Investigators reviewing the 1981 death at sea of actress Natalie Wood say the account of a boat captain who says he saw Wood’s husband, Robert Wagner, explode in a jealous rage over her relationship with the actor Christopher Walken on the night she died is “credible.”
In an upcoming CBS 48 Hours special, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina is asked if Wood’s widower Robert Wagner, 87, is considered a suspect. He responded by saying Wagner is now considered “more of a person of interest” in the reopened case.
The account of Dennis Davern — who captained Wagner’s 60-ft. yacht Splendour over Thanksgiving 1981, with Wagner, Wood and Walken aboard — has since been backed up by two new witnesses who are “very credible,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina says, according to 48 Hours.
“Everything fit,” Corina says. “Makes more sense of what happened and is corroborated by other people.”
Police had initially classified Wood’s death as an accidental drowning, but the case was reopened in 2011, and now Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators have deemed her death “suspicious.” Wagner has long said he had no involvement in her death, and no charges have ever been filed.
Davern told PEOPLE in 2011, after the investigation was reopened, “The only thing I know is what happened on the boat that night, I really can’t say that I would think that [Wagner] is responsible.”
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But Davern also described in detail the growing tension between the couple — culminating when Davern opened a bottle of wine, and Wagner then picked up and smashed it in front of Wood and Walken. “And he yells at Walken, ‘What are you trying to do, [expletive] my wife?’,” Corina, relaying Davern’s account, told 48 Hours.
Wood’s body was found floating in the water off Catalina Island in California early on Nov. 29, 1981, after she disappeared following that night on the yacht with Wagner and Walken, her then-costar in the movie Brainstorm.
In Wagner’s account of the night featured in his 2008 book, Pieces of My Heart, he wrote he got into an argument with Walken about the direction of Wood’s career, during which he smashed a wine bottle on the table. But he wrote, “Natalie was already belowdecks” when he smashed the bottle.
Wagner wrote that the last time he saw Wood, “she was fixing her hair at a little vanity in the bathroom while I was arguing with Chris Walken. I saw her shut the door. She was going to bed.”
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, sheriff’s officials said that they obtained new witness accounts after reviewing more than 100 tips in the reopened case, and that these accounts “portray a new sequence of events on the boat that night.”
One witness described hearing crashing sounds and yelling coming from Wood and Wagner’s stateroom, the statement says. Separate witnesses heard a man and woman arguing on the back of the boat, voices believed to belong to Wood and Wagner.
In a signed declaration to police reported by PEOPLE in 2011 after the case was reopened, Davern said Wood vanished shortly after the explosive fight around 11 p.m. on Nov. 28, when he shouted to her at one point, “Get off my f—— boat!”
Davern also stated that after a sweaty, disheveled and nervous-looking Wagner told him, “Natalie is missing,” Davern implored his boss “to radio for help and to turn on the searchlight, but Robert Wagner told me, sternly, ‘We are not going to do that. We will wait and see if she returns.'”
Wood was found almost eight hours afterward, floating in the water wearing a burgundy nightgown, red down jacket and blue wool socks.
Two weeks later, police wrapped their initial investigation after a coroner determined that Wood had a “slightly intoxicated” blood-alcohol level of .14 percent, and ruled her drowning accidental. Their theory at the time was that she fell into the water while trying to secure the dinghy.
Subsequently, Davern claims, Wagner furnished him with an attorney and lodgings in the Wagner home. “I felt like I was kept prisoner,” he said in 2011.
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Two new witnesses who say they overheard the fight — one of whom told authorities she also witnessed it firsthand — are “very credible,” Corina says, according to 48 Hours. “They have no reason to lie. And — their story matches what Dennis Davern says.”
Wagner has refused to speak with investigators since they began to look into the circumstances surrounding Wood’s death again. His attorney didn’t respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on Thursday.
Wood was married to Wagner twice — first in 1957 (they divorced five years later) and again in 1972 until her death.
“I haven’t seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case,” Corina said of Wagner on 48 Hours. “I think he’s constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don’t add up.”
Detectives who spoke with 48 Hours noted that there were numerous bruises on Wood’s body that appeared to be new, according to her autopsy report. “She looked like a victim of an assault,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez.
When asked if Wood’s death was a homicide rather than a tragic accident, Corina said, “I think it’s suspicious enough to make us think that something happened.”
Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water airs Saturday, Feb. 3, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.