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ABC News’ Suzan Clarke and Sheila Marikar report:
Police have reopened the investigation into the drowning death of actress Natalie Wood, and a witness has now come forward to say she heard the actress screaming for help on the night she died.
Wood died Nov. 29, 1981 while she was boating with her husband, Robert Wagner, and actor Christopher Walken, off Catalina Island in California.
Even though the couple had reportedly argued that night, there was no determination of foul play following Wood’s death. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office said the actress could have slipped and fallen into the water while trying to secure a dinghy to the boat.
The official cause of death was determined to be accidental drowning, but because there has been little concrete information about the circumstances surrounding the events of that night, speculation has been rife and the case remains one of Hollywood’s longest-running mysteries.
But now California resident Marilyn Wayne, who was boating in the same area that night — approximately 40 yards away from the Splendour, the yacht upon which the actors were staying — said she heard a woman’s cries for help.
In a sworn statement to investigators, Wayne said she and her boyfriend, John Payne, were sleeping aboard a sailboat, the Capricorn, on Nov. 28, 1981. The window of the cabin was open.
“A woman’s voice, crying for help from drowning awakened John, and he awakened me. ‘Help me, someone please help me, I’m drowning’ we heard repeatedly. Alarmed, I called out to my son, who also heard the cries, and looked at his new digital watch: it was just minutes after 11:00 P.M.,” she said in her statement.
According to Wayne’s statement, Payne turned on the sailboat’s beam light and played it over the area while she went up onto the deck, though it was dark and damp and she says that she was unable to see anything.
“While listening to the cries, we called the harbor patrol but no one answered. Then we called the sheriff’s office in Avalon, 12 miles away, and whoever answered told us a helicopter would be sent, but it did not come. We heard loud music coming from somewhere, so thought there was a party on a nearby boat,” the statement said. “Then I heard a man’s voice, slurred, and in aggravated tone, say something to the effect of, “Oh, hold on, we’re coming to get you,” and not long after, the cries for help subsided, but we heard the cries for up to 15 minutes. We returned to bed, terribly disturbed.”
When she woke up the next morning, she says, she saw police at the boat located near the Capricorn, and learned that Wood, a passenger on that board, had drowned.
Wayne, a former stockbroker, said in the statement that she doesn’t believe the initial investigation was thorough enough, that police never interviewed her and that she received a threatening note cautioning her to keep quiet about what she knew.
“After all I’ve learned since my own direct experience with the death of Natalie, I am stunned that Robert Wagner has never been properly interrogated in regards to Natalie Wood’s death. In my opinion, Natalie Wood’s case is one of the top most botched cases of the 20th century, and I am still willing to offer my assistance should you finally realize that this case needs what every death case deserves: a full and proper investigation,” her statement said.
Wagner has never been charged, and police plan to reach out to him as part of the re-opened investigation, but they say he is not a suspect.
The “Hart to Hart” actor — who is now 81 — has always maintained that there was no foul play involved in his wife’s death.
Wagner and Wood had been married to each other twice, and reportedly had a volatile relationship.
Police have said media interest sparked the renewed interest in the case. A Vanity Fair/CBS’ “48 Hours” special about the case aired on Saturday.
The captain of the Splendour, Dennis Davern, said that he believes that Wagner is to blame for Woods’ death.
“Yes I would say so,” Davern said on NBC’s “Today” last week when he was asked if Wagner was responsible. He admitted that he may have been at fault as well, saying, “We didn’t take any steps to see if we could locate her. It was a matter of don’t look too hard, don’t turn on search light, don’t call anyone.”
Davern also said that he lied to officials in the initial police report. Corina declined to comment on whether Davern could face charges if that’s true.
Davern and Marti Rulli co-authored the 2009 book “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour,” about the circumstances surrounding the actress’ death. He and Lana Wood, Natalie Wood’s sister, asked authorities to reopen the case last year.
Wood’s body was found floating in the water about a mile away from the yacht. According to police reports, she was found wearing a long nightgown, socks, and a down jacket. She had dozens of bruises on her body, according to the autopsy report, including injuries to her face and arms.
Wood appeared in more than 56 films, including “West Side Story” and notably as James Dean’s love interest in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Wagner and Wood married in 1957, divorced about five years later and remarried in 1972.
Wagner and Walken, who was filming “Brainstorm” with Wood at the time, reportedly got into an alcohol-fueled argument prior to her death. Wood is believed to have gone into the master cabin bathroom while they were arguing, but as Wagner was going to bed, he noticed Wood wasn’t there.
Wood’s aversion to water was famous. She couldn’t swim and once said in a TV interview that her greatest fear was of dark seawater.
The investigation has the support of the Wagner family.
“Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the L.A. County Sheriff’s department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. and trust they 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,” Robert Wagner’s publicist Alan Nierob said in a statement.
Walken, who has hired an attorney, is not considered a suspect, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
- Natalie Wood
- Robert Wagner
- Christopher Walken