Wagner not a suspect in Natalie Wood's death: police

LOS ANGELES Sun Nov 20, 2011 8:08pm EST

Actress Natalie Wood in undated photo.    REUTERS/File

Actress Natalie Wood in undated photo.

Credit: Reuters/File

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Homicide detectives who have reopened an investigation into the death of Natalie Wood after three decades said on Friday that the film star's husband, actor Robert Wagner, was not considered a suspect.

The new inquiry into Wood's mysterious drowning off the California coast in 1981 comes amid new attention to the case on its 30th anniversary. The captain of the yacht she was on before her death now says that he lied to police at the time and holds Wagner responsible for her death.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. John Corina told reporters at a news conference on Friday that two homicide detectives had been assigned to reexamine new tips.

"Recently we have received information which we felt was substantial enough to make us take another look," Corina said. He declined to elaborate on the new information.

Asked by reporters if the now-81-year-old Wagner, one of three people on board the "Splendour" with Wood that night, was a suspect, Corina responded: "No."

Wood's body was found floating in a Catalina Island cove on the morning of November 29, 1981. The 43-year-old actress was dressed for bed in a long nightgown and socks, but wearing a red down jacket over her nightclothes.

The Los Angeles County Coroner at the time ruled the "West Side Story" star's death an accidental drowning, but questions have lingered for 30 years.

Corina said her death remained classified an accidental drowning, but added: "If our investigation at the end of it points to something else, then we'll address that."

Sheriff's officials have asked that anyone with knowledge about the case contact homicide investigators.

'TERRIBLE DECISIONS'

In an interview with NBC's "Today" show on Friday, "Splendour" captain Dennis Davern said Wagner fought with Wood in the hours before she went missing and showed little interest in trying to find her.

Davern, who co-wrote a 2010 book, "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour," about Wood's drowning, told the show that he made "terrible decisions, terrible mistakes" at the time and lied on a police report.

Asked by an interviewer if he considered Wagner responsible for her death, he said: "Yes, I would say so. Yes."

Wood, who had spent the night before her death dining and drinking with Davern, Wagner and her "Brainstorm" co-star Christopher Walken, was said to have a lifelong fear of drowning and dark water.

A spokesman for Wagner has said in a statement that the actor's family had not been contacted by the sheriff's officials but "fully supports" the department's efforts.

The family members trust that the sheriff's department "will evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid and that it comes from a credible source or sources, other than those simply trying to profit from the 30-year anniversary of her tragic death," spokesman Alan Nierob said in the statement.

The opening of the new investigation coincides with a TV special airing Saturday on the CBS-TV news show "48 Hours," which in conjunction with Vanity Fair magazine purports to have new findings which "make it clear that there was reason to reopen the case," Vanity Fair said in a statement.

The TV special, called "Vanity Fair: Hollywood Scandal" is based on revelations first reported in a 2000 article in the magazine that is being republished this week in a special edition. Vanity fair said "everything seemed to come together at once."

Wood, who was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko to Russian immigrant parents in San Francisco, appeared as a child in such films as the Christmas classic "Miracle on 34th Street" and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir."

She was nominated for a best supporting actress Academy Award as a teenager for her role opposite screen legend James Dean in the classic 1955 film "Rebel Without a Cause."

Wood was also nominated twice for best actress Oscars, for parts in the 1961 film "Splendor in the Grass" and "Love with the Proper Stranger" two years later. She never won the award.

(Editing by Greg McCune)

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