Actor Robert Wagner a 'person of interest' over wife Natalie Wood's death, police say

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department re-opened the investigation in 2011

Actor Robert Wagner a 'person of interest' over wife Natalie Wood's death, police say

American actor Robert Wagner and his actress wife Natalie Wood at Heathrow Airport in London in 1976 | Image: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

Police investigating the unexplained drowning of Hollywood star Natalie Wood in 1981 say her actor husband, Robert Wagner, is now a person of interest.

In an interview with CBS News' 48 Hours programme, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant John Corina said: "As we've investigated the case over the last six years, I think he's more of a person of interest now.

"I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared."

The West Side Story and Rebel Without A Cause star, who was 43, had been drinking heavily on a yacht with Wagner and fellow actor Christopher Walken on the night she died.

Hart to Hart star Wagner alerted authorities at 1.30am and a search was launched.

It was initially thought she might have returned to shore using the boat's dinghy.

Her body was found floating face-down in the ocean some 200 metres from shore. The dinghy was found nearby, about a mile from the main boat.

There was bruising found on Wood's face, but the initial coroner's report decided the death was accidental and the bruising probably occurred when she ended up in the water.

In 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department re-opened the investigation.

Robert Wagner attends the screening of ''Northpole''at The Grove in Los Angeles in November 2014 | Image: Phil Roach/Zuma Press/PA Images

A coroner's report in 2013 concluded her death should be left as "undetermined".

"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," it said.

Wagner, now aged 87, wrote in a 2008 memoir that he and Walken had argued that night.

He wrote that Walken went to bed and he stayed up for a while, but 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."

Officer Corina said of Wagner: "I haven't seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case. I think he's constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don't add up."

"I think it's suspicious enough to make us think that something happened," he said.

As a 16-year-old, Wood's part in Rebel Without A Cause alongside James Dean in 1955 earned her a nomination for the best supporting actress Oscar.

She starred in the musicals West Side Story and Gypsy, and received best actress nominations for her performances in Splendor In The Grass and Love With The Proper Stranger.