Robert Wagner is a 'person of interest' in Natalie Wood's 'suspicious' 1981 death, investigators say

Actor Robert Wagner, has been named a "person of interest" in the "suspicious" 1981 drowning death of his then-wife, actress Natalie Wood, investigators said Thursday.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators told CBS' "48 Hours” that investigators would like to speak to Wagner about the events of Nov. 29, 1981, when Wood's body was found floating in the water off Santa Catalina Island after a night of drinking.

"As we've investigated the case over the last six years, I think [Wagner's] more of a person of interest now," Lieutenant John Corina of the L.A. County Sheriff's Office said. "I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared."

The Academy Award-winning actress, known for high-profile roles in "West Side Story,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Rebel Without a Cause,”was traveling on her family’s yacht, Splendour, with Wagner, the ship’s captain Dennis Davern and her friend, actor Christopher Walken.

Hours after excepts of Covina's interview were published, Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide detectives confirmed that Wood's drowning was being investigated as a "suspicious death" after new witnesses had come forward. The officials said one of the witnesses described hearing yelling and crashing sounds coming from Wood and Wagner's stateroom. Other witnesses saw a man and woman arguing on the back of the yacht.

A rep for Wagner, now 87, declined to comment Thursday. He has refused to talk to officials about Wood's death since the case was re-opened.

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Natalie Wood was best known for playing Maria in "West Side Story."

The “48 Hours” interview with L.A. investigators is slated to air Saturday in a special titled “Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water.”


Investigators closed the case two weeks following her death, ruling it an accident. However, the sheriff’s office re-opened the case in 2011 and changed Wood's cause of death on her certificate from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”

At the time of her death, Wagner, Walken and Davern told investigators Wood “took off in a dinghy and went ashore.” However, Wood had said previously that she was terrified of the water.

Following their original statements, Wagner and Davern have changed their stories about chain of events that occurred that night.

robert wagner natalie wood ap

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood  (AP)

Rumors and conspiracy theories related to Wood's death have circulated for years and “foul play” has been suspected.

"I haven't seen him (Wagner) tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case," Corina said. "I think he's constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don't add up."

Walken spoke with investigators recently regarding Wood's death.

The autopsy report specified Wood had fresh bruises on her body.

"She looked like a victim of an assault," Ralph Hernandez, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, told “48 Hours.”


When asked if he believed Wood was murdered, Corina said he believed it was suspicious.

"I think it's suspicious enough to make us think that something happened," Corina said.

When asked if he believed Wagner knew more than what he let on about his late wife’s death, Corina said yes.

FILE - In this April 9, 1979 file photo, actress Natalie Wood is shown at the 51st Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Los Angeles sheriff's homicide detectives are taking another look at Wood's 1981 drowning death based on new information, officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. (AP Photo, file)

Natalie Wood married Robert Wagner in 1957.  (AP)

"Well, I think he does because he's the last one to see her," Corina said.

Hernandez reiterated that Wood's death was not proven to be a suicide or an accident, and investigators are trying to decipher how she “ended up in the water.”

Wood and Wagner married in December 1957. The two began dating when she was 18 and he was 26. They divorced in April 1962 and re-married in 1972.

Wagner wrote a memoir in 2008 titled “Pieces of My Heart” and recalled a time when he argued with Walken over his wife’s career, People reported. He claimed in the book he did not know what happened to Wood on the night of her death.

“Nobody knows. 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,” Wagner wrote.

He expressed regret for Wood's death, writing he would have done something.

“Did I blame myself?” he wrote. “If I had been there, I could have done something. But I wasn’t there. I didn’t see her. The door was closed; I thought she was belowdecks. I didn’t hear anything. But ultimately, a man is responsible for his loved one, and she was my loved one.”