Almost 40 years after Hollywood star Natalie Wood mysteriously drowned, Los Angeles County Sheriff investigators are now saying that Robert Wagner, her on-again, off-again husband, is a “person of interest” in her death.
On Thursday, Associated Press reported information from new witnesses has led investigators to deem it a “suspicious death,” according to Los Angeles sheriff’s officials.
In a statement released on Thursday evening, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said information from these witnesses has provided statements that “portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night.”
Wood drowned in 1981 at age 43 after disappearing from her family’s yacht, Splendour, off the coast of Catalina Island, Calif. Besides Wagner, on board that night were the captain, author Dennis Davern, and actor Christopher Walken, who was friends with Wood. Her body was found the next day in the water. She was wearing a down jacket and a nightgown.
At the time, the investigation lasted two weeks and eventually the death was ruled an accident.
The investigation was reopened in 2011, and in 2012 the L.A. Coroner’s Office made an amendment to her death certificate, changing her cause of death from accidental to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” Ever since the investigation reopened, Wagner has refused to speak with officials.
Seven years later, investigators are eager to speak with Wagner, who’s now 87 years old.
“As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” said L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. Lt. John Corina to “48 Hours“. “I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”
“I haven’t seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case,” Corina continued, speaking about Wagner. “I think he’s constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don’t add up.”
Authorities have declared that Walken is not a suspect, and he has co-operated with authorities since the beginning.
Over time, investigators claim, both Wagner’s and Davern’s stories have changed, adding yet another red flag to Wood’s death. The three men on the yacht initially said that Wood, who was notoriously scared of dark water, decided to head back to shore in a dinghy. There have been some conflicting witness reports as well.
Pointing to Wood’s autopsy, investigators are stymied by the number of fresh bruises on the actor’s body. (You can see a picture of Wood’s autopsy results here.)
“She looked like a victim of an assault,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Det. Ralph Hernandez.
“I think it’s suspicious enough to make us think that something happened,” Corina added.
“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,” said Hernandez. “The ultimate problem is we don’t know how she ended up in the water.”
Wood and Wagner had two highly publicized marriages, one in 1957 and again in 1972. They were still married at the time of Wood’s death.