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updated: 11/18/2011 11:25 PM

Official says Wagner not a suspect in Wood death

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  • In a Nov. 25, 1959, file photo, Natalie Wood and her husband, Robert Wagner, are made up for their roles in "All The Fine Young Cannibals," in Los Angeles. Dennis Davern, captain of the yacht Splendour, which Wood was aboard at the time of her death, said on national TV on Friday that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress' husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California.

      In a Nov. 25, 1959, file photo, Natalie Wood and her husband, Robert Wagner, are made up for their roles in "All The Fine Young Cannibals," in Los Angeles. Dennis Davern, captain of the yacht Splendour, which Wood was aboard at the time of her death, said on national TV on Friday that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress' husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California.
    Associated Press

  • The 55-foot yacht "Splendour," belonging to actor Robert Wagner and his wife, actress Natalie Wood, sits in the waters off Catalina Island in Santa Catalina, Calif., near the site where Harbor Patrol personnel and lifeguards discovered the body of Wood, an apparent drowning victim, Nov. 29, 1981. Los Angeles sheriff's homicide detectives are taking another look at Wood's 1981 drowning death based on new information, officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.

      The 55-foot yacht "Splendour," belonging to actor Robert Wagner and his wife, actress Natalie Wood, sits in the waters off Catalina Island in Santa Catalina, Calif., near the site where Harbor Patrol personnel and lifeguards discovered the body of Wood, an apparent drowning victim, Nov. 29, 1981. Los Angeles sheriff's homicide detectives are taking another look at Wood's 1981 drowning death based on new information, officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.
    Associated Press

  • In this April 9, 1979 file photo, actress Natalie Wood is shown at the 51st Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Los Angeles sheriff's homicide detectives are taking another look at Wood's 1981 drowning death based on new information, officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.

      In this April 9, 1979 file photo, actress Natalie Wood is shown at the 51st Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Los Angeles sheriff's homicide detectives are taking another look at Wood's 1981 drowning death based on new information, officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.
    Associated Press

  • In a Jan. 30, 1979 file photo, actress Natalie Wood poses in Los Angeles, Calif. Dennis Davern, captain of the yacht Splendour, which Wood was aboard on the night she died, said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress' husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. A Los Angeles County sheriff's detective will speak to reporters Friday about the decision to take another look at the Oscar-nominated actress' nighttime demise. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File)

      In a Jan. 30, 1979 file photo, actress Natalie Wood poses in Los Angeles, Calif. Dennis Davern, captain of the yacht Splendour, which Wood was aboard on the night she died, said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress' husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. A Los Angeles County sheriff's detective will speak to reporters Friday about the decision to take another look at the Oscar-nominated actress' nighttime demise. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File)
    Associated Press

  • In a Nov. 28, 1981 file photo, "Prince Valiant," the inflatable dinghy used by 34-year-old actress Natalie Wood on the yacht Splendour, sits pierside in Catalina Island, Calif. Yacht captain Dennis Davern said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress' husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. (AP Photo/Harrington, File)

      In a Nov. 28, 1981 file photo, "Prince Valiant," the inflatable dinghy used by 34-year-old actress Natalie Wood on the yacht Splendour, sits pierside in Catalina Island, Calif. Yacht captain Dennis Davern said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress' husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. (AP Photo/Harrington, File)
    Associated Press

  • In this April 23, 1972 file photo, actor Robert Wagner and actress Natalie Wood pose at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Los Angeles sheriff's homicide detectives are taking another look at Wood's 1981 drowning death based on new information, officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. A yacht captain said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames Wagner for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. (AP Photo, File)

      In this April 23, 1972 file photo, actor Robert Wagner and actress Natalie Wood pose at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Los Angeles sheriff's homicide detectives are taking another look at Wood's 1981 drowning death based on new information, officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. A yacht captain said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames Wagner for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. (AP Photo, File)
    Associated Press

  • In this 1980 file photo, actor Robert Wagner appears with actress Natalie Wood. Los Angeles sheriff's homicide detectives are taking another look at Wood's 1981 drowning death based on new information, officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. A yacht captain said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress' husband at the time, Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. (AP Photo, File)

      In this 1980 file photo, actor Robert Wagner appears with actress Natalie Wood. Los Angeles sheriff's homicide detectives are taking another look at Wood's 1981 drowning death based on new information, officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. A yacht captain said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress' husband at the time, Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. (AP Photo, File)
    Associated Press

  • In an image from video provided by NBC News, Dennis Davern appears on NBC's "Today" show via video on Friday. Davern, captain of the yacht Splendour, which actress Natalie Wood was aboard on the night she died in 1981, said during the interview Friday that he lied to investigators about Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames her husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. A Los Angeles County sheriff's detective Lt. John Corina said Friday that Robert Wagner is not a suspect in the death of his wife, and that new information is substantial enough to take another look at the case.

