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Detectives Reopen Case In 1981 Death Of Actress Natalie Wood

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Picture dated from 1955 of actress Natalie Wood (1938-1981.(Photo credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Picture dated from 1955 of actress Natalie Wood (1938-1981.(Photo credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – She starred in such New York classics as “Miracle On 34th Street” and “West Side Story” and now police have reopened the case of the death of screen legend Natalie Wood.

Homicide detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reopened the case after a key player that night, the boat captain, now says he blames Woods’ husband Robert Wagner for her death, CBS 2’s Dana Tyler reports.

The actress drowned off the southern California coast 30 years ago this month.

On Nov. 29, 1981, Wood and her husband invited actor Christopher Walken to join them for Thanksgiving weekend on their yacht. The official story is that Wood was drinking heavily and somehow fell into the water and disappeared.

Six hours after a call went out from the boat, the actress’ body was found floating in the Pacific.

The coroner’s autopsy indicated she died by accident

But now, an investigation by CBS’ “48 Hours Mystery” and Vanity Fair magazine has uncovered new evidence from speaking with boat captain Dennis Davern who said he’s been haunted by what happened that night.

Wood had a fear of dark water and Davern challenges the account that Wood was trying to secure the boat’s dinghy.

“That story is 100 percent false,” he said. “Natalie would never in a million years take the dinghy out. She should have gotten me.”

In the Vanity Fair story, Davern is quoted as saying that Wood and Wagner fought in their cabin before the actress disappeared.

Vanity Fair reporter Sam Kashner says he first spoke with Davern 11 years ago.

“His conscience was bothering him,” said Kashner “He felt he was there to serve and protect Natalie Wood, he was the captain of the boat. He felt compelled to tell was the true account of what happened that weekend.”

Kashner says Davern’s story has changed over the years and he’s even sold it.

“Some people question his motives others believe he holds a dangerous truth,” he said.

Dennis Davern hasn’t said specifically why he now blames Wagner for Wood’s death.

Wood, a three-time Oscar nominee famous for roles in “West Side Story,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and other Hollywood hits, was 43 when she died. She and Wagner, star of the TV series “Hart to Hart,” were twice married, first in 1957 before divorcing six years later. They remarried in 1972.

51952620 Detectives Reopen Case In 1981 Death Of Actress Natalie Wood

Actress Natalie Wood (1938-1981), her children Natasha (C), Courtney (R), and her husband actor Robert Wagner on July 4, 1976. (Photo credit: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Wagner wrote in a 2008 autobiography that he blamed himself for his wife’s death.

He recounted the night of Wood’s disappearance, during which the couple and Walken drank at a restaurant on Catalina Island and on the boat. Wood went to the master cabin during an argument between her husband and Walken. The last time Wagner saw his wife, she was fixing her hair at a bathroom vanity and she shut the door.

“Did I blame myself? If I had been there, I could have done something,” he wrote. “But I wasn’t there. I didn’t see her.”

Wagner wrote that despite various theories about what led Wood to the water, which she feared, it was impossible to know what exactly happened.

CBS Los Angeles reported that Wagner issued a statement Thursday on behalf of his family.

“Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the LA County Sheriff’s department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the LA 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.”

What do you think about the case being reopened? Sound off below in our comments section…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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