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REPORT: Assault suggested in Natalie Wood reopened death investigation

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A Los Angeles County Cor­on­er’s document was released Monday related to the unkillable death investigation of actress Nat­alie Wood.

The new coroner's supplement ques­tions ori­gin­al forensic find­ings in the drowning case, and suggests the 43-year-old actress — found floating face down in the ocean off Catalina Island on Nov. 29, 1981 — could have been assaulted before entering the water.

DOCUMENT: Read the full report below

Wood's body was discovered at the time several hundred yards from the yacht "Splendour" where she had been spending Thanksgiving holiday with her husband, actor Robert Wagner, and actor Christopher Walken.

The newly released report notes injuries on the actress' arm, wrist and neck, initially attributed to Wood attempting to climb into an inflatable dinghy, could have occurred before she entered the water.

The L.A. Times notes that "the "new findings — which Sheriff's Department sources said they have known about for some time — stop short of classifying her death as a homicide."

According to a section of the supplement titled, Discussion and opinion by the current Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner:

  • "There are conflicting statements as to when the decedent went missing from the boat and whether there were verbal  arguments between the decedent and her husband.''
  • "With the presence of fresh bruises in the upper extremities of the right forearm/left wrist area and a small scratch in the anterior neck, this Examiner is unable to exclude non-accidental mechanism causing these injuries.''
  • "This Medical Examiner is unable to exclude non-volitional, unplanned entry into the water.''
  • "Since there are many unanswered questions and limited additional evidence available for evaluation, it is opined by this Medical Examiner that the manner of death should be left as undetermined.''


In 2011, shortly before the 30th anniversary of the three-time Oscar nominee's death, Sheriff's investigators  renewed the death investigation.

The reopening also coincided with the release of the yacht captain's book which suggested foul play, claimed drugs and alcohol were used by the actors on board, and detailed a heated, extended arguement between Wood and Wagner on the night she disappeared.


During the reevaluation, Los Angeles County Coroner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran met with former coroner, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who originally conducted Wood's autopsy in 1981.

In March 2012, Sathyavagiswaran met with detectives to discuss the bruising, lack of evidence of head trauma and other factors. Those findings were formalized in the new report.


In July 2012, the nature of Natalie Wood's demise was reclassified from "accidental" to "undetermined"  and officially amended on the actress' death certificate.

Changes to the death certificate reflected 30-year-old questions surrounding Wood's drowning, including how the actress got into the water. That detail has yet to be clearly established.


Los Angeles County Coroner's report (Updated), via L.A. Times.


With contributions from KPCC Wire Services

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