The original story of how Natalie Wood died makes “absolutely no sense” — but authorities can’t call it murder or bring any charges with the evidence they’ve collected so far, an investigator said Monday.
To finally solve the mystery of how Wood drowned in the frigid water off Santa Catalina Island in 1981, it’s going to take another witness stepping forward or new information from an existing one, said Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“We’re closer to understanding what happened,” but critical questions remain, Corina said at a press conference Monday in Los Angeles.
Corina reiterated that Wood’s husband, Robert Wagner, 87, has been upgraded to “a person of interest” since the case was reopened in 2011, but he said there was no way to force the “Heart to Heart” actor to cooperate and answer questions.
“This is a suspicious death investigation. It’s not a murder investigation. So, he’s not a suspect of committing a murder or a crime,” Corina said. “We’re not pressing charges on anyone.”
See photos of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood together:
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood together through the years
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood together through the years
Actress Natalie Wood with her husband, actor Robert Wagner.
American actor Robert Wagner and his wife actress Nathalie Wood. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Actress Natalie Wood and husband, actor Robert Wagner, at London Airport in 1976. (Photo by ï¿½ Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) The El Morocco. New York City: Actress Natalie Wood and actor Robert Wagner.
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981) leave the church holding hands just after their wedding, Scottsdale, Arizona, December 28, 1957. (Photo by Jack Albin/Getty Images)
circa 1958: American actors Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981), wearing a black evening gown with long gloves and a white fur wrap, and Robert Wagner, wearing a tuxedo with a white opera scarf. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - 1958: Actors Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner attend an event in 1958 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/ Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Married American actors Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981), circa 1958. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
(Eingeschrï¿½kte Rechte fï¿½r bestimmte redaktionelle Kunden in Deutschland. Limited rights for specific editorial clients in Germany.) Wood, Natalie *20.07.1938-29.11.1981+ (Eigentlich Natalia Nikolaiewna Zacharenko) Schauspielerin, USA - mit ihrem Mann Robert Wagner - 1958 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Enjoying a tete-a-tete in an outdoor phone booth outside Penn Station, recently wed screen stars Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood are shown here. The couple was visiting Manhattan the first time since their marriage at Scottsdale, Az. on December 28, 1957.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Wagner (she's Natalie Wood) arrive at Penn Station from Miami. They're here to see Bob's new movie, 'In Love and War.' (Photo By: Art Whittaker/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 23: Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood back stage of 'The Jack Benny Program.' Image dated January 23, 1960. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Robert Wagner, US actor, and his wife, Natalie Wood (1938-1981), US actress, with a small dog, circa 1965. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
American actors Robert Wagner and his wife Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981), circa 1970. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
American actor Robert Wagner with his actress wife Natalie Wood at the time of their second marriage. Original Publication: People Disc - HM0378 (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
American actor Robert Wagner with his former wife American actress Natalie Wood, 23rd April 1972. (Photo by Chris Wood/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Actors and spouses Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner following their reconciliation, Britain, April 24th 1972. (Photo by Roger Jackson/Central Press/Getty Images)
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood during 45th Academy Award Rehearsals at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
MALIBU, UNITED STATES - AUGUST: Actress Natalie Wood and husband actor Robert Wagner at home with daughter during August 1973 in Malibu, California. (Photo by Sandy KAPLAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Actors and spouses Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, arriving at the premiere of the film 'The Godfather', London, August 24th 1972. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood during 16th Annual International Broadcasting Awards at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
American actors Robert Wagner and his wife Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981) at the 29th Cannes Film Festival, May 1976. (Photo by RDA/Getty Images)
Actor Robert Wagner and actress wife Natalie Wood arriving in London en route for the South of France for a short holiday before returning to London next month to make TV production of the Tennessee Williams play 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' for Granada, 24th April 1976. (Photo by Dennis Stone/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
American actor Robert Wagner and his actress wife Natalie Wood at Heathrow Airport in London before leaving to present the prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Actors and spouses Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner in London, July 1st 1976. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
NBC MONDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES -- 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Wood as Maggie, Robert Wagner as Brick -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)
Film actor Robert Wagner and his wife Natalie Wood arrived at Heathrow Airport from Los Angeles with their children Courtney (2) and Natasha (5). Courtney was carrying a doll called 'Curious George.' They were met by Lord Olivier and are here to make a Granada TV production with him of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof .' 19th May 1976. (Photo by Victor Crawshaw/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner during 5th Annual AFI Lifetime Achievement Award - Salute to Bette Davis at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Robert Wagner, Ehefrau Natalie Wood, Dreharbeiten zur US-TV-Serie 'Switch', Hollywood, Los Angeles, Kalifornien, USA, Nordamerika, SW, schwarz-weiss-Foto, Dreh, Bett, Ehemann, Schauspieler, Schauspielerin, NB/BB, 01.08.1978; (Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)
Robert Wagner, Ehefrau Natalie Wood, neben den Dreharbeiten zur US-TV-Serie 'Switch', Hollywood, Los Angeles, Kalifornien, USA, Nordamerika, Dreh-Pause, Wohnmobil, Wohnwagen, Auto, Becher Kaffee, in den Arm nehmen, Ehemann, Schauspieler, Schauspielerin, NB/BB, 01.08.1978; (Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)
Laurence Olivier, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner during 'A Little Romance' World Premiere Filmex Opening Honoring Laurence Olivier in Century City, CA, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood during Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood Sighting at a Beverly Hills Restaurant - June 1, 1977 at Beverly Hills Restaurant in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - 1980: Actors Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner outside La Scala restaurant in 1980 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
circa 1980: Married American actors Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner attending a formal event. Wood is wearing a blue dress with powder-blue sheer sleeves and a floral top. Wagner is wearing a black tuxedo. (Photo by Darlene Hammond/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood during 'Hart to Hart' Wrap Party - April 9, 1980 at Chey Moi in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood, and Daughters Katie Wagner, Natasha Gregson Wagner, and Courtney Wagner (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - CIRCA 1981: Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood circa 1981 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bret Lundberg/IMAGES/Getty Images)
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
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He said investigators still want to speak with Wagner but repeated attempts to reach him directly and through his lawyers in recent years have failed.
