Hollywood icon Natalie Wood’s husband has declined to talk to detectives who have re-opened a probe into his wife’s mystery 1981 death, saying he has already answered all questions.
A lawyer for 82-year-old actor Robert Wagner said those seeking to challenge the original finding of accidental death by drowning were trying to “exploit and sensationalise” the 30th anniversary of her passing, with the announcement in November 2011 of a new investigation.
“Mr. Wagner has fully cooperated over the last 30 years in the investigation of the accidental drowning of his wife in 1981,” said Blair Berk, attorney for the Wagner family, in a statement.
“Mr Wagner has been interviewed on multiple occasions by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and answered every single question asked of him by detectives during those interviews.”
The comments came after an updated coroner’s report this week changed the cause of death to “drowning and other undetermined factors” and said she may have ended up in the sea in a “non-volitional” manner.
The West Side Story and Rebel Without a Cause star drowned on the night of November 29, 1981 off California’s Catalina Island, after an evening of drinking and eating with her husband and actor Christopher Walken.
Her “accidental” death at age 43 has long been a Hollywood mystery – but was thought to have been laid to rest until a November 2011 surprise announcement that police were reviving the probe.
Questions were raised by Dennis Davern, captain of the couple’s boat. He co-wrote a 2009 book about the mystery, saying the couple had a fierce argument shortly before she vanished, and that Wagner then delayed a search.
A “re-evaluation” coroner’s report, dated last May but published this week, recounts how Wood, Wagner and Walken were drunk after dining in a restaurant, and continued drinking after returning to the couple’s boat the Splendour.
The captain of the boat said they realised Wood was missing around midnight, but initially thought she might have returned to shore using the boat’s dinghy.
Wagner raised the alarm with authorities at 1.30 am. A search was launched, and her body was found floating face-down in the ocean some 200 metres from shore, while the dinghy was found nearby, about a one and a half kilometres from the main boat.
In the new report, the medical examiner said some of the injuries found on her body did not necessarily come from an accident, such as falling from the boat or dinghy.
And it added: “This Medical Examiner is unable to exclude non-volitional, unplanned entry into the water.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman John Corina said Wagner is the only person on the boat at the time Wood drowned not to speak to detectives assigned to the new examination.
More 100 witnesses had been interviewed since the investigation was re-opened, he said.
“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,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
In his statement, Wagner’s family lawyer said the re-opened probe was “unfortunately prompted by those seeking to exploit and sensationalise the 30th anniversary of the death of his wife and their [his daughters] mother”.
“After 30 years, neither Mr Wagner nor his daughters have any new information to add to this latest investigation.”