Crime & Justice

Natalie Wood case reopened after boat captain's comments

American actress Natalie Wood poses in a Yves Saint Laurent costume, 19 September 1964 in Paris.
American actress Natalie Wood poses in a Yves Saint Laurent costume, 19 September 1964 in Paris.
AFP/Getty Images

The L.A. Sheriff's Department announced Thursday evening it is reopening the investigation into the 1981 death of actress Natalie Wood, in part because of new comments made by the captain of the boat Wood was on shortly before she drowned under mysterious circumstances.

From the release:

"Natalie Wood Wagner drowned while boating off the Isthmus of Catalina Island. At the time, the drowning was investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. The drowning was ruled an accident.

Recently Sheriff’s Homicide Investigators were contacted by persons who stated they had additional information about the Natalie Wood Wagner drowning. Due to the additional information, Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau has decided to take another look at the case."

Here's the L.A. Times with a brief review of the circumstances surrounding her death.

In 1981, [Wood's husband] Robert Wagner and Wood had invited Christopher Walken to be their guest that Thanksgiving weekend on Catalina aboard their boat the Splendour. On the evening of Nov. 29, they had dinner and drinks at Doug's Harbor Reef. They returned to the boat and continued to drink until a heated argument erupted between the two men. Wagner told The Times in 2008 that it concerned how much of one's personal life should be sacrificed in pursuit of one's career; he was upset that Walken was advocating that Wood give all to her art, even at the expense of her husband and children.

Wood left to go to the master cabin's bathroom. Wagner says he and Walken eventually calmed down and said good night. When he went to bed, he says, Wood wasn't there. It is believed that the dinghy had gotten loose and Wood came up on deck to tie it up.

But a feeling of lingering mystery about her death has always endured. The 30th anniversary of her death is fast approaching on Nov. 29, and indeed, the Times reported shortly after the sheriff's department sent its release on Thursday that the case is being reopened in part because of statements made by the boat's captain when he was recounting the case for the anniversary:

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca told The Times that homicide detectives want to talk to the captain based on comments he had made recounting the case on its 30th anniversary. Baca did not detail what the captain said regarding the case.

“He made comments worthy of exploring,” Baca said.