How The Times covered Natalie Wood’s mysterious death in 1981

FILE - A Dec. 1, 1981 file photo shows actress Natalie Wood. A new report Monday Jan. 14, 2013, sho
Actress Natalie Wood in 1981.
(Associated Press)

The mystery surrounding the 1981 death of actress Natalie Wood has long troubled law enforcement officials while fascinating the public.

Although her fatal drowning alongside a yacht near Santa Catalina was initially ruled accidental, spec­u­la­tion about what may have happened leading up to her death has run rampant ever since.

In Novem­ber 2011, the Los Angeles County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment re­opened the case, but no charges were filed. This week, the mystery has deepened as John Corina, one of the investigators when the case was reopened in 2011, made public statements referring to Wood’s husband, actor Robert Wagner, who was aboard the boat at the time of her death.


“He is a person of interest, because he was the last one with Natalie Wood. And somehow she ends up in the water and drowns,” said Corina, a lieutenant in the sheriff’s homicide bureau.

On Nov. 29, 1981, The Times re­por­ted that the body of Nat­alie Wood, 43, had been found float­ing in the ocean off Santa Catalina, where she had gone for a hol­i­day week­end with her hus­band, Robert Wag­n­er.

On Dec. 1, 1981, The Times reported that coroner Thomas T. Noguchi stated that Wood’s death was an accident, saying that she slipped and drowned while attempting to gain access to an inflatable boat in order to leave the yacht where Wagner was reportedly arguing with Wood’s “Brainstorm” costar Christopher Walken. More details emerged as well, including that Wood had earlier claimed she was afraid of water, and that Wagner had said she was not a strong swimmer.


On Dec. 2, 1981, The Times re­por­ted that an LAPD hom­icide de­tect­ive was dis­put­ing the cor­on­er’s ac­count that Wag­n­er and Walken had ar­gued heatedly shortly be­fore Wood’s death.

On Dec. 3, 1981, The Times re­por­ted that a wo­man on a nearby boat told au­thor­it­ies she heard cries for help on the even­ing Nat­alie Wood died.

On Dec. 4, 1981, The Times re­por­ted that Nat­alie Wood had two com­mon med­ic­a­tions and caf­feine in her sys­tem at the time of her death, in ad­di­tion to a blood al­co­hol level of .14.

A Los Angeles County Cor­on­er’s re­port on the death of Nat­alie Wood re­leased in January of 2011 ques­tions the ori­gin­al 1981 find­ings that led in­vest­ig­at­ors to con­clude that the act­ress died ac­ci­dent­ally.


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