LOS ANGELES (AP) – New witnesses emerged in the 1981 drowning of actress Natalie Wood, which has prompted investigators to deem it a “suspicious death” and to name her former husband, 87-year-old actor Robert Wagner, as a “person of interest” in the case, Los Angeles sheriff’s officials said Thursday.
For nearly four decades, mystery and speculation have swirled around the death of the actress who had been nominated for three Academy Awards and appeared in “West Side Story” and “Rebel Without a Cause.”
She was on a yacht with Wagner, actor Christopher Walken and the boat captain on Thanksgiving weekend of 1981. After a night of drinking, her body was found floating in the water off California’s Catalina Island. She was 43.
Investigators initially ruled it an accident but reopened the case in 2011 to see whether Wagner or anyone else played a role after the boat’s captain said he heard the couple arguing the night of her disappearance. The coroner’s office amended Wood’s death certificate the next year to include “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
In a statement Thursday evening, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said that new witnesses interviewed since the case was reopened have given statements that “portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night.”
The sheriff’s department said Wagner is considered a person of interest in the case.
One of the witnesses described hearing yelling and crashing sounds coming from the couple’s stateroom, she said. Shortly after that, separate witnesses heard a man and woman arguing on the back of the boat and believe the voices were those of Wood and Wagner, Nishida said in the statement.
The statements differed from the original version of events that were provided by witnesses, including those who were on the boat, officials said.
“Do we have enough to make an arrest at this moment? No,” the statement said.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Corina, who identified Wagner as a “person of interest,” told CBS News in an interview that aired Thursday that he doesn’t believe Wagner has told the whole story about what happened during the boat trip.
Investigators have said Wagner has not been interviewed since the probe was reopened. They said in 2013 that they had tried at least 10 times to interview him but he refused. Wagner has denied any involvement in his wife’s death and no charges have been filed. His publicist, Alan Nierob, declined to comment Thursday.
Conflicting versions of what happened on the yacht have contributed to the mystery of her death. Wood, Wagner and Walken had all been drinking heavily in the hours before the actress disappeared.
Wagner wrote in a 2008 memoir that he and Walken argued that night. He wrote that Walken went to bed and he stayed up for a while, but when he went to bed, he noticed that his wife and a dinghy that had been attached to the yacht were missing.