CBS: Natalie Wood death to be reclassified as not accidental

posted at 2:31 pm on January 14, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

After 31 years, will the death of Natalie Wood officially become a murder? CBS reports that the Los Angeles coroner will reclassify the actress’ strange drowning as something other than accidental or “undetermined,” the status granted last year as a new investigation proceeded. The new classification will conclude that the original investigation got just about everything wrong, starting with the autopsy:

The investigation of Natalie Wood’s death was reopened more than a year ago — and now it has taken a serious turn.

The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office is expected to release a new report Monday. Sources tell CBS News the review of the original coroner’s report in 1981 raises questions about every major finding that led investigators to originally conclude Natalie Wood’s death an accident. Sources say the report concludes that the bruising on the actress’ wrists, knees, and ankles could be more consistent with injuries from an assault than they were from struggling to climb back on a boat. …

Wood’s death was ruled an accidental drowning. But in 2011, Los Angeles Sheriff’s detectives re-opened the case after the skipper of the boat, Dennis Davern, co-authored a book in which he gave a very different account of what happened that night. Davern said, “I believe Robert Wagner was with her right up until the moment she was in the water.”

Davern said there was arguing on the yacht, a fight between Wagner and fellow actor Christopher Walken in which a bottle was thrown. Key to his account is that after Wood went to bed, a loud argument — and sounds of an apparent struggle — could be heard from her cabin.

Davern said, “The fighting went back to the back of the boat and then it was quiet.”

Davern also says Wagner waited hours after Wood went missing before calling for help.

Last year, the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office changed the cause of Wood’s death from “accident” to “undetermined.” It remains to be seen if this new information will lead to criminal charges.

I’d call that “doubtful.”  Wagner’s still around at 82 years old, but if he’s the main suspect (a big if), it’s difficult to see how the DA can possibly win a case against him.  It took LA 31 years to finally figure out that it wasn’t accidental, and if that doesn’t amount to a huge boost in reasonable doubt, I’m not sure what qualifies.  Couple that with the cautious language in the CBS report, and it adds up to a questionable hash.

This case will continue in the same Hollywood twilight as the deaths of Marilyn Monroe, George Reeves, and Thomas Ince.  There will be speculation for decades to come about what happened on that yacht – which is very reminiscent of the Ince case – but unless someone confesses, we will never really know to a certainty what happened to Wood.


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Bruising on ankles, knees, wrists
always happens just prior to drowning accidentally.

This is the part that I think is a bit deceptive, as far as thinking that Wagner purposely beat her on every inch of her body.

Private yachts, even nice ones, can be pretty cramped. A fight in a small space can mean that the participants bounce off every surface in the room. Ankle bones, wrist bones and kneee bones protrude.

Sounds like a knock-down, drag out with numerous falls and collisions with bulkheads etc. If it went on for awhile, Wood could have banged each of these joints on something, especially as she wasn’t a big woman, and had bruising.

All of this is a way to just say that I don’t think Wagner beat her to death, and I hope he didn’t purposely throw her off the boat. Sounds like a drunken brawl all the way, with a bad outcome.

cane_loader on January 14, 2013 at 7:23 PM

I know it sounds like I’m going to bat for Wagner. I’m not, really – just saying that Wood was a heavy partier, hot, there was another man involved, and had she been beaten in her vital organs it would have shown. Given her weight, there are lots of ways for bruises at the joints to happen. Given her drunken ways, there are lots of ways for her to end up in the Pacific without Wagner being a murderer.

cane_loader on January 14, 2013 at 7:29 PM

Makes me wonder whether Tony DiNozzo’s dad will be returning to NCIS, given the new publicity.

cane_loader on January 14, 2013 at 7:30 PM

If my girlfriend is throwing bottles at my head and we’re stuck in a room on a boat, after a short while of having deadly missiles launched at my noggin, I’m going to try to get out of the cabin or aggressively subdue her. Heavy bottles can do damage.

So can lamps. Ask Bill.

cane_loader on January 14, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Bruising knees, wrists, and ankles means Wagner beat her? What happened? He missed her face, chest, stomach and back?

aigle on January 14, 2013 at 7:41 PM

Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko. Close enough.

The Rogue Tomato on January 14, 2013 at 2:43 PM

Ah, so prosaic, she’s Russian. A spy, perhaps? :)

Archivarix on January 14, 2013 at 2:48 PM

She gets to speak Russian in a scene in the movie “The Great Race,” which, along with Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk and Tony Curtis is IMHO one of the most hilarious slapstick comedies I’ve ever seen. Loved it as a kid, have it on DVD now.

PatriotGal2257 on January 14, 2013 at 8:27 PM

rose-of-sharon on January 14, 2013 at 4:20 PM
Audrey Hepburn starred in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, not Natalie Wood.
RDH on January 14, 2013 at 4:24 PM

Thank you, you are right. I realized that a bit after leaving the computer.

While I really like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I don’t remember seeing anything else Audrey Hepburn was in. Natalie Wood however I’ve seen a ton of hers. My memory is bad, but there was maybe a Tennessee Williams play made into a movie, one she played some kind of burlesque performers. Really interesting movies.

rose-of-sharon on January 14, 2013 at 9:40 PM

When Natalie Wood and Jimmy Hoffa make the news tabloids we know it’s a manufactured news day.

kregg on January 15, 2013 at 5:56 AM

Unless there’s compelling evidence to overturn the “accidental drowning” ruling, I smell a publicity stunt (a Wood bio movie?) or some blood sucking lawyer representing Woods’s heirs thinks there’s money to be made in Wagner’s deep pockets.

Of course with Hollywood people anything is possible including murder but always remember that Wood (born of Russian parents in Frisco)is not the dewy-eyed, snub-nosed innocent from ‘Miracle on 34th. Street’. Do not be fooled by the big brown eyes which seemingly can read your soul. Wood was Kim Kardashian with a baby face whose drowning was probably caused by booze or drugs–or both.

MaiDee on January 15, 2013 at 10:05 AM

maybe a Tennessee Williams play made into a movie, one she played some kind of burlesque performers.
rose-of-sharon on January 14, 2013 at 9:40 PM

“This Property Is Condemned”: co-starred her longtime friend Robert Redford and was one of Natalie’s steamiest roles, and features a way-ahead-of-its-time long shot pull back by director Sidney Pollack in the final shot. Worth looking for. Typically raw Tennessee Williams material that will leave you wanting a shower just to wash off the heat and grime.

“Gypsy” co-starring Ethel Merman, based on Gypsy Rose Lee.

I smell a publicity stunt (a Wood bio movie?)

…Do not be fooled by the big brown eyes which seemingly can read your soul. MaiDee on January 15, 2013 at 10:05 AM

One was already made – an ABC TV movie a number of years back. It starred the NCIS guy AS Robert Wagner, which is why Wagner’s appearance on NCIS always intrigued me. Clever casting.

As for those eyes – yes they could! Probably why I was smitten from an early age when I first saw “West Side Story” (broadcast in 2 parts on NBC) at age 10 and realized she was the same little girl I had a crush on from the time I first saw “Miracle” at about age 7.

Captain Scarlet on January 15, 2013 at 10:49 AM

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