      In an image from video provided by NBC News, Dennis Davern appears on NBC's "Today" show via video on Friday. Davern, captain of the yacht Splendour, which actress Natalie Wood was aboard on the night she died in 1981, said during the interview Friday that he lied to investigators about Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames her husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California. A Los Angeles County sheriff's detective Lt. John Corina said Friday that Robert Wagner is not a suspect in the death of his wife, and that new information is substantial enough to take another look at the case.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Actor Robert Wagner is not a suspect in the 30-year-old drowning of his actress wife, Natalie Wood, and there is nothing to indicate a crime, even though the investigation has been re-opened, a sheriff's detective said Friday.

"Her death was an accident, an accidental drowning," said Sheriff's Lt. John Corina.

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Officials would not say why they were taking another look at the case, although the captain of the boat where the couple had stayed blamed Wagner for Wood's death.

Natalie Wood's sister, Lana Wood, told CNN's Piers Morgan in an interview Friday that she doesn't believe her sister fell off the boat.

Lana Wood told Morgan that she has spoken several times with the boat's captain Dennis Davern and he has told her that Wagner was involved in her plunge into the sea on Nov. 29, 1981. But Lana Wood said she does not believe that whatever happened was deliberate.

"I don't think she fell, I don't know if she was pushed, I don't know whether there was an altercation and it happened accidentally but she shouldn't have died and that does stay with me and hurt," Lana Wood said.

"I would prefer to always believe that RJ (Wagner) would never do anything to hurt Natalie and that he loved her dearly, which he did, and I don't believe that whatever went on was deliberate. I've always cared about him. I always will care about him," she said.

Lana Wood wrote in a biography on her sister after her death, "What happened is that Natalie drank too much that night."

There have always been questions about Wood's death on Nov. 29, 1981, with renewed attention on the case as the anniversary neared. The case's re-opening and a public call for information are the first hint that the official account may need revision.

Within hours of the announcement, Corina said, several people emerged offering their recollections of what happened in the waters off Southern California's Santa Catalina Island.

But he quickly noted that nothing the agency has received so far has prompted it to change the view that there was no foul play.

Davern, said Friday on NBC's "Today" show that he lied to investigators about events on the yacht Splendour when he was interviewed after Wood's death.

Davern accused Wagner of having a fight with Wood before she went missing and delaying the search for her after she disappeared.

Wagner's family released a statement through a spokesman that said they trusted detectives to evaluate any new information and determine whether it came from "a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30-year anniversary of her tragic death."

It did not mention Davern by name, and noted that detectives hadn't contacted Wagner or his family.

On the show, Davern mentioned a book he co-wrote last year on Wood's death, but refused to say precisely why he blamed Wagner for the three-time Oscar nominee's death. Davern also denied that he was seeking to profit from interest in the case.

Vanity Fair and the television program "48 Hours Mystery" have teamed up and are including Wood's case for a television special airing this weekend.

Corina said his agency would talk to Davern at some point and other witnesses would likely be interviewed. He downplayed the role Davern's book or the anniversary would play on the investigation.

"We're not concerned with the anniversary date," Corina said. "It may have jarred some other people's memories."

Wood, who was 43 when she died, received three Academy Award nominations, for "Rebel Without a Cause," ''Splendor in the Grass" and "Love with the Proper Stranger." She appeared in numerous other Hollywood classics, including "West Side Story."

Wood and Wagner were married twice, first in 1957 before divorcing six years later. They remarried in 1972. Her death during the Thanksgiving weekend in 1981 has long sparked tabloid speculation that foul play was involved.

Wood, Wagner and actor Christopher Walken and Davern spent time on Thanksgiving weekend 1981 both on Catalina Island and drinking on the yacht.

Wagner has dismissed any suggestion that the actress' death was anything more than an accident. In a 2008 autobiography, he recounted drinking with Wood and Walken at a restaurant and on the boat.

Wood went to the master cabin during an argument between the two men, Wagner said. The last time Wagner saw his wife, she was fixing her hair at a bathroom vanity and she shut the door, he wrote.

Despite various theories about what led Wood to the water, which she feared, he said, it was impossible to know what happened.

"Nobody knows," he wrote. "There are only two possibilities; either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened."

Coroner's officials said at the time that she was "possibly attempting to board the dinghy and had fallen into the water, striking her face."

Wood was found wearing a flannel nightgown, socks and a red down jacket, and Davern identified her body for authorities, according to an autopsy report. Her body had superficial bruises, according to the report, but those were considered consistent with drowning.

Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said the agency hadn't been asked to do any additional investigation into Wood's case.

Wagner, star of the television series "Hart to Hart," wrote in his book that he blamed himself for his wife's death.

"Did I blame myself? If I had been there, I could have done something," he wrote. "But I wasn't there. I didn't see her."

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