Nearly two months after they began a controversial new investigation into Natalie Wood’s death while sailing off Santa Catalina Island in 1981, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detectives have found no evidence to suggest that the cause was anything but accidental.
Although the case has not been closed, a top Sheriff’s Department official said it’s highly unlikely any new ground will be broken on how the actress died.
“At this point, it is an accidental death,” said William McSweeney, the sheriff’s chief of detectives. “Nothing has been discovered to suggest changing that at this time.”
Since reopening the 30-year-old case in November, detectives have conducted numerous interviews and reviewed the entire original case file, McSweeney said. Detectives also traveled to Hawaii to inspect the boat where Wood was last seen alive.
McSweeney said detectives are still looking at some aspects of the case, making sure smaller questions not answered in the original investigation are addressed.
The Sheriff’s Department typically doesn’t officially close cold cases when there is no arrest. But McSweeney said the case will be set aside once detectives finish their work.
The Sheriff’s Department surprised many by reopening the case on Wood’s death, saying at the time that several sources had come forward to provide more information about what happened.
On Thanksgiving weekend 1981, Wood, 43, was off Catalina Island on a yacht she owned with husband Robert Wagner when she somehow went into the water and died. Actor Christopher Walken, then her costar in the film “Brainstorm,” also was aboard.
Officials at the time ruled her death an accident, but there has since been much speculation about whether there was more to the story.
Authorities at the time said that on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 28, the boat had anchored off Catalina Island and that Wood, Wagner and Walken had dinner at Doug’s Harbor Reef restaurant. Later, they returned to the yacht and had drinks.
Wagner and Walken told officials they had an argument. They eventually calmed down and said good night, Wagner said, but when he went to bed, Wood wasn’t there. Wagner thought that his wife had taken a small inflatable boat by herself, as she had done before, his spokesman said after the incident.
After 10 to 15 minutes passed without her returning, Wagner went to look for her aboard a small cruiser, the spokesman said. When he couldn’t find her, he contacted the Harbor Patrol. Authorities discovered Wood’s body about 8 a.m. Sunday, about a mile away from the yacht. The dinghy was found beached nearby.
Some have questioned the timing of the new probe. It occurred near the 30th anniversary of Wood’s death after sheriff’s investigators learned of a “48 Hours Mystery” segment on the case, produced in partnership with Vanity Fair magazine, scheduled for late November.
After the new investigation began, the captain of the boat, Dennis Davern, went on several television shows expressing skepticism about the original investigation and saying he believed that Wood might have met with foul play.
Detectives have not said who they interviewed over the last few weeks.