More than 30 years after her death, the strange and tragic story of actress Natalie Wood's 1981 drowning remains one of Hollywood's biggest mysteries. While it was originally determined that Wood died in an accidental drowning, the case was reopened in 2011 after the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was contacted by "persons who stated they had additional information." A few days ago, the LA coroner officially changed Wood's cause of death to "drowning and other undetermined factors."
The latest eyebrow-raiser is that actor Robert Wagner -- Wood's husband, and the only person who was on the yacht the night she died -- is refusing to be interviewed by detectives in this renewed inquiry. It doesn't particularly make Wagner sound completely innocent of any wrongdoing … and yet at this point, who could blame him?
The original investigators believed that Wood accidentally fell into the water and struggled to pull herself onto a rubber dinghy, which had scratch marks that seemed to support that theory. The renewed 2011 inquiry came after the yacht's captain Dennis Davern said that he'd seen Wagner and Wood arguing the night of her disappearance, and believed Wagner was to blame for her death.
Wagner's attorney says that the recent revelations were created by "people seeking to exploit and sensationalize the 30th anniversary of the death," but investigators seem to believe there's legitimate new information in the re-opened case, thanks to the fact that they've now interviewed people that were never talked to in 1981.
Officials have amended Wood's death certificate to state that the reasons leading to Wood ending up in the water are "not clearly established," and the updated coroner's report implies that the actress might have been assaulted before her drowning.
So why isn't Robert Wagner cooperating? Apparently he's refused to talk to detectives at least ten different times since the renewed investigation began, and won't address the "conflicting statements" as to when Wood was last seen on the boat by Wagner and her costar Christopher Walken.
In a statement from Wagner's attorney, she said,
Mr. Wagner has fully cooperated over the last 30 years in the investigation of the accidental drowning of his wife in 1981. Mr. Wagner has been interviewed on multiple occasions by the Los Angeles sheriff's department and answered every single question asked of him by detectives during those interviews.
Now, I have absolutely no idea if Robert Wagner had anything to do with Natalie Wood's drowning. But I can't imagine what can really be accomplished at this point, three decades after the night she died. The police say that new people keep coming forward with information, but how reliable can those accounts possibly be? How much can you trust the word of this yacht captain, who made money from a book and media appearances on the topic?
I suppose from a public relations standpoint, it would be better for Wagner to cooperate. But I don't think his refusal to be interviewed should make him seem guilty. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't, but after 30 years, I doubt anything short of a full confession could truly answer all the questions about Wood's death.
As Wagner himself wrote in a 2008 memoir,
Nobody knows (…) the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.
Perhaps someone did at the time. But I truly doubt anyone will know going forward. I think it's time to put those investigative resources elsewhere, and let all the families move on.
Do you think Robert Wagner sounds guilty for refusing to be interviewed again about Natalie Wood's death?
Image via Classic Film Scans/Flickr