned in what appeared to be a tragic accident. According to the initial investigation, Wood had been drinking and mistakenly slipped from the yacht she was onboard and died from hypothermia followed by drowning. Those findings have since changed. Here’s the latest round of updates.
1. ROBERT WAGNER, WOOD’S HUSBAND, HAS BEEN OFFICIALLY NAMED A “PERSON OF INTEREST” IN HER “SUSPICIOUS DEATH”
Three other people were onboard the yacht Splendour the night Natalie Wood drowned: the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern; Wood’s Brainstorm costar Christopher Walken; and her husband, Hart to Hart actor Robert Wagner.
Wagner originally told police that he and Wood had had an argument that evening, and then each went off to different parts of the yacht. He said, in time, he just went to sleep, despite Wood not being in their bed. The next thing he knew, Wagner claimed, Wood was missing.
However, according to Lieutenant John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, “I think he’s constantly changed his story … and his version of events just don’t add up.”
In January 2018, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officially announced that Robert Wagner is a “person of interest” in Natalie Wood’s demise. Authorities also said the case is now a “suspicious death” investigation. [CrimeFeed]
2. THE CASE AGAINST WAGNER HAS BEEN BUILDING SINCE 2011
In 2011, Captain Dennis Davern came forward to publicly claim he actually lied to police in 1981. His statement kicked off a series of events that prompted the authorities to reopen the Wood investigation shortly thereafter.
That same year, the coroner’s office changed Wood’s official cause of death from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
Since then, Wagner, now 87, has not talked to the police. The police, though, have apparently kept an eye on him. [Time]
3. POLICE BELIEVE THEY HAVE ONE “LAST SHOT” AT SOLVING THE MYSTERY — AND THEY’VE GOT TO TAKE IT NOW
Lieutenant John Corina is the lead investigator on the Natalie Wood case and he believes that, in terms of getting it closed, it’s now or never. Talking to the press, Corina said:
“Time is our biggest enemy — many of our witnesses have passed away. It’s our last shot here. We can’t keep working this case … [But] we’re closer to understanding what happened.”
Regarding Robert Wagner, Corina said, “We now know that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared, [but at this point] we can’t make him talk to us.” [NBC News]
4. LANA WOOD, NATALIE’S SISTER, IS “PLEASED” WITH WAGNER BEING NAMED
Lana Wood, the actress sister of Natalie Wood, has long advocated for the drowning case to be reevaluated. She has said in the past, “I’ve always believed that Natalie was killed.”
Following the announcement that Robert Wagner, her former brother-in-law, was now a person of interest, Lana stated:
“All I’ve ever wanted is the truth — Natalie deserves that. I’m pleased with this development, and I’m hopeful that this will help the truth come out and she can finally rest in peace and her family can try to heal. Whether or not that will happen I don’t know — but we can try. The truth is important and this news isn’t a minor thing — I don’t have to say how important this is. This has been the most pivotal, jarring thing that has happened in my life.”
In addition, Lana challenged Wagner’s claims that he had cooperated with the police, saying, “Investigators have not spoken to him in recent years — he has refused to speak to them … So why he can continue to say he has cooperated is very odd to me.” [The Sun]
5. THE HARBORMASTER AT THE TIME OF WOOD’S DEATH HAS COME FORWARD — AND HE STILL BELIEVES IT WAS AN ACCIDENT
Since initially reopening the Natalie Wood investigation, Lieutenant Corina said “about 100 people” have contacted the police with information that led to Wagner being named a person of interest.
Among the dissenting voices was that of Doug Oudin, the Catalina Island harbormaster who was on duty the night Natalie Wood drowned.
Oudin recently appeared on the Investigation Discovery special Natalie Wood: American Murder Mystery, where he expresses an opinion that seems to go against the grain of many others. Talking to the press about the program, Oudin said:
“My guess was that she was probably trying to move their inflatable boat from one side of the boat to the other … and, in the process, fell. My opinion was, and is, that there wasn’t any foul play involved. It was just a tragic accident, but one that could have maybe had a different outcome if some things had happened differently.”
Others who appear in the show — expressing a variety of takes on what they believe may have happened — include Natalie’s sister, Lana Wood; her hairdresser, Ginger Blymer; and an array of historians, journalists, and criminal experts. [Mail Tribune]
Watch Investigation Discovery’s Natalie Wood: An American Murder Mystery on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Natalie Wood [WikiMedia Commons]