Hollywood icon Natalie Wood may have suffered non-accidental injuries before her 1981 drowning death and ended up in the sea in a “non-volitional” manner, says a new coroner’s report released Monday.
The report, compiled by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office after the case was reopened in 2011, raises fresh questions about her death and the role of her actor husband Robert Wagner and a fellow actor on the fateful night.
The “West Side Story” and “Rebel Without a Cause” star drowned on the night of Nov. 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.
A “re-evaluation” coroner’s report, dated in May but published Monday, recounts how Wood, Mr. Wagner and Mr. 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, Dennis Davern, said they realized Wood was missing around midnight, but initially thought she might have returned to shore using the boat’s dinghy.
Mr. Wagner raised the alarm with authorities at 1:30 a.m. A search was launched, and her body was found floating face-down in the ocean some 200 yards from shore, while the dinghy was found nearby, about a mile from the main boat.
In the new report, a copy of which was published by the Los Angeles Times, 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.
“With the presence of fresh bruises in the upper extremities in the right forearm/left wrist area and a small scratch in the anterior neck, this Examiner is unable to exclude non-accidental mechanism causing these injuries,” it said.
It added: “This Medical Examiner is unable to exclude non-volitional, unplanned entry into the water.”
As a result, “the cause of death will be changed to drowning and other undetermined factors. Manner will be changed to undetermined. How injury occurred will be listed as found floating in ocean,” the report concluded.
“Circumstances not clearly established.”
Mr. Davern, who co-wrote a 2009 book about the mystery, said the couple had a fierce row shortly before she vanished, and that Mr. Wagner delayed a search that could have saved her.
A publicist for Mr. Wagner said when the case was reopened that his family supported the police probe, while warning against people “trying to profit from the 30 year anniversary of her tragic death.”
Golden Globes ratings rise