Natalie Wood’s Case Reopened

James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause trailer

Homicide detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department unearthed the case file of Natalie Wood’s mysterious death yesterday. The cold case dates back 30 years (November 29, 1981). Back then, the three-time Oscar-nominated actress’, who starred in films such as “West Side Story” and “Rebel without a Cause”, death was ruled as an accidental drowning.

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Wood, while spending time on a yacht off Catalina Island with husband Robert Wagner, Actor Christopher Walken and Captain Dennis Davern, reportedly fell off the boat while attempting to either board or tie a dinghy. She disappeared until her body was rediscovered a mile away; the dinghy was found on shore. Thirty years ago, according to Coroner Thomas Noguchi, Wood was deemed legally drunk with a 0.14% blood alcohol level. He speculated whether Wood attempted to leave the yacht alone due to a supposed intense, but non-violent, argument between Wagner and Walken. Wagner stated in a 2008 interview with “The Los Angeles Times” that they were debating about balancing personal and professional life.

The case was reopened Thursday because of contrasting accounts shared by Davern to the magazine “Vanity Fair” and the television shows “48 Hours Mystery” and “NBC Today”. The captain stated that in fact Wood and her husband had an argument down in the yacht’s cabin. This morning NBC’s David Gregory asked “Was the fight between Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner what ultimately led to her death?” to which Davern replied “Yes.” He would not elaborate and said it was up to investigators to unravel the truth.

Last year Davern stated on CNN that the criminal investigation into Wood’s death was unfinished. In a book he co-wrote (“Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour”) doubts are raised surrounding whether Wood’s death was merely an accident. Sheriff Lee Baca stated that Davern has “made comments worthy of exploring”.

According to CNN, Davern stated that under the direction of Wagner he waited four hours before contacting the Coast Guard to report Wood missing. He also said that Wagner instructed him and Walken what to say to law enforcement and told him not to turn on the searchlights when they could not find Wood on board. Davern has regrets for keeping his mouth shut back in 1981.

Investigators have their work cut out for them as Natalie Wood’s case has switched from an accidental ruling to a potential homicide investigation. The police detective job description will involve interviewing Davern. Today, Lieutenant John Corina stated that Wagner is currently not a suspect.