Natalie Wood: Rescuer didn't see bruises on actress' body
The boat captain who helped pull Natalie Wood's body from the Pacific Ocean in 1981 said he didn't see any of the bruises outlined in a coroner's report but said the chilly water could have been the reason.
Roger Smith, 68, told The Times from his home in Oakhurst that he and a sheriff's deputy initially inspected the actress' body at a hyperbaric chamber on Catalina Island.
“We went over her very closely,” Smith said. “When we looked at her, we didn’t see any bruises. We were looking for needle marks or anything like that — we didn’t see anything.”
But, Smith said, the cold water might have delayed the bruising, explaining why he didn't see it.
A supplemental coroner's report, released Monday, revealed that Wood had several fresh bruises and scratches on her arm, wrist and neck that probably occurred before she ended up in the Pacific Ocean and drowned Nov. 29, 1981. Original investigators attributed the bruises to a fall into the water and attempt to climb back into the boat.
Wood, 43, was on a boat moored off Catalina Island on Thanksgiving weekend in 1981 with husband Robert Wagner, Christopher Walken and the captain the night she died. Investigators at the time theorized that she slipped into the water while trying to get into a dinghy and drowned. Officials ruled her death an accident, but there has since been much speculation about whether there was more to the story.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reopened the case in November 2011, and the coroner later changed the cause of death from accidental to drowning and other undetermined factors.
The 1981 autopsy noted fresh bruising on the right forearm and bleeding on sections of the skin on the right knee and right ankle “consistent with fresh bruise of superficial nature.” In contrast, the 2012 examination noted “bruises especially in the upper extremities appeared fresh and could have occurred before she entered the water.”
The right forearm “showed a 4 inch x 1 inch diffuse bruising on the lateral aspect and a few bruises on the back of the hand.” The supplemental report noted a “superficial fresh bruise” to the left wrist; multiple “small ½ inch to 1 inch fresh bruises to the right upper leg in the area and right ankle; and small scratch on the next; superficial abrasion in the left forehead."
The 2012 report also noted “recent bruises to the back of the left thigh and knee but there were fresh bruises and scratches to the right posterior leg.”The report also noted that investigators had been unable to reexamine the dinghy and thus, reports of "scratches on the starboard side of the dinghy could not be evaluated further." Nail clippings were not gathered during the original autopsy, the 2012 report said.
Smith said he had looked at the dinghy after Wood died. He said the boat was in disarray: The seats, which were attachable by Velcro, were dislodged, and “it looked like there were nail marks along the inside of the raft,” Smith said.
“It looked like someone was trying to reach over,” Smith said on Monday. “She probably couldn’t pull herself in because she was so weak. It looked like she was maybe grabbing things. I just think she was trying to get in."
— Kate Mather, Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton
Photo: Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood at the premiere of "The Godfather" on Aug. 9, 1972, in London. Credit: Tom Wargacki / WireImage