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After 30 Years Media Prompts Reopening of Natalie Wood Case

James Hirsen By Monday, 21 November 2011 11:56 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

Thirty years after the mysterious death of Natalie Wood a homicide investigation has been opened up to delve into the circumstances surrounding her drowning.

Best known for her roles in "West Side Story," “Rebel Without a Cause," and “Miracle on 34th Street,” Wood married Robert Wagner twice, first in 1957 (divorcing six years later) and again in 1972.

The nighttime fatality of the 43-year old Oscar nominated actress in the chilly waters off the coast of Southern California took place on November 29, 1981, and was ruled at the time an accident.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore originally said the renewed investigation was initiated as a result of recent unspecified information about Wood's case.

However, as news reports circulated that the Wood case was going to be reopened, the key catalyst for the determination may have been media derived.

Law enforcement’s decision to reinvestigate the matter came at the same time CBS had completed a “48 Hours” program that dealt with Wood's death. The show was originally scheduled to air on November 26, but after the story went viral the network moved the air date up to last Saturday.

A 10-year-old article in Vanity Fair is the foundation for the "48 Hours" program. The magazine released a special edition on the investigation and connected it with the CBS program.

“Increasing news media attention likely is what caused more than one person to recently come forward with several pieces of new information,” Lt. John Corina told TheWrap.

Yacht captain Dennis Davern appeared on NBC's "Today" show saying that he had previously lied to authorities about Wood's drowning and now blames her husband at the time, Wagner, for her death.

When “Today” show host David Gregory posed the question to Davern, "Was the fight between Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner what ultimately led to her death?" Davern simply answered, "Yes."

Davern expressed his belief that Wagner intentionally kept the investigation into Wood's demise low profile and had failed to do everything that he could have done.

During Saturday's airing of “48 Hours,” Duane Rasure, the lead detective of Wood's original 1981 downing investigation, contradicted Davern and said if he had "had the evidence" that Wagner killed his wife, he would have "arrested" Wagner "personally."

The now-retired detective added that during his investigation he "never really got suspicious of a murder."

"It was an accidental drowning, she just happened to be a famous movie star. She was a small lady. She drowned in short time, I'd say," Rasure said.

According to Rasure, Davern is not telling the truth. "Obviously he was trying to sell a book and make money off of it. And I think that's the whole purpose behind his — his writing this book," Rasure said.

The yacht captain collaborated on a book on the subject of Wood's death titled, "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour," which was released a couple of years ago.

Wagner's rep, Alan Nierob, released a statement focusing on Davern’s possible motivation.

"Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the L.A. County Sheriff's department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the L.A. 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," the statement read.

Rasure also denied any kind of coverup or special celebrity treatment.

"I did not cover for anybody and I wouldn't cover for anybody. I don't care about their celebrity status. They were people," he said.

Natalie Wood's sister, Lana, told TMZ that she also believes Wagner withheld information from authorities after the actress’s death, although she had made earlier statements that Wagner had nothing to do with her sister's demise.

Prior to her death, Wood had reportedly spent several hours imbibing alcohol on Catalina Island and then on the yacht. Along with her on the boat were Wagner, actor Christopher Walken, and Davern. Walken co-starred with Wood in “Brainstorm,” her final movie role.

Although officials ruled her death to be an accidental drowning, which may have been caused by her slipping off the boat while attempting to secure a dinghy, Wood's sister Lana told TMZ that the actress was very afraid of water.

There may be other witnesses that the police are talking to including Marilyn Wayne, who had a boat moored nearby on the night of Wood’s death. Wayne has been the subject of reports that she heard the cries of a woman screaming about drowning, which were followed by the voice of a man shouting that help was coming.

Unless compelling new evidence surfaces that was unavailable to investigators at the time, the likely result of this new inquiry will be increased ratings for a news magazine and brisk book sales.

As to what really happened to the actress, Rasure, the original detective, said, "The only person who really knows is Natalie Wood. Robert Wagner knows. I think he told me the truth.”

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Thirty years after the mysterious death of Natalie Wood a homicide investigation has been opened up to delve into the circumstances surrounding her drowning. Best known for her roles in West Side Story, Rebel Without a Cause, and Miracle on 34th Street, Wood married...
Monday, 21 November 2011 11:56 AM
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