It’s a mystery that has long haunted Hollywood; what happened to Natalie Wood after setting sail from Catalina Island on the evening of November 28, 1981? Was her drowning the result of a tragic accident or were there more sinister forces at play?
Wood’s then-husband Robert Wagner, co-star Christopher Walken, as well as the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern, were all on board when the tragedy struck. Wood’s body would be recovered the following morning, along with an inflatable dinghy that came from the yacht Wood had boarded. Toxicology reports indicated that at the time of her death, Wood’s blood alcohol level was 0.14%. In addition to consuming a heavy amount of alcohol, two medications including a painkiller and a motion sickness pill were also found in Wood’s system. Investigators suspected that the actress had fallen overboard in an attempt to board the dinghy after Wagner admitted he and Wood and gotten into an argument that night.
Officially, her cause of death was ruled the result of an accidental drowning but many suspected that the actress’ death was no accident. The case would be closed for the better part of three decades until 2011 when Davern confessed to police that he had lied in his original statement. Not only had Davern claimed he knew about the fight between Wood and Wagner but that Wagner had been responsible for his wife’s untimely death.
Davern would later turn out to be an unreliable witness in the eyes of police, selling his story to a number of tabloids and collaborating on a tell-all book, CBS reports. While Davern’s recollection of events that transpired that evening would make it difficult for investigators to build a case, bruising found on Wood’s body indicated a possible physical altercation prior to her disappearance that evening. This information would be added to Wood’s official autopsy report and her case would be reopened.
For nearly six years, investigators have poured over new leads, combining information they knew with new information coming in through their tip lines. Cutting the wheat from the chaff has been no easy task but on February 1, 2018, investigators say they finally have enough information to determine that not only is it possible that Wood’s death could have been the result of foul play but that her widower, Robert Wagner, is their main person of interest.
In an interview with CBS for an upcoming 48-Hours episode, L.A. County Sheriff Lt. John Corina says, “As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s [Wagner is] more of a person of interest now. I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”
This “new information” has been the primary motivator behind police’s renewed interest in the formally closed case, WFMZ reports. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department suggested in a statement that new witnesses have since come forth and “portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night.”
“The statements from these new witnesses differ from the original version of events as related by previous witnesses, including the individuals on the boat,” according to the Sheriff’s Department.
While authorities say they will continue to investigate Wood’s death as “suspicious” at this time, there is not enough information to make an arrest. Currently, Wood’s official cause of death is listed as “drowning and other undetermined factors.” Police say until they can collect enough information to determine otherwise, Wood’s death will continue to be considered an accident.