The weekend outing was meant as a celebration of friendship.
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, the glamorous and youthful Hollywood couple, had invited the actor Christopher Walken to join them for an overnight sail off California’s Catalina Island on the couple’s yacht over Thanksgiving weekend 1981.
But there was tension throughout. And in the dark night of Nov. 28, Wood, 43, vanished from the boat. Her body was found floating the next morning clad only in a burgundy nightgown, blue socks and red down coat. It was the tragic realization of her oft-expressed fear of dark waters and drowning.
Authorities said at the time that her death was an accident: Officials theorized that Wood may have been trying to flee the boat on a dinghy and fallen into the water. But her death nonetheless fanned rumor and innuendo, and in 2011 authorities reopened the case.
The initial investigation 30 years earlier had revealed an alcohol-fueled night described by a fourth person on the boat, its captain, Dennis Davern. Indeed, the coroner found Wood had a “slightly intoxicated” blood-alcohol level when her body was found.
Wagner himself wrote in a 2008 memoir that he and Walken — Wood’s co-star in the film Brainstorm — had argued that night over Walken’s opinions about Wood’s career, to the point that Wagner grabbed a wine bottle, slammed and smashed it.
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Yet the conflicts onboard — with an overheard argument so heated between Wagner and Wood that Davern feared an assault was taking place — have come into focus because of recent witness statements, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Lt. John Corina said recently.
The emergence of those witnesses “just opened up more questions,” Corina said, and those questions in turn “made us more suspicious.”
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Wagner has long said he had no involvement in Wood’s death, and he has never been named a suspect. A sheriff’s department spokeswoman, Nicole Nishida, tells PEOPLE that the last time the office requested an interview with Wagner was late in 2012.
He refused to speak with investigators after they began to look again into the circumstances surrounding Wood’s death. His attorney has not responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
A source close to the Wagner family tells PEOPLE, “Robert Wagner has not been contacted by law enforcement in over five years nor has he been alerted that there has been any change in the status of the case. In addition, the so-called ‘new’ witnesses they are referring to are the same ones that they had years ago.”
But Corina says that in light of those witness statements, he wants to speak with Wagner again about Wood’s death.
“He’s a person of interest,” he says, “because he was the last person with her . . . on the back of the boat before everything went quiet.”