In November of 1981, actress Natalie Wood disappeared from her family’s yacht, the Splendor, after spending the evening with her husband Robert Wagner, yacht captain Dennis Davern, and actor Christopher Walken. The next day she was found dead off the coast of California’s Catalina Island in her nightgown and red down jacket.
Initially, after a two week investigation, the death of Natalie Wood, best known for her role as Maria in West Side Story, was ruled an accident, but in 2011 the investigation was reopened, and in 2012 the cause of death was changed from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” Today, nearly four decades after her death, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators told “48 Hours” that her then-husband, Robert Wagner, is now considered a person of interest in the case, but he is not yet a suspect.
“As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina told “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty on an upcoming episode of the show. “I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”
This, however, might not come as a shock to the many whom have followed this case throughout the years. People have suspected foul play to have been involved in the case for a long time, something which investigators began to suspect as well after Wagner and yacht captain Davern’s accounts for that night shifted. They both initially told detectives that Wood, known to have been terrified of dark water, took off in a dinghy and went ashore. However, Davern later came out and said that Wood supposedly engaged in a fight with Wagner the night she disappeared, and his persistence led to the reopening of the case.
Wagner has refused to speak to investigators since the case reopened in 2011, and he has declined the interview requested by “48 Hours.” This, combined with his constantly changing story about the events of that night, new eye-witness testimonies and bruises on Natalie’s body, certainly does not put Wagner, now 87 years old, in a good light. Lieutenant John Corina is also convinced that he has not been telling investigators the full 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 changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don’t add up.”
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.