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New Questions About Natalie Wood's Death

Mystery takes another turn after weekend news report

Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner on their yacht Splendour

Steve Schapiro/Getty Images

Husband and wife, and actors, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood pose for a picture on their yacht, the "Splendour," on Oct. 8, 1976, five years before her death.

The long-standing mystery around the 1981 death of actress Natalie Wood has taken yet another turn, as a news report over the weekend disclosed that Wood’s former husband, actor Robert Wagner, is a “person of interest” in her death.

Wood, whose death at 43 long has been tabloid and investigative news fodder, drowned off the California coast in November 1981. She had been on her family yacht with Wagner, actor Christopher Walken and the yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern. Her body was found floating in the water the day after she went missing from the yacht. Those onboard said they thought she was taking a dinghy back to shore, although no one witnessed her departure.

The death initially was ruled an accident, but the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reopened the investigation in 2011 after Davern said for the first time that he witnessed an argument between Wood and Wagner shortly before she disappeared.

Saturday, CBS’ “48 Hours” program devoted an entire episode to the death. The program said Wagner, now 87, was considered a “person of interest” by investigators, who want to interview him again about the circumstances around Wood’s death. He has declined interviews since the case reopened, the program reported.

In a 2008 interview for another CBS program, Wagner said that he had gotten into an argument on the yacht with Walken — not Wood — over Wood’s career, and that it had escalated into “an altercation that took us out on the deck.” He said that no one on the yacht had heard or seen Wood take out the dinghy, but that they later noticed Wood and the dinghy were gone.

But two detectives working on the case told “48 Hours” they have two new witnesses who both saw and heard a fight between Wagner and Wood.

“The ultimate problem is we don’t know how she ended up in the water,” Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Detective Ralph Hernandez told CBS. He noted an autopsy report indicated evidence of bruising. “She looked like the victim of an assault,” he said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lt. John Corina told the program that Wagner’s version of events the night Wood went missing had changed over time, and that “his version of events just don’t add up.”

Corina was asked by a reporter if he believed Wood was murdered. “I think it’s suspicious enough to make us think that something happened,” he replied.

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