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Natalie Wood death certificate changed, but questions remain

August 22, 2012 |  8:29 am

PHOTOS: Natalie Wood investigation

Los Angeles County coroner's officials have amended the death certificate of actress Natalie Wood, but the case remains open and the revisions shed little light on how she died in 1981, sources said.

Her death certificate has been amended to reflect unanswered questions about her death at Catalina Island. It changed the description of her death from an accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors."

Sheriff's Chief of Detectives William McSweeney said the case remains open, but there are "active and passive" periods in an investigation. He declined to release further details.

PHOTOS: Natalie Wood investigation

Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said that a security hold remains on the Wood case, per a previous request from the sheriff's department.

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 on 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.

PHOTOS: Natalie Wood | 1938-1981

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 away 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 McSweeney. "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 case file. They had also traveled to Hawaii to inspect the yacht Wood and the others were aboard.

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-- Richard Winton

Photo: Natalie Wood, photographed in 1969, died in 1981 at age 43. Credit: Los Angeles Times
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