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Legal Action Filed To Obtain Confidential Natalie Wood Death Records

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - An inquiry into the 1981 drowning death of Hollywood actress Natalie Wood has been opened with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for a new book that claims there was a cover-up of the circumstances around her death.

A man writing a book about the incident has filed legal action to obtain sheriff records, which he says the department to date has refused to turn over.

Samuel A. Perroni, a retired federal prosecutor and Arkansas trial lawyer, brought the petition Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court against the L.A.S.D. and Sheriff Alex Villanueva, seeking a judge's order directing that the information be turned over.

An LASD representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

Wood drowned at age 43 while on a weekend boat trip to Catalina Island on husband Robert Wagner's yacht. Fellow famous actor Christopher Walken, her co-star in the film "Brainstorm," was also aboard the Splendour that night.

Wood was reported missing from the 60-foot yacht at 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 29, 1981, off Catalina Island. Her body was found floating in the water the next day, and after a two-week investigation, Wood's death was ruled an accident.

In 2012, the Los Angeles County coroner's office amended the death certificate, changing the manner of death from an accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors."

In October Perroni sought information about the department's investigation through the California Public Records Act for use in his book "Cover-Up." A website for the book says it will expose "the corrupt motives that influenced the outcome of the original investigation" into the death of the three-time Academy Award nominee.

"Through his work, (Perroni) seeks to inform the public about the circumstances of Ms. Wood's death," the petition states. "Regrettably, respondents have met the petitioner's requests for records with obstruction and delay."

Perroni obtained some records regarding Wood's death in a previous petition filed against the coroner's office and the L.A.S.D. in November 2015, but he is now seeking additional information in 10 categories, his petition states.

The records sought under the new petition include copies of the L.A.S.D.'s computer program records regarding the file dealing with Wood's death, as well as records obtained by author Suzanne Finstad in her book, "Natalie Wood: The Complete Biography," according to the new petition.

In February 2018, Lt. John Corina with L.A.S.D. said that immediately following a 2011 news conference in which the department announced the reopening of the case, more than 100 people came forward to "tell us what they knew." He said the additional information, chiefly from other boaters who heard Wood and Wagner arguing, "helped us recreate the timeline right up until Natalie Wood goes into the water."

He said one frequently repeated theory, that Wood fell into the water after boarding or trying to free a dinghy that was tied to the yacht, doesn't hold up.

Los Angeles County sheriff's Detective Ralph Hernandez told "48 Hours" in 2018 that the investigators "have not been able to prove this was a homicide. And we haven't been able to prove that this was an accident, either. ...The ultimate problem is we don't know how she ended up in the water."

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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