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Natalie Wood's drowning probed as "suspicious death," sheriff official says

Sneak peek: Death in Dark Water
Sneak peek: Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water 03:50

It has been almost four decades since actress Natalie Wood died. Late Thursday, a Los Angeles County sheriff's official says her fatal drowning is now being investigated as a "suspicious death" after new witnesses emerged.

This announcement comes hours after CBS News' "48 Hours" was first to report that her then-husband, actor Robert Wagner, is now a person of interest. Investigators want to speak with Wagner, now 87, about the circumstances surrounding her death one night in 1981, they say in interviews for "Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water" to be broadcast Saturday, Feb. 3 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

Wood drowned off the coast of Catalina Island in California in November 1981 after she went missing from the Splendour, her family's yacht. Also aboard that night were Captain Dennis Davern, Wagner, and Wood's friend and fellow actor, Christopher Walken. The next day, the actress was found floating in the water wearing a red down jacket and flannel nightgown. After a two-week investigation, the death was ruled an accident. But, in 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reopened the death investigation.  And in 2012 the Los Angeles Coroner's Office amended the death certificate, changing the manner of death from an accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors."

48 Hours "Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water" preview 08:25

Now, a statement obtained Thursday by CBS News from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Information Bureau reads that "for the first time, we have witness statements that portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night."

"A witness provided details about hearing yelling and crashing sounds coming from the couple's stateroom," the statement read. It continued: "Shortly afterwards, separate witnesses identified a man and a woman arguing on the back of the boat. The witnesses believed that the voices belonged to Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner."

The statement said that there isn't enough to make an arrest at this moment and "this remains a suspicious death investigation."

Detectives urged anyone with first-hand knowledge or any information to call the LASD Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

Investigators say Wagner has refused to speak with them since the case was reopened. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant John Corina tells CBS News' Erin Moriarty he doesn't believe Wagner has told the whole story.

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

Erin Moriarty and the "48 Hours" team have been covering the Wood case for six years and was the only news organization to capture the detectives searching the Splendour for clues. "48 Hours" reports on the latest information in the case through interviews with the detectives leading the case, with Wood's sister Lana Wood. Watch Saturday, Feb. 3 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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