Questions are surfacing about new information provided by an unidentified third party that prompted the Los Angeles Sheriff's Homicide Bureau to reopen the investigation into Natalie Wood Wagner's drowning death, which is the subject of an upcoming 48 Hours special segment on CBS devoted to the actress's mysterious and tragic demise.
Wood was accompanied by her husband Robert Wagner, her Brainstorm costar Christopher Walken, and captain Dennis Davern on a Thanksgiving weekend outing on Wagner's yacht Splendour, traveling near Catalina island on the Southern California coast on Nov. 29, 1981.
Wood, Wagner and Walken had dinner at a Catalina restaurant and then retired to the yacht for drinks. Wagner and Walken had a non-violent argument, which Wagner has since said was related to Walken encouraging Natalie to put her career ahead of her family.
Wagner said when he eventually went to bed, Wood was not there. Her body was found the next morning.
Los Angeles County Coroner's Office previously ruled that Wood's death was an accident, concluding that Natalie had somehow fallen off the yacht. She was found to have been intoxicated at the time of her death.
But Davern has since come forward to say that he did not tell police the whole story.
I made some terrible decisions and mistakes, Davern told NBC News' David Gregory. I did lie on a report several years ago.
He added, I made mistakes by not telling the honest truth in a police report.
Davern's amended story appears to be the reason the Los Angeles Sheriff's Homicide Bureau is reopening the case.
Davern is participating in a CBS 48 Hours special segment devoted to Wood's death, which is based on a Vanity Fair issue that is revisiting ten classic Hollywood scandals.
The Sheriff department released a statement Thursday saying that it was contacted by persons who stated they had additional information about the Natalie Wood Wagner drowning. Due to the additional information, Sheriff's Homicide Bureau has decided to take another look at the case.
Subsequently, Sheriff Lee Baca told The Los Angeles Times that the department was interested in speaking with Davern after receiving information that thecaptain made comments worthy of exploring.
Another, unidentified law enforcement source told the Times that the department recently received a letter from an unidentified third party claiming that Davern had new recollections about the case. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.
Producers from 48 Hours told the Los Angeles Times Friday that they contacted the Sheriff's Department after [our emphasis] learning that detectives had new information in the case.
It is unclear if this means a CBS producer is the third party who tipped off the Sheriff's Department.
The timing is enough to raise some eyebrows, as it is reasonable to expect that that the 48 Hours special and the Vanity Fair issue could benefit from the renewed investigation in the form of a ratings and sales boost.
An article on Poynter.org asks if Vanity Fair prompted the Sheriff's department to reopen the investigation, and a statement from Wagner's spokesperson Alan Nierob hints at some skepticism about the timing of the new information.
Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and 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, Nierob wrote in a statement released Thursday.
It does not appear that Davern has any new claims he has not addressed in the past. He co-wrote a book, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, in 2009 that provided a revised account of Natalie's death, and claimed that an argument with Wagner was a contributing factor.
I'm not saying anything different, Davern said on Today. All the information that I've revealed in the past, it's all in that book, and now it's just up to the investigators to do an investigation.
I'm not really the investigator here, and I'm far away from even thinking about profiting over a 30-year anniversary, Davern said. I've known this information for many, many years and my book has been out for two years. I'm not in it for any kind of profit, I'm in it for the justice of the whole situation.
Indeed, both Davern and Natalie's s sister Lara Wood had previously and unsuccessfully appealed to have the case reopened, both believing that an argument with her husband could have somehow contributed to Natalie's death.
I just want the truth to come out, the real story, Lara Wood told CNN last year, adding that she did not suspect foul play. At the time, the Sheriff's department had not responded to her request to reopen the case.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Wagner was not immediately available for comment.