Suspected of murdering his wife in 1981, actor Robert Wagner avoided serving time in jail when his wife’s death was ruled an accident. But after Natalie Wood’s case has been reopened, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigator recently referred to Wagner as a “person of interest” in his wife’s untimely demise.
In November 1981, Wagner and Wood were aboard their yacht, The Splendour, with fellow actor Christopher Walken and Captain Dennis Davern near Catalina Island. According to Davern, Wagner and Wood had been drunk when they entered their cabin while loudly yelling at each other.
Later that evening, Wagner told Walken and Davern that his wife had gone missing from the boat. Despite the fact that Wood could not swim and was terrified of drowning, Wagner told law enforcement officials that his wife had attempted to leave in the middle of the night in a dinghy that was next to the yacht.
Wood’s body was found hours later floating in the water wearing a red down jacket and flannel nightgown. According to her autopsy, Wood’s body was covered in fresh bruises and abrasions. When police found the dinghy, the engine was turned off and “it appeared as if the boat had not even been used.”
Although Wood’s death was ruled an accident, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reopened the investigation in 2011. A year later, the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office amended her death certificate, changing the manner of death from an accidental drowning to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
“As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina told “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty in a recent interview. “I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”
Besides Davern, two new witnesses from a neighboring boat have come forward telling investigators that they saw Wagner and Wood arguing on the night of her death. According to the investigators, Wagner has refused to speak with them since his wife’s case has been reopened.
“I haven’t seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case,” Lt. Corina recalled. “I think he’s constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don’t add up.”
“She looked like a victim of an assault,” stated Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez.
According to archival interviews with Wood and her sister Lana Wood, Natalie Wood was deathly afraid of drowning and had never attempted to learn how to operate a small boat.