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Natalie Wood probe likely won't find foul play, officials say

November 18, 2011 |  2:56 pm

SplendourAs the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department formally announced it would reopen the investigation into Natalie Wood's death, some officials are cautioning against expectations that the probe will result in a major new finding.

Sheriff's Department detectives said Friday that new information recently received in connection with Wood's 1981 death was substantial enough to reopen the case, but law enforcement sources urged caution.

"Whatever happens, it is unlikely to change the outcome of the original investigation so many decades after the death," one said.

PHOTOS: Natalie Wood | 1938-1981

Another source said officials hope that media reports on the case don't "build up expectations because the reality is [that] anything like this is tough."

Both sources are familiar with the investigation but spoke on the condition of anonymity.

On Thanksgiving weekend 1981,Wood, 43, was off Catalina Island on the yacht she owned with husband Robert Wagner when she somehow went into the water and died. Actor Christopher Walken, then her costar in the film "Brainstorm," was also aboard.

Officials at the time ruled her death an accident, but there has since been much speculation about whether there was more to the story.

"As a homicide bureau, we are always open to receiving additional information about older cases and current cases," said Sheriff's Lt. John Corina. "If we receive information that we assess and deem credible or reliable, we are not opposed to reacting to it."

In answer to a question during a news conference concerning the case at Sheriff's Department headquarters in Monterey Park, Corina reiterated that Wagner is not a suspect.

He said several sources had come forward with new information, but that "her death was ruled an accidental drowning, and that's what it is. If our investigation finds something else, then we'll address that. But information we received made us take another look at the case."

He later said, "We'll go wherever the investigation is going to take us," adding that the two investigators assigned to the reopened case would be talking to Dennis Davern, captain of Wood's and Wagner's 60-foot yacht, Splendour.

Davern said on national TV Friday morning that he lied to investigators 30 years ago about some details of the case. The anniversary of Wood's death is Nov. 29.

Davern said in the TV interview and in a 2009 book he co-wrote that there was a heated argument between Wood and Wagner that night.

Authorities at the time said that on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 28, the boat had anchored off Catalina and Wood, Wagner and Walken had dinner at Doug's Harbor Reef restaurant. Later, they returned to the yacht and had drinks.

Wagner and Walken told officials they had an argument. Wagner said in a 2008 interview with The Times that the argument concerned how much of one's personal life should be sacrificed in pursuit of one's career and art.

FULL COVERAGE: Natalie Wood investigation reopened

They eventually calmed down and said goodnight, Wagner said, but when he went to bed, Wood wasn't there. Wagner thought that his wife had taken a small inflatable boat by herself, as she had done before, his spokesman said after the incident.

After 10 to 15 minutes passed without her returning, Wagner went to look for her aboard a small cruiser, the spokesman said. When he couldn't find her, he contacted the harbor patrol. Authorities discovered Wood's body about 8 a.m. Sunday, about a mile away from the yacht. The dinghy was found beached nearby.

Wagner on Thursday released a statement expressing support for a new investigation.

The actor "trusts they will evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid, and that it comes from a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30-year anniversary of her tragic death," his spokesman, Alan Nierob, said in the statement.

RELATED:

Robert Wagner supports inquiry into Natalie Wood's death

Yacht captain blames Robert Wagner for Natalie Wood's death

Natalie Wood investigation prompted by boat captain's comments

-- Richard Winton in Los Angeles and Sam Allen in Monterey Park

Photo: The yacht from which Natalie Wood apparently fell to her death in 1981. Credit: Associated Press

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