New Natalie Wood death report raises questions about 1981 investigation

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Michael Baden, a former New York medical examiner who has testified in numerous high-profile trials, said the findings in an amended coroner’s report released Monday raise questions about the initial investigation of actress Natalie Wood’s death.

The medical examiner in 1981 had access to essentially the same evidence as today’s investigators to make their findings, Baden said, but they reached conclusions about the nature of the injuries.


PHOTOS: Natalie Wood | 1938-1981

'[Coroner Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran] knows in saying this, he is criticizing Dr. [Thomas] Noguchi and the office back in 1981. And he doesn’t like to criticize other people, I can tell you,’ Baden said.

The coroner’s review found that the actress had several fresh bruises and scratches on her arm, wrist and neck that likely occurred before she landed in the Pacific Ocean and drowned on Nov. 29, 1981. Original investigators attributed the bruises to a fall into the water and attempt to climb back into the boat.

Changing the cause of death from accidental drowning to undetermined opens up several possibilities, Baden said.

DOCUMENT: Read the full report

‘What is now left is accident or homicide,’ Baden said.

Without more new information, it may be impossible to resolve what happened, Baden said.

One law enforcement source told The Times that detectives have been reexamining the case for more than a year and have gathered new evidence. But the evidence still leaves the death as ‘undetermined,’ said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.

‘This remains an ongoing investigation,’ said Steve Whitmore, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s spokesman. ‘Yes, this is a revelation to the public, but this report was written in June 2012.


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-- Richard Winton