THE mysterious death of movie star Natalie Wood has become the subject of a major new podcast investigation.

Fatal Voyage: The Mysterious Death Of Natalie Wood is a 12-part series being launched on Friday, on what would have been the screen siren's 80th birthday.

Wood's body was found floating in the water off Santa Catalina Island on November 29, 1981. She was 43. The West Side Story actor was travelling on the family's yacht Splendour with her husband Robert Wagner, the ship's captain Dennis Davern, and Wood's friend, actor Christopher Walken.

In the first episode of the podcast, Ralph Hernandez, a homicide detective for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, reveals bruises found on Wood are consistent with her being the "victim of assault," which is not, as the original 1981 report concluded, caused by her struggling to climb back aboard after she fell off the yacht.

"The bottom line is, we have someone who died under very suspicious circumstances, and it's just as important of a case as a murder, but our job is to get to the truth and to hopefully come up with enough evidence to prove that truth," Det Hernandez said.

"The fact is that we have a lot of information as to the events of what occurred that evening," he said. "We have a lot of evidence that tends to point to a very suspicious death and would certainly indicate the possibility of foul play."

Natalie Wood's body was found in the water by a restaurant owner after an apparent night of drinking. She was wearing only a nightgown and a red jacket. Police originally deemed Wood's death an accident, after Wagner told authorities he believed his spouse slipped while trying to board a dinghy, hit her head and drowned.

But in February this year, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office announced Wagner had been named a "person of interest" in the "suspicious" death.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant John Corina told 48 Hours at the time that investigators wanted to talk to the now-88-year-old actor about the events leading up to Wood's death.

After excerpts of the 48 Hours interview were released, the office confirmed Wood's drowning was being investigated and that new witnesses had come forward.

Us Weekly reported that the new podcast highlights never-before-heard interviews with Wood herself, as well as excerpts from her unpublished memoir. In addition, dozens of family members and friends open up in "candid" new interviews, according to the publication.

But at its core, the series, hosted by investigative journalist Dylan Howard, explores Wood's final hours.

 

What really happened to Natalie Wood? Picture: AP
What really happened to Natalie Wood? Picture: AP

"Did Natalie jump? Did she slip? Was she unconscious before going overboard? Or was she pushed? And if so - by whom? And why?" Howard told the magazine. "It's a hell of a story. Forbidden affairs. Twisted lies. And murder."

Howard and his team spent the last seven years investigating Wood's final hours, as well as the immediate aftermath of her shocking demise. They combed through hundreds of pages of testimony and police statements to further understand what could have cause Wood, who was reportedly terrified of dark water, to drown.

The podcast also aims to analyse Wood's original autopsy, the bruises found on her lifeless body and her blood alcohol content.

Although the initial coroner's report ruled the death was "accidental death by drowning" the case was reopened in 2011.

"This is not a retelling of Natalie's sad story," Howard said. "It is an active investigation of the case. It will be the most comprehensive investigation since Natalie's death. And in the end, the listener can decide what happened to the ultimate screen siren … and just who was responsible for her death."

In February, Wood's sister, former Bond girl Lana Wood, told Fox News she was hoping to finally get closure for the mysterious death of her older sibling.

"It's very overwhelming and I don't know what to think right now," Lana said in a written statement. "I have made my feeling clear over the years as to what I think went on that night. What do I think happened? A lot of lives were ruined, that's what I think happened. All that matters to me now is the truth."

 

 

Davern, the captain of the boat, who first spoke to 48 Hours back in 2011, revealed it had been a "tension-filled weekend" that was allegedly fuelled by alcohol and Wagner's jealousy of Wood's co-star, Walken.

"It just kept getting more tense - every minute - of the day," Davern said. "I opened a bottle of wine and - Natalie and Christopher had continued to giggle. And then Robert Wagner - picked up the bottle of wine and smashed it … Natalie, she said, 'I cannot take this,' and she went into her room. And - then RJ (Wagner) went into the room - Natalie and RJ's room - and started arguing, yelling - things being thrown about.

"The fighting continued. And then - to the back of the boat. I was concerned that something really bad was going down, because of the fighting, the arguing was so intense."

While it's been reported that Davern sold his story to tabloids for money and collaborated on a tell-all book over the years, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt John Corina said in February his version of events "fit".

"Makes more sense of what happened and is corroborated by other people," he said.

Soon after that, other witnesses claimed they heard a man and a woman arguing on the back of the boat.

A representative for Wagner has declined to comment. He has refused to talk to officials about Wood's death since the case was reopened in 2011.

Wood and Wagner married in December 1957. The two began dating when she was 17 and he was 26. They divorced in April 1962 and remarried in 1972. Their daughter Courtney was born in 1974.

Back in 2016, Wagner told Fox News he still has fond memories of his late wife.

"Oh God, I do have many," he said. "You know, Natalie was such a special, marvellous woman … How lucky I was. I just had such wonderful times with her. We have our daughter and we were very lucky to have that happen to us. She was just a marvellous, marvellous light … She was just a special person."

 

This story originally appeared in Fox News and is republished here with permission.



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