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Natalie Wood's mysterious death brought back into spotlight after report reveals new twists

Ted Ballantine

Wood was last seen alive aboard a yacht on Thanksgiving Weekend, 1981

New report: Wood, who drowned under mysterious circumstances in 1981, sustained bruising before she got into water

Natalie Wood, the actress who in 1981 was found dead under mysterious circumstances, has had the cause of her death called into question as a report released Monday revealed new details about the case. The new report raises doubts about the suspected accidental nature of her death.

Wood, 43, was found drowned off the coast of Santa Catalina Island in Southern California thirty years ago. Authorities had originally labeled her death as an accidental drowning, but the strange circumstances the death made the case a national phenomenon and one of the biggest mysteries in Hollywood history. 

Wood had spent that night on a yacht with her husband, Richard Wanger, and her co-star, Christopher Walken. All three had been drinking heavily, and the captain of the boat reported hearing a loud argument in the hours before Wood went missing. 

The occupants of the yacht reported Natalie Wood missing at about 1:30 AM and noticed that the yacht’s lifeboat was missing. The lifeboat was later found floating along the shoreline near were Wood’s body was found. There were scratches on the side of the boat, according to authorities. 

Natalie Wood’s time of death was later determined to be midnight, an half-and-a-half before she was reported missing by her husband. 

Wagner addressed Wood’s death in his memoirs, released in 2008.

“Nobody knows,” Wagner wrote. “There are only two possibilities; either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the [lifeboat]. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.”

The new report, released Monday by Los Angeles authorities, details mysterious cuts and bruises on Woods’ arms and face. This has led investigators to change her cause of death from “drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors”.

The bruises were noticed during the original autopsy, but were said to have come during after Natalie Wood was already in the water. “Most of the bruises on the body are superficial and probably sustained at the time of drowning,” the initial autopsy report said.

But the new report raised doubts about this theory, and determined that the bruises likely came before Wood got into the water. “The location of the bruises, the multiplicity of the bruises, lack of head trauma, or facial bruising support bruising having occurred prior to entry in the water,” the recent report states.

According to authorities, Natalie Wood was not wearing a life jacket at the time of her death, and had no history of suicide attempts. The updated report states that the water was so cold at the time that she likely could not have survived long after being exposed.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department reopened the case in 2011, and the case remains open. 


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