Natalie Wood Case Reopened

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Natalie Wood drowned aged 43 while boating off of Catalina Island, near Los Angeles on November 29, 1981
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THE GIST

- Natalie Wood was yachting with her husband and a friend, when she disappeared.

- Comments by Lana Wood and the captain of the yacht "Splendor" have caused LA police to reopen the case.

- Wood's sister Lana is interested in "the truth coming out," but no new implications have yet been made.

US police reportedly are to re-open an investigation into the death of screen legend Natalie Wood, the "West Side Story" star who died in mysterious circumstances while yachting in 1981.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) on Thursday said new information had come to light over the death, which was deemed an accident at the time but which has long fueled speculation.

Wood drowned aged 43 while boating off of Catalina Island, near Los Angeles on November 29, 1981. Her death was investigated by the LASD and the LA County Coroner's Office, who ruled it was an accident.

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"Recently, Sheriff's Homicide Investigators were contacted by persons who stated they had additional information about the Natalie Wood Wagner drowning," said an LASD statement.

In response, the Sheriff's Homicide Bureau "has decided to take another look at the case," it added.

Wood -- born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko to Russian emigre parents in San Francisco -- enjoyed a glittering Hollywood career, and is best known for classic movies including "West Side Story," and, "Rebel Without a Cause."

Wood and husband Robert Wagner -- whom she had married for a second time in 1972 -- were spending the Thanksgiving weekend on their yacht the "Splendour," with actor friend Christopher Walken as their guest.

They had eaten at a dockside restaurant before returning to the boat to drink, when a heated row erupted between Wagner and Walken.

Wood left to go to the master cabin, and eventually the two men calmed down -- but when Wagner returned to the cabin she was not there. She was believed to have come up on deck to tie a loose dinghy.

She was later found drowned about a mile away from the yacht. Police reports said she was wearing a long nightgown, socks and a down jacket, and had multiple bruises on her body and arms, and an abrasion on her left cheek.

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"I have gone over it so many millions of times with people. Nobody heard anything," said Wagner, quoted by the LA Times.

Last year the actress' sister Lana Wood and the captain of the yacht, Dennis Davern, asked the sheriff's office to re-open the case, although it was not clear if Thursday's announcement was in response to that.

Lana Wood told CNN last year that she believes a fierce argument between her sister and husband on the yacht's back deck preceded Wood's drowning, but said she does not suspect foul play.

"I just want the truth to come out, the real story," she said, according to the broadcaster.

LA County Sheriff Lee Baca told the newspaper that that homicide detectives want to talk to the captain based on comments he had made recounting the case on its 30th anniversary.

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"He made comments worthy of exploring," Baca said, without giving any further details.

A publicist for Wagner -- famous for a number of television series including "Hart to Hart" -- said his family supported the police investigation, while sounding a note of caution.

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"Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the LA County Sheriff's department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the LA County Sheriff's Department," the publicist told AFP.

The Wagner family "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," it added.

A press briefing is scheduled for Friday morning to give more details on the case.

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