New Natalie Wood death probe said to be inconclusive
Detectives who have spent the last eight months reinvestigating the 1981 death of Natalie Wood said they don't believe there is enough evidence to classify it as an accident but have not determined it was a homicide, law enforcement sources told The Times.
The sources said the detectives were continuing to investigate but believe the case should be classified as "inconclusive" until more evidence is gathered. The original 1981 investigation classified Wood's death as an accident.
Despite the high-profile probe, the sources stressed the case was not considered a homicide and there were no suspects at this time. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was open.
Chief coroner Craig Harvey said in a statement that a security hold had been placed on the Wood case file in response to a request from the sheriff's department.
"It is an open investigation and we are cooperating fully with the sheriff's department," Harvey said. "This department is making no comments at this time."
The department surprised many by reopening the case last year, two weeks before the 30th anniversary of Wood's death. Some questioned the timing of the new probe — it coincided with a "48 Hours Mystery" television segment about the case, produced in partnership with Vanity Fair magazine. But officials said several sources had come forward to provide more information about what happened that night.
Wood, 43, was on a yacht off Catalina Island on the evening of Nov. 28, 1981 with her husband, actor Robert Wagner, and "Brainstorm" costar Christopher Walken when she somehow got into the water and died.
Wagner and Walken told officials they had an argument that evening but eventually calmed down. When Wagner went to bed, Wood wasn't there. He thought his wife had taken off on a small inflatable boat by herself, as she had done before, his spokesman later said.
But 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. the next day, about a mile from the yacht. The dinghy was found beached nearby.
Officials at the time ruled her death an accident, but there has been much speculation ever since over whether there was more to the story. After the new investigation began, the captain of the boat, Dennis Davern, gave several television interviews expressing skepticism about the original investigation and saying he believed that Wood was a victim of foul play.
But two months after reopening the case, a top sheriff's official told The Times it was highly unlikely any new light would be shed on how the actress died.
"At this point, it is an accidental death," said William McSweeney, the sheriff's chief of detectives. "Nothing has been discovered to suggest changing that at this time."
At the time, McSweeney said detectives had conducted several interviews and reviewed the entire original file. They had also traveled to Hawaii to inspect the yacht Wood and the others were aboard.
— Richard Winton (twitter.com/lacrimes)