CBS: Natalie Wood death to be reclassified as not accidental

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.