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New Witnesses Spotlight Natalie Wood Case As Focus Returns To Robert Wagner

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — Amid a startling new report from the CBS show "48 Hours," new witnesses have emerged in the mysterious 1981 drowning of actress Natalie Wood, prompting investigators to deem it a "suspicious death."

Wood's former husband, 87-year-old actor Robert Wagner, has been identified as a "person of interest" in the death of the three-time Oscar-nominated actress, Los Angeles County Sheriff's officials told 48 Hours.

The Splendour
FILE -- The Splendour, the boat owned by Robert Wagner, docked off Catalina Island the day after Natalie Wood drowned. Nov. 29, 1981, Catalina Island, California (Photo by Paul Harris/Getty Images)

On Nov. 28, 1981, Natalie Wood, 43, went missing after a night of drinking on her family's yacht "The Splendour" off the coast of Catalina Island. Also aboard were Wagner, actor Christopher Walken and Capt. Dennis Davern. The following morning, her body was found by authorities floating in the water. An autopsy report found several bruises on her body.

"She looked like a victim of an assault," LASD Detective Ralph Hernandez told 48 Hours.

In a statement Thursday, sheriff's spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said new witnesses interviewed since the case was reopened gave statements that "portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night."

One of the witnesses described hearing yelling and crashing sounds coming from the couple's stateroom, she said. Shortly after that, separate witnesses heard a man and woman arguing on the back of the boat and believe the voices were those of Wood and Wagner, Nishida said.

The statements differed from the original version of events provided by witnesses, including those who were on the boat, she said.

"Do we have enough to make an arrest at this moment? No," Nishida said.


The case was initially ruled an accident, but was reopened in 2011 by LASD. The L.A. County coroner's office in 2012 changed the cause of death on Wood's death certificate from accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors." A new report was released in 2013.

The dinghy that Natalie Wood may have tried to use to leave the boat Splendour. Nov. 30, 1981. Catalina Island, California (Photo by Paul Harris/Getty Images)

"As we've investigated the case over the last six years, I think he's (Wagner) more of a person of interest now," sheriff's Lt. John Corina said in an interview with 48 Hours.

Conflicting versions of what happened on the yacht have contributed to the mystery of her death. Wood, Wagner and Walken had all been drinking heavily in the hours before the actress disappeared.

Wagner is believed to be the last person that saw Wood alive.

"I think it's suspicious enough to make us think that something happened," Corina told 48 Hours.

Wagner wrote in a 2008 memoir that he and Walken argued that night. He wrote that Walken went to bed and he stayed up for a while, but when he went to bed, he noticed that his wife and a dinghy that had been attached to the yacht were missing.

Natalie Wood And Robert Wagner
Actors and spouses Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, arriving at the premiere of the film 'The Godfather', London, August 24th 1972. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Wagner has refused to speak to investigators since the case was reopened, 48 Hours found. LASD said in 2013 that they had tried at least 10 times to interview him but he refused.

"I haven't seen him (Wagner) tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case," Corina said. "I think he's constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don't add up."

Wagner's publicist, Alan Nierob, declined to comment to CBS2 Thursday.

"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," Hernandez said. "The ultimate problem is we don't know how she ended up in the water."

The 48 Hour special: "Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water," will air Saturday, Feb. 3 at 10 p.m. on CBS2.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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