Natalie Wood death update: From "accidental drowning" to "drowning and other undetermined factors"
Natalie Wood died on November 29, 1981. Her body was found floating approximately one mile off Catalina Island, located just south of Los Angeles County. According to a County coroner's report made public today – though officially amended in June 2012 – at the time of her death Natalie Wood, a three-time Academy Award nominee and the star of movies such as Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story, Gypsy, and Splendor in the Grass, had several bruises on her body that might have been the result of injuries suffered before she entered the water. (See also: "Natalie Wood Death: Sensational Rumors Continue.") [Photo: Natalie Wood ca. 1970.]
"With the presence of fresh bruises in the upper extremities in the right forearm/left wrist area and a small scratch in the anterior neck, this examiner is unable to exclude non-accidental mechanism causing these injuries," wrote Los Angeles County's chief medical examiner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran. "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."
Natalie Wood drowning: "Circumstances not clearly established"
Due to the fact that "there are unanswered questions and limited additional evidence available for evaluation," Dr. Sathyavagiswaran concluded that the manner of Natalie Wood's death "should be left as undetermined."
The report adds that "this Medical Examiner is unable to exclude non-volitional, unplanned entry into the water." When it comes to Wood's drowning and her body being found floating in the water, the report states: "Circumstances not clearly established."
Now, it remains unclear why 31 years ago the County's coroner examiner didn't find the bruises on Natalie Wood's body indicative of injuries suffered before she entered the water. Or why they – and the Los Angeles police – had no trouble ruling Wood's death "accidental."
According to the Sheriff's Department, Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood's widower and with whom Wood had had a quarrel on their yacht shortly before she went missing, is not a suspect. A third party aboard the yacht was Oscar-winning actor Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter), apparently the reason for the Wagner-Wood quarrel, and with whom Natalie Wood was then starring in Brainstorm, directed by 2001: A Space Odyssey's visual effects wizard Douglas Trumbull. Needless to say, rumors of an affair between Wood and Walken, and assorted murder / conspiracy theories have been floating about since the early '80s.