Actor Robert Wagner is not a suspect in the 30-year-old drowning of his actress wife, Natalie Wood, and there is nothing to indicate a crime, even though the investigation has been re-opened, a sheriff’s detective said Friday.
“Her death was an accident, an accidental drowning,” said Sheriff’s Lt.John Corina.
Officials would not say why they were taking another look at the case, although the captain of the boat where the couple had stayed blamed Wagner for Wood’s death.
Natalie Wood’s sister, Lana Wood, told CNN’s Piers Morgan in an interview Friday that she doesn’t believe her sister fell off the boat.
Lana Wood told Morgan that she has spoken several times with the boat’s captain Dennis Davern and he has told her that Wagner was involved in her plunge into the sea on Nov. 29, 1981. But Lana Wood said she does not believe that whatever happened was deliberate.
“I don’t think she fell, I don’t know if she was pushed, I don’t know whether there was an altercation and it happened accidentally but she shouldn’t have died and that does stay with me and hurt,” Lana Wood said.
“I would prefer to always believe that RJ (Wagner) would never do anything to hurt Natalie and that he loved her dearly, which he did, and I don’t believe that whatever went on was deliberate. I’ve always cared about him. I always will care about him,” she said.
Lana Wood wrote in a biography on her sister after her death, “What happened is that Natalie drank too much that night.”
There have always been questions about Wood’s death on Nov. 29, 1981, with renewed attention on the case as the anniversary neared. The case’s re-opening and a public call for information are the first hint that the official account may need revision.
Within hours of the announcement, Corina said, several people emerged offering their recollections of what happened in the waters off Southern California’s Santa Catalina Island.
But he quickly noted that nothing the agency has received so far has prompted it to change the view that there was no foul play.
Davern, said Friday on NBC’s “Today” show that he lied to investigators about events on theyacht Splendour when he was interviewed after Wood’s death.
Davern accused Wagner of having a fight with Wood before she went missing and delaying the search for her after she disappeared.
Wagner’s family released a statement through a spokesman that said they trusted detectives to evaluate any new information and determine whether it came from “a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30-year anniversary of her tragic death.”
It did not mention Davern by name, and noted that detectives hadn’t contacted Wagner or his family.
On the show, Davern mentioned a book he co-wrote last year on Wood’s death, but refused to say precisely why he blamed Wagner for the three-time Oscar nominee’s death. Davern also denied that he was seeking to profit from interest in the case.
Vanity Fair and the television program “48 Hours Mystery” have teamed up and are including Wood’s case for a television special airing this weekend.
Corina said his agency would talk to Davern at some point and other witnesses would likely be interviewed. He downplayed the role Davern’s book or the anniversary would play on the investigation.
“We’re not concerned with the anniversary date,” Corina said. “It may have jarred some other people’s memories.”
Wood, who was 43 when she died, received three Academy Award nominations, for “Rebel Without a Cause,” '‘Splendor in the Grass” and “Love with the Proper Stranger.” She appeared in numerous other Hollywood classics, including “West Side Story.”
Wood and Wagner were married twice, first in 1957 before divorcing six years later. They remarried in 1972. Her death during the Thanksgiving weekend in 1981 has long sparked tabloid speculation that foul play was involved.
Wood, Wagner and actor Christopher Walken and Davern spent time on Thanksgiving weekend1981 both on Catalina Island and drinking on the yacht.
Wagner has dismissed any suggestion that the actress’ death was anything more than an accident. In a 2008 autobiography, he recounted drinking with Wood and Walken at a restaurant and on the boat.
Wood went to the master cabin during an argument between the two men, Wagner said. The last time Wagner saw his wife, she was fixing her hair at a bathroom vanity and she shut the door, he wrote.
Despite various theories about what led Wood to the water, which she feared, he said, it was impossible to know what happened.
“Nobody knows,” he wrote. “There are only two possibilities; either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.”
Coroner’s officials said at the time that she was “possibly attempting to board the dinghy and had fallen into the water, striking her face.”
Wood was found wearing a flannel nightgown, socks and a red down jacket, and Davern identified her body for authorities, according to an autopsy report. Her body had superficial bruises, according to the report, but those were considered consistent with drowning.
Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said the agency hadn’t been asked to do any additional investigation into Wood’s case.
Wagner, star of the television series “Hart to Hart,” wrote in his book that he blamed himself for his wife’s death.
“Did I blame myself? If I had been there, I could have done something,” he wrote. “But I wasn’t there. I didn’t see her.”