Natalie Wood Death Investigation Reopened

5:47 PM PST 11/17/2011 by Kimberly Nordyke
William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images

UPDATED: The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Thursday that it is taking "another look at the case" after receiving additional information 30 years after her 1981 drowning.

In a shocking development, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Thursday that it's reopening its case in the death of actress Natalie Wood.

Wood died in 1981 at age 43 while boating off Santa Catalina Island, off the Southern California shore. At the time, her death was ruled an accidental drowning, but there have been many questions raised about what actually happened on the boat in the time since.

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"Recently, sheriff’s homicide investigators were contacted by persons who stated they had additional information about the Natalie Wood Wagner drowning," the department said, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. "Due to the additional information, sheriff’s homicide bureau has decided to take another look at the case."

The department has scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. Friday.

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On the night of Nov. 29, 1981, Wood and her then-husband Robert Wagner went boating with Christopher Walken. The trio had dinner and drinks at Doug's Harbor Reef and then continued drinking aboard the boat, where Wagner and Walken began arguing.

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During the argument, Wood went to bed, and when Wagner came down to say goodnight, she was gone.

Speculation has it that the dinghy came loose, and she went up on deck to tie it back when she accidentally slipped and fell overboard. A woman on a nearby yacht reportedly claimed to have heard calls for help around midnight, and it was later concluded that Wood -- who reportedly was not a skilled swimmer and had a lifelong fear of deep water and had been wearing a heavy robe -- had been intoxicated at the time.

However, others have speculated that a lover's quarrel between Wood and Wagner that had to do with Walken took place before the accident. At the time of her death, she was filming the sci-fi movie Brainstorm with Walken.

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For his part, Wagner has said he blames himself for the incident.

"Did I blame myself? If I'd been there, I could have done something," he told the U.K.'s Daily Mail in 2009. "I wasn't, but ultimately, a man is responsible for his loved one. Yes, I blamed myself. I would have done anything in the world to protect her. Anything. I lost a woman I loved with all my heart, not once but twice, and I will never completely come to terms with that."

Lana Wood, the actress' sister, and Dennis Davern, the captain of the yacht at the time, called for the department to reopen its investigation more than a year ago. Lana Wood told CNN in March 2010 that she believed her sister and Wagner argued before Wood's death, but she did not suspect foul play.

"I just want the truth to come out, the real story," she said.

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Davern -- co-wrote a book about the incident, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, that was published in September 2009 -- also said he believes the actress' death was a direct result of the fight with Wagner.

Davern and his co-author, Marti Rulli, will be featured in 48 Hours special that will air Saturday on CBS. 48 Hours Presents Vanity Fair: Hollywood Scandal teases a new look at the investigation in the actress' death by asking, "How did Natalie Wood, while anchored off the coast of Catalina Island, end up drowning one dark, drunken, volatile night in 1981?"

Wood lived her life out in front of the cameras, becoming a child star with such movies as the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street and that same year's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

She went on to co-star with James Dean and Sal Mineo in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, for which she earned a best supporting actress Oscar nomination, and then appeared opposite John Wayne in 1956's The Searchers.

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She then earned another Oscar nomination for 1961's Splendor in the Grass, opposite Warren Beatty, and co-starred in the musical adaptations of West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962).

Other credits include 1965's The Great Race, with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Peter Falk; and 1964's Love With the Proper Stranger, which earned her a third Oscar nom; and 1969's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

Wood was married to Wagner twice, from 1957-62 and again from 1972 until her death. They had one child, a daughter named Courtney, and appeared togehter in projects including the TV movie The Affair and TV adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

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