In November 1981, actress Natalie Wood was found dead off the coast of California’s Catalina Island. She drowned after having gone missing off her family yacht, the Splendour, the night before. Wood had spent the evening with her husband Robert Wagner, yacht captain Dennis Davern, and actor Christopher Walken. Her death was initially ruled an accident until the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reopened the case in 2011. In 2012, her cause of death was changed from an accidental drowning to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
Now, nearly 40 years after her death, investigators told CBS’s 48 Hours that new evidence has emerged in Wood’s case and that they now consider Wagner a person of interest.
Natalie Wood appeared in an impressive number of films in her 40-year acting career. She’s perhaps best known for playing Maria in West Side Story and Judy in Rebel Without a Cause. Wood was only 43 when she died, and supposedly engaged in a fight with Wagner the night she disappeared. Captain Davern has always believed Wagner had something to do with Wood’s death, and his determination to get justice for Wood helped reopen the case in 2011.
In the six years that investigators from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department have reworked the case, they’ve collected more evidence that points to foul play.
Bruises found on Wood’s body, eye-witness testimony, and Robert Wagner’s questionable version of what happened that night keep the theory of homicide in play. Wagner was not originally a suspect when the case was reopened, and he is still not considered a suspect. But investigators are now calling him a person of interest.
This is because they now know for sure that Wagner was the last person to see Wood alive.
Wagner declined 48 Hours’s request for an interview and has refused to speak to investigators. The main aspect of the case investigators are now working on is figuring out how Wood, famously terrified of dark open waters, ended up in the ocean.
The 48 Hours special report Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water, which includes interviews with current investigators, airs February 3rd at 10 p.m. EST on CBS.