In 1981, movie star Natalie Wood mysteriously died while on a weekend sailing trip and now, the cause of her death is being questioned as new details emerge.
The West Side Story actor’s death has become the subject of a new podcast investigation Fatal Voyage: The Mysterious Death Of Natalie Wood – which launched on what would have been her 80th birthday on Friday.
On November 29 in 1918, Wood’s body was discovered floating off Santa Catalina Island.
The actor had embarked on a weekend sailing trip with her husband Robert Wagner, the ship’s captain Dennis Davern and their friend, actor Christopher Walken.
In the first episode of the podcast, homicide decetive from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Ralph Hernandez, said the bruises found on her body were consistent with her being the “victim of assault”.
This assessment is quite different from the original 1981 report which said the bruises were caused by the actor attempting to climb aboard her yacht after she fell off.
“The bottom line is, we have someone who died under very suspicious circumstances, and it’s just as important of a case as a murder, but our job is to get to the truth and to hopefully come up with enough evidence to prove that truth,” Det Hernandez said.
“The fact is that we have a lot of information as to the events of what occurred that evening,” he said.
“We have a lot of evidence that tends to point to a very suspicious death and would certainly indicate the possibility of foul play.”
Wood was only wearing a nightgown and red jacket when her body was discovered by a restaurant owner after an apparent night of drinking.
Her death was originally deemed as an accident by authorities, with Wagner suggesting that his wife slipped while trying to board the yacht, which caused her to hit her head and drown.
However, in February this year, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office announced that Wagner had been named as a “person of interest” in the “suspicious” death of Wood.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina told 48 Hours that investigators wanted to talk to the 88-year-old about the events prior to Wood’s death.
Following the 48 Hours interview, it was confirmed that new witnesses had come forward and Wood’s drowning was being investigated.
The new podcast, hosted by investigative journalist Dylan Howard, looks into the final hours before the actor’s mysterious death.
“Did Natalie jump? Did she slip? Was she unconscious before going overboard? Or was she pushed? And if so — by whom? And why?” Howard told Us Weekly.
“It’s a hell of a story. Forbidden affairs. Twisted lies. And murder.”
The team behind the podcast have spent the last seven years investigating her death, looking through hundreds of pages of testimony and police statements to piece together what happened on that night.
“This is not a retelling of Natalie’s sad story,” Howard said.
“It is an active investigation of the case. It will be the most comprehensive investigation since Natalie’s death. And in the end, the listener can decide what happened to the ultimate screen siren … and just who was responsible for her death.”
The captain of the boat, Davern, first spoke to 48 Hours in 2011 and revealed that it had been a “tension-filled weekend” fuelled by alcohol and Wagner’s jealousy of his wife’s co-star, Walken.
“It just kept getting more tense — every minute — of the day,” Davern said.
“I opened a bottle of wine and — Natalie and Christopher had continued to giggle. And then Robert Wagner — picked up the bottle of wine and smashed it … Natalie, she said, ‘I cannot take this,’ and she went into her room. And — then RJ (Wagner) went into the room — Natalie and RJ’s room — and started arguing, yelling — things being thrown about.
“The fighting continued. And then — to the back of the boat. I was concerned that something really bad was going down, because of the fighting, the arguing was so intense.”
Following his interview, other witnesses claimed they heard a man and woman arguing at the back of a boat.
Wagner has refused to talk to officials about Wood’s death since the case was reopened.
The famous couple married in December 1957 and then remarried in 1972 after divorcing in April 1962.
Wood was 17 when they started dating and Wagner was 26.
In 1972, the couple had a daughter together, Courtney.