Well, hooo-ly shit. In a startling update to the long-mysterious case of actress Natalie Wood’s 1981 drowning death, Los Angeles County investigators have told CBS News’ 48 Hours that they believe then-husband Robert Wagner is a “person of interest” in the case, which was reopened in 2011 after initially being ruled an accident. “[W]e know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina told CBS’ Erin Moriarty.
CBS reports that in the program, which premieres on February 3, Corina says Wagner’s “version of events just don’t add up.” In 2013, a 10-page addendum to Wood’s coroner’s report became public that described bruises on her arms and superficial abrasions on her face, indicating she had been assaulted prior to getting in the water. From CBS’s summary of a segment of the program:
Investigators today note the autopsy report indicates there were a number of bruises that appeared to be fresh on Wood’s body.
“She looked like a victim of an assault,” says Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez.
Do you believe Natalie Wood was murdered?” Moriarty asks.
“I think it’s suspicious enough to make us think that something happened,” Corina says.
“Do you believe Robert Wagner knows a lot more about what happened to his wife than he’s ever said?” Moriarty asks.
“Well, I think he does because he’s the last one to see her,” Corina replies.
In November 1981, Natalie Wood disappeared from her family’s yacht off the coast of Catalina Island and was found floating in the water the next day in a red down jacket and flannel nightgown. “We were all so shattered by the loss, and we were hanging on to each other,” Wagner told People Magazine in 2016. Wagner, Christopher Walken, and Captain Dennis Davern were aboard at the time. Over the past decade or so, new reports and allegations have swirled around the nature of her death, and in 2012, her death certificate was altered from accidental drowning to “drowning and other undetermined factors” in light of the updated autopsy report.
A book co-authored by Davern in 2009 blamed Wagner for not calling for a search sooner, and Davern later produced a sworn statement—conflicting with his original statement given—that claims he heard Wagner and Wood getting into a “terrible,” possibly violent argument which culminated in Wagner shouting “get off my fucking boat,” and that about 15 minutes later Wagner informed him that Wood was “missing.” Witness Marilyn Wayne, whose boat was moored nearby, has said she heard a woman screaming she was drowning and then a man’s “slurred” voice saying help was on the way. Both Wagner and Davern’s statements have shifted over time, CBS reports, with all three men on the boat originally claiming that they’d assumed Wood (who was known to be afraid of dark water) had gone to shore on a dinghy that was later found a mile from the yacht.
The case appears to be quite far from closed, however. 48 Hours was unable to get comment from Walken or Wagner, and investigators told CBS that Wagner has refused to speak with them since the case was reopened.
“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,” Detective Hernandez told CBS.