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OTRC: Natalie Wood death: More witnesses speak out after case is reopened

Natalie Wood's grave in Los Angeles. / Natalie Wood appears in a scene from the 1961 movie 'West Side Story.' (flickr.com/photos/16539699@N00/ Mirisch Corporation / Seven Arts Productions)

More witnesses have begun speaking out about the death of Natalie Wood after an investigation into the matter, one of Hollywood's biggest mysteries, was reopened earlier this month.

Wood, who played Maria in the musical film "West Side Story," died at age 43 on Nov. 29, 1981 during a yacht trip near Catalina Island in California with Wagner, her then-husband, and Christopher Walken, who co-starred with her in the sci-fi thriller "Brainstorm." Her death was ruled an accidental drowning.

Marilyn Wayne told the television show "Entertainment Tonight" she was on a yacht located about 40 yards away from the one Wagner, Walken and Wood were on. She said that on the night before Wood's body was found in the water, at about 11 p.m., she heard a female voice yelling for help for about 25 minutes.

'Somebody help me - I'm drowning!' Wayne quoted the voice as saying, adding: "I went to the deck above and started calling out, 'Where are you?' It was very dark. There was no way to help unless I were to jump in and swim around blindly, which was not an option, given the temperature of the water, I probably would have frozen to death."

"Originally, I remained silent because of my feelings for the family," Wayne added. "The daughters were young and I thought it would be in very bad taste to rehash their mother's last moments on this earth. Now, the kids are grown. I did have a certain fear of saying something. I got an odd note in my mailbox ... that said just very cryptically, 'If you want to stay healthy' - I'm paraphrasing ... 'just keep your mouth shut.'"

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department detective Lt. John Corina told reporters on November 18 that new information had surfaced and that investigators would re-examine the case. Wagner, 81, is not a suspect, but would be contacted about the matter, he added. He declined to say whether or not officials would speak to Walken. Both actors have not commented. (See video of the press conference)

Meanwhile, Roger Smith, the lifeguard captain who found Wood after her death, told the Los Angeles Times that he believed that the actress could have been saved if a search was called earlier. He said that based on the condition of her lifeless body, she "survived for sometime in the water and was blown out to sea," adding: "She probably cried for help for hours."

Wagner, known to younger audiences as the villain "Number Two" in the "Austin Powers" films, married Wood in 1957. They divorced about four years later, then remarried in 1972 and had one child, Courtney. Wood also had another daughter, Natasha, from her marriage to British producers Richard Gregson. Wagner married for the fourth time in 1990.

"We're going to re-interview some people, interview some new people and re-evaluate some of the evidence," Corina had said. "We plan to go to Hawaii and take a look at the boat. We'll end up probably talking to the captain sooner or later. We'll go where ever the investigation's going to take us."

The former captain of the yacht, Dennis Davern, told CNN that Wagner waited hours to call the Coast Guard after Wood went missing from the vessel and added that he searched the boat for her. Warner, Davern said, told him not to turn on the searchlight to see if she was in the water. The actor has not commented about his remarks.

Wood was born as Natalia Zakharenko in California. She started out as a successful child actress in films such as "Miracle on 34th Street." She later went to star in several films including the 1955 film "Rebel Without a Cause" opposite James Dean and the movie adaptation of "Gypsy." She earned two Oscar nominations for "Splendor in the Grass" in 1961, the same year "West Side Story" was released, and "Love with the Proper Stranger" in 1963.

Corina said any issues regarding the timing of the investigation announcement - made days before the 30th anniversary of Wood's death, were "inconsequential" to the Sheriff's Department," adding: "We're not concerned with the anniversary date."

Special editions of the DVD and Blu-ray of "West Side Story" hit stores earlier this week, on November 15, to mark the musical film's 50th anniversary. Woods' co-stars from "West Side Story" recently had their handprints immortalized at Grauman's Chinese Theatre to mark the occasion.

"I wish Natalie were here - that would really complete the quartet," Rita Moreno, who played Wood's character's sister, said at the ceremony.

Check out a video from the footprint ceremony below as well as video of the press conference about the reopening of the investigation into Natalie Wood's death.

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