Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Since reopening the death investigation of Natalie Wood more 13 months ago, detectives have interviewed more than 100 witnesses and gathered new evidence.
But the one person detectives are most interested in talking to has so far refused several requests for interviews, they said: Wood’s husband, actor Robert Wagner.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina said Wagner is the only person on the boat at the time Wood drowned off Catalina Island, Calif., in 1981 not to speak to detectives assigned to the new examination.
“We reached out through his attorney and got rebuffed. We went to his home and he refused to talk us and we sent him a letter, so I say it is fair to say he has declined to be interviewed, repeatedly,” Corina said.
Wagner gave three interviews to detectives during the original investigation three decades ago. But Corina said the actor “changed his story over the years, as has the caretaker of the vessel.”
Wood’s death was originally listed as an accident. But earlier this week, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office announced it had changed the cause of death to “undetermined.”
A coroner’s report released Monday cited unexplained fresh bruising on the actress’ right forearm, left wrist and right knee, along with a scratch on her neck and a superficial scrape on her forehead. Officials said the wounds open the possibility that she was assaulted before drowning.
The Sheriff’s Department has stressed that detectives have not determined whether a crime occurred aboard the boat and that there are no suspects.
Corina said Thursday that detectives simply want as clear a narrative about what happened on the boat as possible. “There are four people on that boat that night and now one of them is dead. Something happened,” he said.
Wagner’s attorney, Blair Berk, released a statement Thursday evening saying that Wagner and his family have fully cooperated with authorities.
“After 30 years, neither Mr. Wagner nor his daughters have any new information to add to this latest investigation, which was unfortunately prompted by those seeking to exploit and sensationalize the 30th anniversary of the death of his wife and their mother,” Berk said.
The coroner’s report noted “conflicting statements” about when Wood disappeared, and whether she had argued with Wagner. Wagner and Christopher Walken, Wood’s co-star in the film “Brainstorm,” were aboard the 60-foot yacht where the actress was last seen alive Nov. 28, 1981.
Hours before her death, authorities said, the three actors had had dinner at Doug’s Harbor Reef restaurant and then returned to the yacht, called the Splendour, where they drank, and an argument ensued between Walken and Wagner.
According to the new autopsy report, Wood went missing about midnight, and an analysis of her stomach contents placed her death around that time. The report said Wagner placed a radio call to report her missing at 1:30 a.m.
The original investigators believed Wood sustained her bruises after falling off the yacht and struggling to pull herself from the water into a rubber dinghy, whose starboard side bore scratch marks that seemed consistent with that theory.
But in his report, Coroner Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran noted that investigators did not take nail clippings from Wood’s body to determine whether she had made the scratch marks, and the dinghy was no longer available to be examined. The coroner believes Wood died soon after entering the water.
News about detectives claiming Wagner would not be interviewed was first reported by The Associated Press.