Natalie Wood's Death: 10 Developments During Week 2 of the Reinvestigation
A new witness comes forward, Robert Wagner guest stars as a murder suspect on "NCIS," the lifeguard who pulled the actress' body from the water in 1981 says she could have been saved and other new pieces of information since authorities reopened the mysterious case.
On Nov. 17, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced that it was reopening the case of actress Natalie Wood's Nov. 19, 1981, death after 30 years.
Investigators revealed that new information had been received and was the cause of the reinvestigation. The 43-year-old actress, whose death was ruled an accidental drowning at the time, disappeared from her yacht, Splendour, which was floating just off the coast of Southern California's Catalina Island. She was on board with husband Robert Wagner and Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken.
As the case enters its third week, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look back at last week's new developments.
1. A new "ear witness" comes forward. Marilyn Wayne, who was moored 50 feet from Wood's Splendour the night she drowned, says she heard cries for help and three days later received a handwritten note warning her to keep quiet. Wayne said in a statement to the Sheriff's Department that she heard a woman's voice yelling, "'Help me, someone please help me, I’m drowning' we heard repeatedly. Alarmed, I called out to my son, who also heard the cries, and looked at his new digital watch: it was just minutes after 11:00 P.M." Wayne says she soon her a "man's voice slurred, and in aggravated tone, say something to the effect of, 'Oh, hold on, we’re coming to get you,' and not long after, the cries for help subsided, but we heard the cries for up to 15 minutes."2. Splendour captain passes polygraph test. Dennis Davern, who said he believes Wagner had something to do with the actress' death and claimed to have heard Wood and her husband arguing on the boat after Walken went to bed (a story that conflicts with Wagner's account), takes a lie detector test and passes. Examiner Howard Temple performs the exam and says that the results of the polygraph "indicated he was telling the truth," reported ABC News. “Davern made the statement that he stayed at the Wagner home … [was] told not to talk …Wagner paid for his therapy, and Davern could not leave the estate without bodyguards,” Temple said.
3. Criminal experts outline a path for the case. Robert Wittman, former senior investigator for the FBI, tells THR the investigation will rely on improved forensic technology and a more skeptical re-examination of the evidence. "You are looking at it from a different set of assumptions -- that something nefarious happened," he revealed, adding, "You are not looking to prove the theory that she fell in, you are looking to prove a homicide."
4. Former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman said the inquiry's next step could be to reclassify the case as a homicide. "It's a mind-set of 'this person died at the hands of another.'" Last week, authorities said neither Walken,nor Wagner is considered a suspect, though, as THR first reported, Walken did hire an attorney.
5. The Christopher Walken impersonator comments on the Associated Press mistaking him for the actor. Matt Sterne, who does his impression of the actor on the Washington, D.C.-based ESPN 980, while giving fantasy football advice, said: "Christopher Walken hasn’t spoken about this in 30 years, do they really think he’s calling into a D.C. sports show, to talk about Natalie Wood, and then, by the way, give fantasy football tips? It was absurd." The AP retracted its story, but not until it was widely picked up by news organizations. "Let’s be honest: I’m sure Julia Roberts does a better Christopher Walken than I do, and I’m embarrassed for the AP reporter," said Sterne.
6. Robert Wagner guest stars on NCIS as murder suspect. In the episode, which aired Nov. 22, Wagner played Anthony DiNozzo Sr., the father of Tony DiNozzo Jr. (Michael Weatherly). The show's -- perhaps inconveniently timed -- plot line follows Wagner's character, who is found in a car with a dead body in the trunk and no memory of the previous night. It wasn't the actor's first time on the show: He also played the role in NCIS' 150th episode in January 2010.
7. Lifeguard captain says he still believes Natalie Wood "could have been saved." Former county supervising rescue boat captain Roger Smith, who pulled Wood's body from the water in 1981, said he hopes the reopened investigation will provide answers as to why there was a time lapse before lifeguards were called. “Based on the condition of her body when we pulled her from the water, I believe she survived for sometime in the water and was blown out to sea. She probably cried for help for hours,” Smith said. “I’ve always believed she could have been saved. Her fingers were still pliable when she was pulled from the water, suggesting she had not been dead for hours.”
8. Wayne also claims to have received a threatening note days after Wood's death. "I had a 'client box' designed for clients to drop off their messages through a slot in the front,"she says. "The boxes were opened in the back, labeled by broker name on each end. Three days after Natalie died, I found a scribbled message on a torn piece of paper in my box that read, 'If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know.' I immediately suspected it was related to Natalie Wood’s death because that’s all anyone had been talking about. I was disturbed and even told an attorney about the threat."
9. Wood's sister says she's "frightened" of the outcome of the investigation. Lana Wood appears on NBC's Today, where she tells Matt Lauer that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had alerted her the case was going to be in the spotlight again and that she was nervous about it: "I'm scared, I'm nervous, I'm happy, I think. I'm so ambivalent, it's almost like having to relive her death again."
10. Lana Wood reveals she believes Wagner might have been involved in the death. In her Today appearance, the actress' sister says she subscribes to the theory put forth by Davern. "Unfortunately I do," she says, adding: "I've never known him to lie. He certainly never has to me." She says Davern had contacted her frequently about the incident over the years. "He had called me many years ago very upset, crying, obviously had been drinking and unburdening himself. Little bits and pieces had always filtered over to me. There were so many things that were always bothering me."
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