“We’d love to hear his side, his version of events,” Corina said. “What he told the original investigators and what he’s portrayed since then really don’t add up to what we’ve found.”
He said Wagner’s “original story” was that he and Wood were talking in the salon of their private yacht during that fateful Thanksgiving weekend, and then Wood went down below to their bedroom alone.
“And the next thing he knows, he goes and checks on her and she’s gone. And he figures she must have got in the dinghy and went into town — in her pajamas, in her socks, in the middle of the night, for some reason,” he said. “It’s raining out, (but) she’s going to go take the dinghy, which she never drives, probably doesn’t know how to drive, and take it into town.”
Corina said that since 2011, investigators have spoken with at least two new witnesses who threw water on Wagner’s claims and actually corroborated the revised timeline from the yacht’s captain Dennis Davern.
Davern initially told investigators a sanitized version of what happened, leading them to conclude after a two-week investigation in 1981 that Wood accidentally fell overboard and drowned while apparently trying to secure or board a loose dinghy.
Davern later told investigators he heard Wood and Wagner involved in an explosive argument before everything went silent and Wood vanished. It was his revised version that prompted the renewed look at the case in 2011.
Corina said Monday that when Davern allegedly suggested to Wagner that they turn on a search light to look for Wood, Wagner allegedly said no and stalled for time.
“Instead, he takes Davern up to the top of the boat and starts plying him with alcohol for the next hour and a half, getting him drunk while they wait around to see what happens,” Corina said.
In hindsight, it “made absolutely no sense” that Wood would flee the boat voluntarily in just her nightgown, socks and a jacket “when it was raining out, and the seas were really rough, and you can’t even see at midnight,” he said.
“I think we have a better understanding now what happened,” he suggested.
See more photos of Natalie Wood:
Natalie Wood's life in pictures
Natalie Wood's life in pictures
Daily News front page November 30, 1981, Headline: NATALIE WOOD DEAD - Body found floating off Catalina. ALLEN EXITS - Takes 'leave of absence' Richard Alen: 'I certainly feel that I have done nothing wrong' (Photo By: /NY Daily News via Getty Images)
The gravesite of actress Natalie Wood is seen in the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, on August 18, 2009. The burial spot located just above the final resting place of Marilyn Monroe is going on sale for a cool 500,000 dollars on auction website eBay. The tomb in the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles is currently occupied by one Richard Poncher, who died 23 years ago aged 81. But his widow is having his body moved over one spot and auctioning the site above Monroe's, hoping to earn enough to pay off her 1.6-million-dollar Beverly Hills home. The cemetery is also the final resting place for celebrities as Natalie Wood, Truman Capote, Frank Zappa, Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster, Billy Wilder, and more recently Farrah Fawcett. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 9: Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood at the premiere of 'The Godfather' on August 9, 1972 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
379373 06: Lana Wood poses with her sister, the late actress Natalie Wood, right, when they were children. (Photo courtesy of Lana Wood/Delivered by Newsmakers)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 11: Actress Natalie Wood attends American Movie Awards on February 11, 1980 at the Wilshire Theater in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actress Natalie Wood photographed in 1979. (Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 21: Natalie Wood during a cocktail party to honor the beginning of film shooting 'The Concorde-Airport 79' by David Lowel Rich, November 21, 1978 in Paris,France. (Photo by Michel GINFRAY/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
NBC MONDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES -- 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' -- Pictured: Natalie Wood as Maggie -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
American actress Natalie Wood on the set of This Property is Condemned based on the play by Tennessee Williams and directed by Sydney Pollack. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
American actress Natalie Wood (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND: Legendary US singer Frank Sinatra in a picture taken 08 December 1951 in London with his bride of a month US actress Ava Gardner forming a piano and vocal duet at Washington Hotel before 'Midnight Matinee' show at the London Coliseum. Frank Sinatra, born 12 December 1915, was a playboy who married four times, twice to famous actress, Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow. But he was deeply attracted to the actress; his biographer Kitty Kelley wrote that Gardner was the only woman he respected because he knew he could not dominate her. Sinatra got married for the last time in 1976 to Barbara Marx, widow of comedian Zeppo Marx of the four Marx brothers. Sinatra number his conquests, according to Kelley, among Hollywood's greatest beauties, including Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor and Victoria Principal. (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
