Published November 18, 2011
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's office said Friday that they would be reopening the investigation into the death of actress Natalie Wood 30 years ago, but that her husband Robert Wagner was not a suspect.
Lt. John Corina said at a press conference that new information is strong enough to take another look at the case.
"We're going to re-interview some people, talk to some new people, and reevaluate some evidence," he said.
Wood's body was found floating off Santa Catalina Island after the couple were drinking on board a yacht. The death was ruled an accidental drowning.
Lt. Corina said that the death remains classified as an accidental drowning, but that they were open to receiving additional information. Corina said "several" sources have come forward with evidence that was "substantial enough" for the department to reopen the investigation.
Earlier Friday, Davern told NBC TV's "Today" show that he made mistakes by not telling the truth 30 years ago about events leading to her death, and urged Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide investigators to reopen the case.
Davern added that he felt that Wagner was responsible for Wood's death.
"Was the fight between Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner what ultimately led to her death?" morning show host David Gregory asked.
"Yes," Davern replied.
"Like I said, that's going to be up to the investigators to decide," Davern said.
Davern said he believes Wagner intentionally kept the investigation into Wood's death low profile, and didn't do everything he could have done. When Gregory pressed Davern for supporting details, the captain said that was the duty of investigators.
In a wide-ranging interview, Lana Wood, Natalie Wood's sister, told TMZ Friday that Davern called her years ago late one night and "seemed like he had been drinking." Wood said Davern apologized, said that he "didn't tell the truth" to investigators. She said Davern told her the group on the yacht had been drinking, there was an argument, and that he and Wagner had seen Wood in the water, but that Wagner had told him not to retrieve Wood "to teach her a lesson."
Lana Wood said she told Davern to go to the authorities with the information, but he said he couldn't because he was worried he would be implicated. She also said she didn't think Wagner would have ever done anything purposefully to hurt her sister.
Wagner's rep Alan Nierob released a statement on the matter: "Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the LA County Sheriff's department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the LA County Sheriff's Dept. and trust 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."
Davern said later he was not looking for money.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Sheriff Lee Baca as saying recent comments by Davern, who was interviewed for a book project and whose comments from a 2000 article by Vanity Fair, are being featured in a new print edition and a "48 Hours Mystery" episode that focus on Hollywood scandals.
In Vanity Fair, Davern is quoted as saying that Wood and Wagner fought in their cabin before the actress went missing. Coroner's officials ruled her death an accidental drowning, perhaps caused by her slipping off the boat while trying to tie down a dinghy.
But Wood's sister Lana told TMZ the actress was deathly afraid of water.
Coroner's officials said that Wood was "possibly attempting to board the dinghy and had fallen into the water, striking her face."
It is not the first time Davern has contradicted statements he and others made to investigators after Woods' death, and the magazine notes that he has told his story through tabloids and has been shopping for a book deal for years.
Sheriff's officials are also hoping for tips from the public that may shed new light on how Wood ended up drowning. Lt. Corina said at Friday's press conference that the added exposure had led to several people calling with information that they would be following up.
Wood, a three-time Oscar nominee famous for roles in "West Side Story," `'Rebel Without a Cause" and other Hollywood hits, was 43 when she died. She and Wagner, star of the TV series "Hart to Hart," were twice married, first in 1957 before divorcing six years later. They remarried in 1972.
Wagner wrote in a 2008 autobiography that he blamed himself for his wife's death.
He recounted the night of Wood's disappearance, during which the couple and Walken drank at a restaurant and on the boat. Wood went to the master cabin during an argument between her husband and Walken. The last time Wagner saw his wife, she was fixing her hair in a bathroom mirror and she shut the door.
Wagner wrote that despite various theories about what led Wood to the water, which she feared, it was impossible to know what exactly happened.
"Nobody knows," he wrote. "There are only two possibilities; either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened."
Later in the book, Wagner wrote, "Did I blame myself? If I had been there, I could have done something. But I wasn't there. I didn't see her."
He wrote that he has never returned to Catalina Island.
Walken and Wood were co-stars in "Brainstorm," which was the actress' final big screen role.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.