Mystery on the Water: 35 Years Later, the Latest on the Investigation into Natalie Wood's Drowning Death

Natalie Wood: The Latest on Her Drowning Death Investigation
Natalie Wood
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04/13/2016 AT 08:40 PM EDT

Natalie Wood's daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner is opening up about the private side of the beloved mother she lost in a tragic boating accident. Subscribe now for the exclusive untold story, only in PEOPLE.

The circumstances that surround the death of Natalie Wood on November 29, 1981, while sailing off of Catalina Island, have become the stuff of Hollywood legend and mystery.

At the time, her death was classified as an accidental drowning. Thirty-five years later, the case, which was reopened in 2011, is still making headlines.

"We continue to look into it and we will continue to look into it until we can come to some conclusion," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lt. John Corina tells PEOPLE.

Wood, 43, drowned while sailing with her husband, Robert Wagner, on their yacht, Splendour. Christopher Walken, Wood's then-costar in the movie Brainstorm, and the boat's captain, Dennis Davern, were also on board.

In Wagner's 2008 memoir, Pieces of My Heart, he wrote that after a night of drinking, he got into an argument with Walken over Wood's career.

Mystery on the Water: 35 Years Later, the Latest on the Investigation into Natalie Wood's Drowning Death| True Crime, Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood on the cover of this week's PEOPLE magazine


At one point, Wagner wrote, "I picked up a wine bottle, slammed it on the table and broke it into pieces."

As for what caused her to fall off the boat, Wagner wrote it was "all conjecture. Nobody knows. 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."

In his memoir, Wagner also wrote of his grief and shock following her untimely death.

"Did I blame myself?," he wrote. "If I had been there, I could have done something. But I wasn't there. I didn't see her. The door was closed; I thought she was belowdecks. I didn't hear anything. But ultimately, a man is responsible for his loved one, and she was my loved one."


Three years after his memoir was released, the case took a strange turn when the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department reopened the case after Davern came forward claiming he lied to investigators about certain details related to Wood's death. At the time, a sheriff's spokesperson made clear that Wagner was not a suspect.

Wagner also released a statement through his spokesman expressing support for the sheriff's investigation, stating his family would "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."

Corina, who declined to discuss details of the investigation, says detectives did travel to Hawaii to inspect the yacht. "I can't tell you what we did because it is still part of the investigation," he says.

Two months after the case was reopened, a sheriff's department official told the Los Angeles Times that detectives found no new evidence to dispute the official findings.

"At this point, it is an accidental death," said William McSweeney, chief of detectives for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "Nothing has been discovered to suggest changing that at this time."

A year later, Wood's death was reclassified from accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors."

Today, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's office tells PEOPLE the case will remain undetermined "unless additional evidence is brought forward," says Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter.
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