New witness statements have re-energized the investigation into the drowning of Natalie Wood, the child star turned Hollywood icon who disappeared off a yacht over Thanksgiving weekend in 1981.
Ms. Wood went missing late on Nov. 28 from the yacht Splendour. On board were her television star husband, Robert Wagner, the actor Christopher Walken and the boat’s captain.
The men spent hours searching for her before alerting the Coast Guard. Her body was found, shoeless and wearing only a nightgown and red parka, in a rocky cove near Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles on Nov. 29. She was 43.
Originally ruled an accident, her death was recently reclassified as “suspicious.”
“She got in the water somehow, and I don’t think she got in the water by herself,” Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told Erin Moriarty, a CBS correspondent, in a special “48 Hours” report to be broadcast on Saturday.
Accounts from the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern, who has maintained he witnessed an explosive, alcohol-fueled fight between Ms. Wood and Mr. Wagner immediately before her disappearance, have long stoked speculation of foul play.
Investigators said they have two new witnesses who support Mr. Davern’s account, according to “48 Hours.”
“A witness provided details about hearing yelling and crashing sounds coming from the couple’s stateroom,” according to a statement from the Los Angeles Sheriff Department.
The statement added: “Shortly afterwards, separate witnesses identified a man and a woman arguing on the back of the boat. The witnesses believed that the voices belonged to Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner.”
The statement did not elaborate on where the witnesses were at the time or their identities.
Mr. Wagner is not a suspect but “more of a person of interest now,” Lieutenant Corina told Ms. Moriarty.
Investigators also told “48 Hours” that bruises noted on Ms. Wood’s autopsy report suggested she may have been struck.
“She looked like the victim of an assault,” said another investigator, Detective Ralph Hernandez.
Thirty years after her death, the case was reopened by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department because of new information, but Lieutenant Corina did not offer more specific details at the time. In 2012, the cause on her death certificate was changed to “drowning and other undetermined factors” from “accidental drowning.”
Mr. Wagner, who turns 88 next week, has not spoken to investigators since they reopened the case but has maintained that Ms. Wood’s death was an accident.
Mr. Walken has spoken with investigators since 2011, Ms. Moriarty told “CBS This Morning” on Friday.
Representatives for Mr. Wagner and Mr. Walken did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
By age 9, Ms. Wood had her breakthrough role in the movie “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Over the next 15 years, she starred in “West Side Story,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Splendor in the Grass” and “Love With a Proper Stranger.” She earned an Oscar nomination for each of the last three, solidifying her leading-lady status. Dozens of movies and television shows followed.
In a 1969 interview with The New York Times in Las Vegas, the reporter John Hallowell painted an image of Ms. Wood replete with money, glamour and romance. Sitting at a blackjack table, clad in a silver lamé minidress and a sable fur, Ms. Wood was “stuffing her winnings into a gold egg,” he wrote.
At that point in her life, Ms. Wood was between marriages to Mr. Wagner, the handsome star of television shows like “It Takes a Thief,” “Switch” and “Hart to Hart.” They married in 1957 and divorced in 1962. In a lawsuit she filed, she charged Mr. Wagner with “mental cruelties.”
She married the British film producer Richard Gregson in 1969 and divorced him in 1972, the same year she remarried Mr. Wagner on a boat off the coast of Southern California, even though she feared the ocean.
“I’ve always been terrified, still am, of water, dark water, seawater,” she famously said.
The Los Angeles medical examiner, Thomas Noguchi, in 1981 called her death “a tragic accident while slightly intoxicated.”
While Ms. Wood’s body was found alongside the Splendour’s dinghy — she reportedly took the dinghy out alone sometimes — Dr. Noguchi said that she had likely not gotten into it the day she died.
Despite their woes, Mr. Wagner and Ms. Wood — born Natalia Zakharenko to Russian and Ukrainian immigrant parents — were an aspirational celebrity couple. She’d admitted to having a teenage crush on Mr. Wagner, who was eight years older, and in her Times interview in 1969, she reflected on their relationship.
“We loved each other tremendously,” she said. “It was disillusioning when it didn’t work out.”