Natalie Wood: a tragic end that continues to haunt Hollywood 40 years later

The disappearance of the great actress Natalie Wood, who drowned on November 29, 1981, just 40 years ago, continues to haunt Hollywood. Especially since the case surrounding his suspicious death was reopened in 2018 …

Natalie wood: a tragic end that continues to haunt hollywood 40 years later

Natalie Wood: accidental drowning … or murder? Forty years just after the tragedy, the affair surrounding the disappearance of the unforgettable actress continues to haunt Hollywood.

Aged 43 at the time of the drama, Natalie Wood was then considered one of the most gifted actresses of her generation. She had to her credit absolute masterpieces like The Fury of Living, The Fever in the Blood, West Side Story, The Prisoner of the Desert, Daisy Clover … Her relationship with Robert Wagner, her husband, was stormy. Married then divorced with him in 1957, she remarried with him in 1972.

Below, the announcement of his death on the news on November 29, 1981, on an American TV channel …

The case and the theories

In the early morning hours of November 28, 1981, the body of Natalie Wood was recovered, floating in the bay of Santa Catalina Island. The night before the discovery of her body, she had spent the evening in the company of Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken on board a Yacht. The official version (deposition) is that while Christopher Walken and Robert Wagner had a somewhat heated discussion, Natalie Wood went to bed in her cabin. When Wagner came by to say goodnight to her, she was not there.

The actress is found drowned two kilometers from the boat, in a nightgown and socks. Officially, her death is then considered an accidental drowning, despite the presence of more than twenty bruises all over the actress’s body, especially on her arms, as well as a trace of abrasion on her left cheek, found during his autopsy. Some accounts actually reported that a heated argument broke out between Wagner and Wood, presumably over Wagner finding the actress a little too close to her friend …

Some witnesses also reportedly heard screams for Wood’s help while she was in the water. Wagner and Walken claim the opposite. Wagner even claimed that she sought to leave the boat on her own, which is quite unlikely (but not impossible), as it is well known that Natalie Wood had a notorious fear of water.

In 2010, the ship’s captain, Dennis Davern, wrote a book in which he held Robert Wagner responsible for the actress’ death; the latter having knowingly delayed raising the alarm.

Cause of death? “Not determined” …

Following the allegations of the ex-captain, and also because the latter confirmed having lied during his deposition in 1981, the Los Angeles sheriff’s office declared to reopen the investigation on November 16, 2011. On July 11, 2012, the cause of Natalie Wood’s death goes from “accidental” To “not determined”, which once again relaunches the investigation.

Natalie Wood’s sister, Lana, remains convinced that Robert Wagner knowingly let Natalie drown. “My sister was not a swimmer and she could not swim, she would never have gone to another boat or to the coast wearing a nightgown and socks” Lana Wood told CNN in 2010.

Natalie wood: a tragic end that continues to haunt hollywood 40 years later

The former captain of the boat, during his confession in 2010.

On January 15, 2013, Natalie Wood’s cause of death was reclassified as “drowning and other undetermined factors”, due to the presence of bruises on the right forearm, left wrist and neck. These injuries are said to have been made before the body entered the water. These findings reignite speculation about the argument Natalie Wood allegedly had with her husband before she disappeared. However, the LAPD said neither Walken nor Wagner were considered suspects.

The coup de theater

Five years later, another twist. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office investigators declared at the end of January 2018 that Robert Wagner, 87 years old at the time, was now a “person of interest”; a legal status which can precede a formal designation as a suspect.

“We have been investigating for the past six years, and I think he is now considered more of the prime suspect.” said Lieutenant John Corina of the Sheriff’s Office. And to add: “We now know that he was the last person to have seen Natalie Wood alive before she disappeared”.

Unlike Christopher Walken, Robert Wagner refused to speak to investigators, which did not clearly argue in his favor: “The details of his account do not match the versions of the other witnesses interviewed; I think he is constantly changing the story, always a little more.[…] Robert Wagner knows more than he says, because he’s the last person to see Natalie Wood alive “.

Natalie wood: a tragic end that continues to haunt hollywood 40 years later
ANGELI-RINDOFF / BESTIMAGE

Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976.

Ralph Hernandez, a detective investigating the case and quoted on the show 48 Hours devoted to the subject and broadcast on CBS in 2018, blurted out: “We weren’t able to prove it was homicide. And we weren’t able to prove it was an accident as well. The ultimate problem is that we don’t know how it happened. is found in the water “.

39 years after the drama, Robert Wagner finally speaks in front of the camera for the first time. In the great documentary Natalie Wood: her legacy, broadcast in early May 2020 on HBO, he says: “I don’t think there ever was a day when I didn’t think of her” (the sequence is visible here). But it will take more to convince Lana Wood, the star’s sister, of her innocence …

Elements of the investigation not disclosed?

The latest twist dates back to January 2021. Samuel A. Perroni, former federal prosecutor for Arkansas, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). Preparing a book around the case, the latter claimed that there was a cover-up of the circumstances of the actress’ death.

With his lawsuit, the latter sought to obtain confidential files from the sheriff on the case, specifying in his request that the latter’s office had obstructed his request. In October 2020, Perroni had already requested information on the department’s investigation through the California Public Records Act for his book entitled Brainstorm. According to its website, the book seeks to expose “the grounds for corruption which influenced the outcome of the initial investigation” on Wood’s death.

A new paving stone in the pond, therefore, in a tragic story that is still far from over. Robert Wagner, meanwhile, is quietly spinning towards his 92 years, which he will celebrate next February …

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