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

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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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