Entertainment

Coroner Releases New Report On 1981 Death Of Actress Natalie Wood

Wood's Death Remains One Of Hollywood's Most Enduring Mysteries
Robert Wagner Natalie Wood in 1976 (credit AFP/Getty Images)

Robert Wagner Natalie Wood in 1976 (credit AFP/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (CBSNewYork/AP) – A stunning twist has emerged in the death of actress Natalie Wood more than 30 years ago.

As CBS 2’s Chris Wragge reported, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office released a new statement amended Wood’s death certificate based on unanswered questions about bruises on her upper body, but were lacking several pieces of evidence and could only determine that she drowned under undetermined circumstances.

Still, the review of the 1981 coroner’s report raised questions about every major finding that led investigators originally to report Wood’s death as an accident. In the latest bombshell report, a 10-page addendum concluded that the bruising on the actress’ body were more consistent with injuries from an assault.

Web Extra: Read The Complete Coroner’s Report (pdf)

“The location of the bruises, the multiplicity of the bruises, lack of head trauma, or facial bruising support bruising having occurred prior to entry in the water, Since there are 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,” said Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran.

Wood died on Nov. 28, 1981. Her husband, actor Robert Wagner, said she fell off their yacht – the 60-foot “Splendour” – possibly while trying to retie a dinghy that had been banging against the side of the boat and disturbing her sleep.

Wood’s body was found hours later in the waters off Catalina Island.

Her death was later ruled an accidental drowning. But in late 2011, Los Angeles sheriff’s detectives reopened the case after the skipper of the boat, Dennis Davern, co-authored a book in which he gave a very different account of what happened that night.

“I believe Robert Wagner was with her right up until she was in the water,” Davern said.

Davern said there was arguing on the yacht that Thanksgiving weekend – a fight between Wagner and fellow actor Christopher Walken – in which a bottle was thrown. Key to Davern’s account was that after Wood went to bed, a loud argument and the sounds of an apparent struggle could be heard from her cabin.

Several of the original coroner’s investigators who worked on the case were re-interviewed, and attempted to test some items taken during the investigation into Wood’s death and an autopsy, but could not be located.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the agency has known about the findings in the newly released autopsy report for several months and it does not change the status of the investigation, which remains open. He said Wagner is not considered a suspect in Wood’s death.

Wood was nominated for three Academy Awards during her lifetime. Her death stunned the world and has remained one of Hollywood’s most enduring mysteries. The original detective on the case, Wagner, Walken have all said they considered her death an accident.

Do you think Wood was a victim of foul play, or do you think her death was accidental? Sound off below.

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