In this true-life mystery, famed actress Natalie Wood was found dead in 1981 by police, washed ashore Santa Catalina Island in Southern California. She was only wearing socks, a nightgown, and a red parka. A motorised dinghy was floating nearby.
Her death seemed to suggest foul play from the get-go: her body was covered in bruises, she was last seen aboard the yacht Splendour with her husband, actor Robert Wagner, guest Christopher Walken (yes, that Walken), and the yacht's captain, Dennis Davern. Wagner and Wood were overheard arguing that night by Davern. Wood was also reportedly terrified of the water; it seems unlikely that she decided to go out onto the water at night aboard the dinghy. Police could not initially determine how Wood ended up overboard; her cause of death was listed as "accidental drowning," though the medical examiner has since changed it to "undetermined."
The mystery of her death has been the subject of speculation for years. Now, her death is receiving renewed attention from law enforcement, after they announced that new witnesses also heard Wood and Wagner arguing, along with a crashing sound, police said on CBS's 48 Hours. Wagner is now a "person of interest" to the Los Angeles Sheriff Department's Homicide unit. The police have recently determined that Wagner was the last person to see Wood alive.
"I believe that Robert Wagner was with her up until the moment she went into the water," said Davern.
Lieutenant John Corina said that new evidence in the case — namely, testimony from the unnamed witnesses and bruises on Wood's body — point to foul play. The location and freshness of the bruises appeared to be the result of a recent assault, rather than from slipping on the boat. "She looked like the victim of an assault," said Corina.
The new witness says that they were close enough to the Splendour to see and hear Wood and Wagner fighting, corroborating Davern's statement to police. "Natalie appeared to be intoxicated," said Carina. Then, things immediately go quiet. "Then, all of a sudden, there was nothing. Complete silence," said Davern.
Davern says that 10 minutes later, he went to go check on Wood and Wagner. He found Wagner in distress, saying that Natalie had disappeared, and instructed Davern to search the boat. Carina believes that with Davern away, Wagner may have used this time to release the dinghy. Wagner also tells everyone to wait before calling authorities, and even brings out a bottle of scotch before reluctantly agreeing to call the Coast Guard.
"The story that Robert Wagner told me didn't make any sense, and it still doesn't make any sense to me," said Carina. "That she would get in the dinghy and take off by herself?"
Still, Carina couches his suspicions of Wagner. "We haven't been able to prove that this was a homicide, but we haven't proved that it's an accident either," he said. Still, the biggest part of Wood's death remains a mystery. "We still don't know how she ended up in the water."
If the police and prosecutors determine that there is enough evidence to charge someone in Wood's murder, they can do so now, even though she died over 35 years ago. There is no statute of limitations on murder.
Walken and Wagner did not speak to CBS for this story. The police did note that Walken spoke to them in private, and that he is not considered a person of interest in the case.