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Behind the headlines: Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood

Robert Wagner and the death of Natalie Wood
Robert Wagner and the mystery of Natalie Wood's death 04:04

The mysterious death of actress Natalie Wood, wife of actor Robert Wagner, is back in the news. We asked Erin Moriarty of "48 Hours" to take us Behind the Headlines: 

Natalie Wood's performances in timeless movies like "Miracle on 34th Street," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Gypsy" won her acclaim as an actress -- but it was her death, at age 43, that made her a legend.

An undated photo of Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. This week the actor was named a "person of interest" in her 1981 death, years after the case into her accidental drowning was reopened. CBS News

In November 1981, she was boating with her husband Robert Wagner, actor Christopher Walken, and their Captain Dennis Davern, when she mysteriously disappeared.

"I remember people coming on the boat saying that she had drowned," Davern said.

Wood's death was quickly ruled an accidental drowning. But questions remained. Davern has long claimed the couple had a terrible fight before she died.  

"I believe that Robert Wagner was with her up until the moment she went into the water," Davern said.

Thirty years later, in 2011, the case was reopened. "We have received information which we thought was substantial enough to make us take another look at this case," said Lt. John Corina.

And this past week, CBS News' "48 Hours" reported that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department confirms, while not a suspect, Robert Wagner is now considered a "person of interest."

Moriarty asked Lt. Corina, "Does that evidence lead you to believe that whatever happened to Natalie Wood was not an accident?"

"Well, it does," he replied. "It actually confirms my suspicions even more that [what was] originally reported isn't exactly what happened." 

Lt. Corina and Detective Ralph Hernandez now say they have corroboration for Davern's story: two new witnesses who claim they not only heard a fight, one saw it.

"Saw figures on the back of the Splendour, a male and a female, whose voices they recognized as being Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood arguing in the back of the boat," Hernandez said. 

In 2008, Robert Wagner told "Sunday Morning" correspondent Michelle Miller his account of what happened that night. It is very different from the one investigators are piecing together.

Robert Wagner talked to CBS' "Sunday Morning" in 2008. CBS News

"I wasn't there; I wasn't there for her," he said. "I got into an argument with Chris [Walken], which I really started a little bit because he was saying what a wonderful actress she is. (They were doing a film together.) And he said, 'I think she should really spend more time on her career.  And, you know, that would be nice.' And I got a little bit angry about that. I said, 'You know, what are you getting involved with her and her career for?' One thing led to another. And I got very upset with him. We got into a -- not a physical altercation, but an altercation that took us out on the deck. And I was angry at him. 

"We came back down below.  I looked below.  I saw Natalie was doing something with her hair.  She was gonna go to bed. And she shut the door. And Chris and I were still talking. We weren't particularly arguing then, you know.  And sat up for a while. And when I went down below, she wasn't there.

"I looked around for her and I couldn't -- I didn't know where she was.  I went back above. Dennis, a kid I had working for me on the boat, and Chris, and I, you know, we never heard anything.  The dingy was gone. We never heard it start.  We never heard anything at all."

This past week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department urged anyone with first-hand knowledge to come forward.

Moriarty asked Lt. Corina, "Do you believe Natalie Wood was murdered?"

"I think it's suspicious enough to make us think that something happened," he replied. "I don't think she got in the water herself."

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

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