The enduring mystery surrounding actress Natalie Wood’s fatal drowning 37 years ago leapt back into the headlines recently with six words from an investigator, who stated that Wood’s then-husband Robert Wagner now is “more of a person of interest” in the case that for decades had been labeled an accident.
Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department followed up on his comments Monday, telling reporters at a news conference that since the agency reopened the case in 2011, more than 100 tips have come in.
The tips have allowed investigators to create a new timeline of events that transpired aboard the couple’s yacht off the coast of California’s Catalina Island on the night of Nov. 28, 1981 — before the body of Wood, 43, a three-time Oscar nominee and mother-of-two, was found floating in the water.
Here are 5 things to know about the mysterious case:
1. Wood’s Death Was Initially Ruled Accidental Drowning — But Now Called ‘Suspicious’
Wood, Wagner and actor Christopher Walken, Wood’s costar in the film Brainstorm, set sail together on the couple’s 60-foot yacht Splendour, on Thanksgiving weekend 1981.
But it was a tension-filled trip, according to accounts later shared by the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern, and also by Wagner in his 2008 memoir Pieces of My Heart: A Life.
Wagner wrote that he became angry over Walken’s attempt to interfere in the direction of Wood’s career. Davern told police that he sensed jealousy in Wagner’s perception of the relationship between Wood and Walken. Both said alcohol fueled the conflict.
Wood walked out of a room aboard the boat amid the argument on the night of Nov. 28. Wagner told investigators she subsequently went missing. The next morning, after authorities recovered an inflatable dinghy that previously had been tied to the yacht, Wood’s body was found in the water covered only in a burgundy nightgown, blue socks and a red down jacket.
Two weeks later, after a coroner found Wood had an intoxicated blood-alcohol level and ruled her drowning accidental, police closed the case. But with nagging uncertainty, they received information that led them to reopen it in 2011, and now deem her death “suspicious,” say authorities.
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“This is a suspicious death investigation. This is not a murder investigation,” Corina said Monday, two days after a CBS 48 Hours broadcast first highlighted renewed progress in the reopened case.
“We’ve interviewed a lot of new people — near the island, near the boat, people who had knowledge about the couple and what was going on that weekend,” Corina said at the news conference. “We’re closer to understanding what happened.”
2. Robert Wagner Is a ‘Person of Interest’ in the Case
Speaking about Wagner, Corina told reporters, “He’s a person of interest because he’s the last person with her before she went into the water.” He added, “We want to talk to Robert Wagner. We’d love to hear his version of events.”
Wagner, who married Wood twice — first in 1957, followed by divorce five years later, and then again in 1972 — gave an account to investigators in the immediate aftermath. Davern also spoke with investigators before they initially closed their case.
But witnesses who’ve come forward since 2011 have provided more detail and credibility to accounts of the couple’s loud fighting that night, Corina says.
“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 when her body was recovered, according to her autopsy report. “She looked like a victim of an assault,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez.
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3. Captain Alleges Wagner’s Rage Sprang From Jealousy — and New Accounts Make Claim ‘Credible’
Investigators now say that “credible” new witnesses have backed up Davern’s account that he saw Wagner explode in a jealous rage over Wood’s relationship with Walken.
Wagner himself wrote in his memoir about his outburst, though he said it concerned a fight with Walken over the direction of Wood’s career: “Walken and I got into an argument. At one point I picked up a wine bottle, slammed it on the table, and broke it into pieces.”
Wagner added that Wood by then had gone belowdecks and left the men alone. But Davern, upon hearing Wood and Wagner continuing to argue in their cabin, said he went to check on the couple, according to Corina.
“He was worried there was some kind of assault going on,” Corina said at the news conference. “He was told by Robert Wagner to go away.” Davern left the couple and went back up top, said Corina, adding, “He was afraid for his own safety.”
Others who were not on the boat but nearby also noted the commotion, according to a statement from the sheriff’s department that described what new witnesses said.
“A witness provided details about hearing yelling and crashing sounds coming from the couple’s stateroom,” the statement said. “Shortly afterwards, separate witnesses identified a man and woman arguing on the back of the boat. The witnesses believed that the voices belonged to Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner.”
4. Wood Was Going to Bed the Last Time He Saw Her, Wagner Wrote
Wagner has refused to speak with investigators since they began to look into the circumstances surrounding Wood’s death again. His attorney has not responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
However, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Nicole Nishida tells PEOPLE that the last time the office requested an interview with Wagner was late in 2012.
Wagner has long said he had no involvement in her death. No charges have ever been filed, and he has never been said to be a suspect. Walken has never been considered a person of interest, Corina said Monday.
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.”
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Writing about that night in his 2008 memoir, Wagner wrote that when he smashed the bottle in anger at Walken, “Natalie was already belowdecks.”
“She had gotten up during our argument — she didn’t rush out, she just got up — and went down the three steps from the salon of the boat to the master cabin to go to the bathroom,” he wrote.
“The last time I saw my wife she was fixing her hair at a little vanity in the bathroom while I was arguing with Chris Walken,” he wrote. “I saw her shut the door. She was going to bed.”
5. The Couple’s Enduring Glamour Has Kept the Mystery Alive
By the time they first married, Wood already had filmed her iconic role in Rebel Without a Cause, earning the first of her three Oscar nominations. She eventually would act in some 50 films, including Splendor in the Grass, Love With the Proper Stranger, West Side Story and Gypsy, and earn Oscar nominations two more times.
Her initial union with Wagner, an actor who “knows everyone in Hollywood,” a source who knows him tells PEOPLE, captured the then-youthful couple at their peak. Their reunion and remarriage after a breakup fed their love story.
While apart and married to others, Wood and Wagner each had a daughter. Together they had another one during their second marriage to each other.
Wagner, now 88, has been married since 1990 to the actress Jill St. John.