Robert Wagner is a “person of interest” in Natalie Wood death investigation

The veteran actor's wife passed away in 1981 on a boat trip to Santa Catalina Island

Robert Wagner is being sought as a “person of interest” by police in the re-opened investigation into the death of his wife Natalie Wood in 1981.

Wagner, who is known for his many roles in film and TV including It Takes A ThiefHart to Hart and the Austin Powers film series, married Wood – who starred in such films as Rebel Without A Cause and Love With The Proper Stranger – for the second time in 1972 after they initially divorced in 1962.

Wood drowned during a boat trip to Santa Catalina Island in California on November 29, 1981 after she went missing from the family’s yacht. As well as Wagner, the actor Christopher Walken and captain Dennis Davern were also aboard the yacht. Two weeks later, both Wagner and Walken agreed with Wood’s autopsy report, which ruled that her death had been an accident.

In 2008, Wagner wrote in a memoir that he and Walken had had an argument the night before Wood’s body was found. He claimed that, when he went to bed, he noticed his wife and a dinghy that had been attached to the yacht were missing.

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

The investigation into Wood’s death was re-opened in 2011 after Davern admitted that he had initially lied to police, stating that he believed that Wagner was responsible for Wood’s death.

Investigators from the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department have now named Wagner as a “person of interest”. Speaking to CBS News, Lt John Corina said that they intend to speak to the now-87-year-old Wagner about the circumstances surrounding Wood’s death.

“As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s [Wagner] more of a person of interest now,” Corina said. “I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”

Corina added that the circumstances surrounding her death are “suspicious enough to make us think that something happened”.

Detective Ralph Hernandez told CBS that Wood “looked like a victim of an assault”, stating: “We have not been able to prove this was a homicide, and we haven’t been able to prove that this was an accident, either. The ultimate problem is we don’t know how she ended up in the water.”

Investigators said that Wagner has refused to speak with them since the case was reopened, while Walken has spoken with investigators.

CBS News’ 48 Hours programme will air a special episode, Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water, on Sunday (February 4).