Friday 23 February 2018

A mystery that has transfixed Hollywood: Husband named as a 'person of interest' in death at sea of Natalie Wood

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, who married twice before her mysterious drowning off the
California coast in 1981. Photo: AP
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, who married twice before her mysterious drowning off the California coast in 1981. Photo: AP

Nick Allen

A mystery that has transfixed Hollywood for more than three decades took a new twist as police said actor Robert Wagner was "more a person of interest" in the death at sea of his wife, Natalie Wood, the film star.

Since her body was found floating off the California coast in 1981, there have been rumours about what happened to the Oscar-nominated actress who played Maria in West Side Story, and starred with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

The 55ft yacht Splendour, which belonged to Hollywood stars Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. Photo: AP
The 55ft yacht Splendour, which belonged to Hollywood stars Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. Photo: AP

Wagner, now 87, the star of Hart to Hart, the television series, and Wood were on a yacht, the Splendour, near Catalina Island, with Christopher Walken, the actor, and Dennis Davern, the captain.

Speculation included reports of blistering rows, a love triangle, and that Wagner was jealous of the younger Walken.

Wood was discovered in the water a mile from the yacht on the morning of November 29 1981, wearing a nightgown, socks, and a down jacket. She was 43.

After two weeks the case was closed as "accidental drowning".

But in 2011 police began looking into it again.

Now, in a new development, Lieutenant John Corina of the LA County Sheriff's Department told a US television show: "I think he (Wagner) is more of a person of interest now."

He told CBS's 48 Hours: "I haven't seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case. I think he's constantly changed his story a little bit.

Suspicious

"And his version of events just don't add up. He's the last one to see her."

Asked whether he believed the actress was murdered, Mr Corina said: "I think it's suspicious enough to make us think that something happened."

Mr Corina added: "She got in the water somehow and I don't think she got in the water by herself. Some of the things we found that he [Wagner] did afterwards, or didn't do... caused us to say 'This doesn't make any sense'."

Det Ralph Hernandez added: "We have not been able to prove this was a homicide. And we haven't been able to prove that this was an accident either.

Wagner has not yet responded to a request for comment on the detectives' remarks. CBS also said its request for comment had been unsuccessful.

The case was reopened six years ago after Mr Davern made a statement detailing a row in which Wagner was said to have raged at Walken. He claimed Wagner had "not wanted to look too hard" for his wife or turn on the searchlight, and the alarm was not raised for four hours.

The following year a coroner changed the cause of death from "accidental drowning" to "drowning and other undetermined factors".

In a 2008 book called Pieces of My Heart, Wagner said he and Walken had argued over whether Wood should pursue her career or personal life. He said Wood, who had been drinking, went to her room and the two men cleared the air on deck.

When he returned to the room she was gone, and he assumed she had gone to the island. The boat's dinghy later washed ashore on the island. Two dozen bruises on Wood's body were said at the time to have been consistent with slipping.

In a 2016 memoir Wagner wrote: "When Natalie died I thought my life was over. My children helped me heal. I got on my feet but it was a very, very difficult and sad time." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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