circa 1953: Portrait of American actor Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981), wearing a strapless bathing suit with plaid trim, posing in front of a wicker wall. Wood has light hair. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American actress Natalie Wood (Natal'ja Nikolaevna Zacharenko) standing beside a stone wall in the film Kings Go Forth. France, 1958 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES,CA - JUNE 13,1955: Musician Dick Contino hugs Leigh Snowden as actor John Smith hugs actress Natalie Wood at Wil Wright's Ice Cream Parlor in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES,CA - JUNE 13,1955: Actress Natalie Wood, actor John Smith and actress Leigh Snowden takes a taste of chocolate at a Wil Wright's ice cream parlor in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES,CA - JUNE 5,1955: Actress Natalie Wood attends the Screen Directors Building party in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES,CA - CIRCA 1955: Actress Natalie Wood poses during an event in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES,CA - JUNE 13,1955: Actress Natalie Wood, actor John Smith and musician Dick Contino and actress Leigh Snowden pour chocolate at a Wil Wright's ice cream parlor in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
American actress Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981) holding a glove puppet of a lion, circa 1955. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
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In Wagner’s 2008 memoir, “Pieces of My Heart,” the actor said he and actor Christopher Walken were drinking and arguing about Wood’s career during the trio’s Thanksgiving weekend getaway aboard the Splendour.
Wagner admitted he smashed a wine bottle and surmised that one of two things happened to land his wife in the water. Either she was “trying to get away from the argument,” he wrote, “Or she was trying to tie the dinghy” and fell.
“But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened,” he wrote.
Corina said Monday that Wood almost certainly would have asked Davern to help with the dinghy if it was slamming against the side of boat, keeping her awake.
He also questioned Wood’s ability to even drive the dinghy, which was later found in a cove with its motor in the neutral position.
“It didn’t make any sense. No one heard the dinghy start up. No one heard the dinghy take off. She doesn’t drive the dinghy. I could go on and on. It didn’t add up,” he said Monday.
Corina reiterated that Wagner has become “a person of interest because he’s the last person with her before she went in the water.”
He said his office already had received some new tips since the case was featured on CBS’ “48 Hours” on Saturday.
He said the network recently reached out for new interviews regarding the case, and his office figured it would be a good way to call for more witnesses.
“Time is our biggest enemy here,” he said, referring to the 36 years that already have passed.
“We’re reaching out one last time see if anybody else will come forward with information they know.”
A year after the sheriff reopened the death investigation in 2011, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office amended Wood’s death certificate, updating her manner of death from an accidental drowning to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
The autopsy report indicated there were a number of bruises that appeared to be fresh on the 43-year-old “West Side Story” icon’s body.
Davern said in a 2011 statement the Daily News obtained that the couple had a “terrible argument” in their private stateroom shortly before Wood disappeared.
“I heard things — objects, possibly people — hitting the walls and things being thrown at the ceiling,” Davern said in the statement.
He claimed Wagner then uttered the phrase, “Get off my f---ing boat.”
“When I arrived on the rear, open deck, only Robert Wagner was present,” he claimed.
Davern said Wagner was “sweaty, flushed, anxious, nervous and disheveled,” as he stood near the rear wall of the deck.
After the sheriff reopened the probe, investigators traveled to Hawaii and visited the Splendour with Davern, according to Marti Rulli, his friend and co-author of the book “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour.”
“Dennis has just been haunted with guilt since the day this happened,” Rulli told The News in a phone interview reacting to the news Wagner is a person of interest.
“He tried everything to save her. He wanted to turn on the search lights, call for help. Wagner said to leave her alone. Dennis knew better, but this was a night of heavy drinking. And he loved Wagner, too. He waited to see what was happening,: she said.
“I’ve said everything there is to say,” Wagner said last week when reached by The News.
Wood, who was born Natalia Zakharenko, was a child star who became a household name after appearing in the classic film “Miracle on 34th Street.”
She went on to star in “Rebel Without a Cause” with James Dean and was in her second marriage to Wagner when she died.