Robert Wagner declared ‘person of interest’ in Natalie Wood drowning

Sam Ashurst
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood circa 1970. (Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

When Natalie Wood was discovered drowned near her yacht in November 1981, one of Hollywood’s biggest mysteries started to form – what was the actress doing in a dinghy alone, dressed in nightwear, with the key to the boat’s ignition turned to the off position, and the oars tied down?

Nearly 40 years later, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators have declared actor Robert Wagner, her widower, is a person of interest in the case. “As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” said Lt. John Corina. “I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”

The investigation was reopened six years ago, but Wagner has refused to speak with officials.

At the time of his wife’s death, Wagner said Wood had disappeared without his knowledge, and he’d assumed that she’d gone out in the boat alone (something she frequently did), radioing for help after enough time passed to make him realise she was missing. Complicating matters, Wagner and Wood’s friend Christopher Walken was also on the yacht at the time of the incident.

In his memoir, Pieces of My Heart, Wagner explains how he had been on his boat, the Splendour, with Natalie and Walken, when an argument broke out.

Wagner wrote: ‘Chris [Walken] began talking about his ‘total pursuit of a career’, which he admitted was more important to him than his personal life. He clearly thought Natalie should live like that, too.

‘I got angry. “Why don’t you stay out of her career?” I said. “She’s got enough people telling her what to do without you.”‘

As the argument escalated, Natalie left for bed.

‘The last time I saw my wife she was fixing her hair in the bathroom while I was arguing with Chris,’ he said. ‘I saw her shut the door. She was going to bed.’

He described how he and Walken moved up to the deck as ‘things were threatening to get physical’ and they were calmed by the fresh sea air.

In a statement Thursday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said new witnesses interviewed since the case was reopened gave statements that “portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night.”

One witness described hearing yelling and crashing sounds coming from the couple’s stateroom, she said. Shortly after that, separate witnesses heard a man and woman arguing on the back of the boat and believe the voices were those of Wood and Wagner, Nishida said.

The statements differed from the original version of events provided by witnesses, including those who were on the boat, she said.

“Do we have enough to make an arrest at this moment? No,” Nishida said.

Robert Wagner is yet to comment on this latest development in the case.

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