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Authorities still want to interview Wagner in reopened Wood probe

Actor Robert Wagner, who was one of the last people to see his wife, Natalie Wood, alive, has refused to speak to detectives assigned to the new inquiry.

January 17, 2013|By Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
  • Natalie Wood and her husband, Robert Wagner, are shown in April 1980. A Los Angeles County sheriff's lieutenant said Wagner has not consented to an interview in the reopened investigation into Wood's 1981 death off Santa Catalina Island. Wagner's lawyer says the actor has already fully cooperated with authorities.
Natalie Wood and her husband, Robert Wagner, are shown in April 1980. A Los… (Associated Press )

Since reopening the death investigation of Natalie Wood more than 13 months ago, detectives have interviewed more than 100 witnesses and gathered piles of new evidence.

But they said the one person they are most interested in talking to has so far refused several requests for interviews: Wood's husband, actor Robert Wagner.

Los Angeles County sheriff's Lt. John Corina said Wagner is the only person on the boat at the time Wood drowned off Catalina Island in 1981 not to speak to detectives assigned to the new inquiry.

FULL COVERAGE: Natalie Wood investigation reopened

"We reached out through his attorney and got rebuffed. We went to his home and he refused to talk us, and we sent him a letter, so I say it is fair to say he has declined to be interviewed, repeatedly," Corina said.

Wagner, 82, gave three interviews to detectives during the original investigation three decades ago. But Corina said the actor "changed his story over the years, as has the caretaker of the vessel."

Wood's death was originally listed as an accident. But earlier this week, the L.A. County coroner's office announced it had changed the cause of death to "undetermined." A coroner's report released Monday cited unexplained fresh bruising on the actress' right forearm, left wrist and right knee, along with a scratch on her neck and a superficial scrape on her forehead. Officials said the wounds open the possibility that she was assaulted before drowning.

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The Sheriff's Department has stressed that detectives have not determined whether a crime occurred on the boat.

Corina said Thursday that detectives simply want as clear a narrative about what happened on the boat as possible. "There are four people on that boat that night and now one of them is dead. Something happened," he said.

Wagner's attorney, Blair Berk, released a statement Thursday evening saying that Wagner and his family have fully cooperated with authorities.

"After 30 years, neither Mr. Wagner nor his daughters have any new information to add to this latest investigation, which was unfortunately prompted by those seeking to exploit and sensationalize the 30th anniversary of the death of his wife and their mother," Berk said in the statement.

The coroner's report noted "conflicting statements" about when Wood disappeared, and whether she had argued with Wagner, who — along with Christopher Walken, her costar in the film "Brainstorm" — were aboard the 60-foot yacht where she was last seen alive Nov. 28, 1981.

Hours before her death, authorities said, the three actors had had dinner at Doug's Harbor Reef restaurant and then returned to the yacht, called the Splendour, where they drank and an argument ensued between Walken and Wagner.

According to the new autopsy report, Wood went missing about midnight, and an analysis of her stomach contents placed her death around that time. The report said Wagner placed a radio call to report her missing at 1:30 a.m.

The original investigators believed Wood sustained her bruises after falling off the yacht and struggling to pull herself from the water into a rubber dinghy, whose starboard side bore scratch marks that seemed consistent with that theory.

But in his report, the coroner noted that investigators did not take nail clippings from Wood's body to determine whether she had made the scratch marks, and the dinghy was no longer available to be examined. The coroner believes Wood died soon after entering the water.

Corina declined to detail the new evidence detectives have gathered. "People have come forward from surrounding vessels," he said. "We have developed new information."

He said he still hopes Wagner can help with the probe.

"He was the person last seen with her alive … we are talking moments before," Corina said.

richard.winton@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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