The 1981 death of actress Natalie Wood has been one of Hollywood’s greatest mysteries. Was it an accident or foul play? 48 HOURS correspondent Erin Moriarty gets the inside story from Wood’s sister Lana Wood in a special edition of her podcast “My Life of Crime,” recorded before an audience at CrimeCon.
Lana Wood tells Moriarty she’s fighting to find the truth behind her sister’s death.
“She had come to my defense many, many times throughout my life,” Wood tells Moriarty. “And I think she would be very proud that I am trying to come to hers.”
Wood drowned off the coast of Catalina Island in California in November 1981 after she went missing from the Splendour, her family’s yacht. Also aboard that night were Captain Dennis Davern; Wood’s husband, Robert Wagner; and Wood’s friend, fellow actor Christopher Walken. The next day, the actress was found floating in the water wearing a red down jacket and flannel nightgown. After a two-week investigation, the death was ruled an accident. But in 2011 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reopened the death investigation. And in 2012, the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office amended the death certificate, changing the manner of death from an accidental drowning to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
Then, in 2018, after a seven-year investigation, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez and Lieutenant John Corina told 48 HOURS exclusively that they now had enough new evidence to officially name Wood’s then-husband, actor Robert Wagner, often called RJ, a “person of interest” in the death of his wife. Wagner has refused to speak with investigators since the case was reopened.
Wood tells Moriarty that she didn’t feel vindicated that Wagner had been named a person of interest.
“I just felt a little glimmer of hope, that things might move forward and we would finally know the truth,” Wood tells Moriarty.
Wood talks with Moriarty about Wood’s fear of water, her sister’s career and her two marriages to Wagner. She said she was stunned Wood and Wagner got together a second time. She also talks with Moriarty about confronting Wagner at home after the funeral.
“I went upstairs, and RJ was sitting in the master bedroom,” Wood says. “And I stood there. And I said, ‘RJ, what happened?’ And he wouldn’t even look at me. He said it was an accident. ‘You’ve got to believe me.’ And then somebody grabbed me by the arm and said ‘Leave him alone, leave him alone,’ and pulled me out of the bedroom. That was it.”
“My Life of Crime” is the new podcast from the producers of 48 HOURS, America’s Saturday-night true-crime destination. The series brings listeners along with Moriarty for an immersive, intimate and sometimes irreverent look at true-crime stories. Some are infamous, some are little known, but all include Moriarty’s signature reporting.
Moriarty has been a correspondent for 48 HOURS since 1990. Her reporting appears across all CBS News platforms and programs. Her work has been honored with virtually every major broadcast journalism award, including nine Emmy Awards. In 2019 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation. “My Life of Crime” is created by the team at 48 HOURS. Judy Tygard is the executive producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Michael Vele is the series producer/editor. Luis Giraldo, Marc Goldbaum, Tamara Weitzman, Liza Finley, Ryan Smith and Jaime Hellman are the producers. Morgan Canty and Emma Steele are the associate producers.