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Coroner releases new report on Natalie Wood death

By ANTHONY McCARTNEY AP Entertainment Writer

Publication: The Day

Published January 15. 2013 4:00AM
AP Photo/File

A newly released report shows coroner's officials amended Natalie Wood's death certificate based on unanswered questions about bruises on her upper body but were lacking several pieces of evidence and could only conclude that she drowned under undetermined circumstances more than 30 years ago.

Los Angeles County coroner's officials state in an 10-page addendum to Wood's autopsy report that some of the bruises may have occurred before she went into the water and drowned, but that could not be definitively determined.

The report reveals new details about a renewed investigative interest in Wood's case, but it does not answer many of lingering questions about the actress' death and a Sheriff's Department spokesman said it has not changed the ongoing status of the case.

Officials reviewed Wood's case after sheriff's investigators in late 2011 renewed their inquiry into her November 1981 drowning. Wood's death certificate was amended last year to change her cause of death from drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors" and the report released Monday details the reasons for the alteration.

The certificate was also amended to state that the circumstances of how the Oscar-nominated actress ended up in the water were "not clearly established."

Wood was on a yacht off Catalina Island with husband Robert Wagner and co-star Christopher Walken on Thanksgiving weekend in 1981 before somehow ending up in the water. A dinghy that was attached to the boat was found along the island's shoreline, but investigators could not locate it to review it last year.

Several of the original coroner's investigators who worked on the case were re-interviewed, and officials attempted to test some items taken during the investigation into Wood's death and an autopsy, but they could not be located.

Wood's autopsy found bruises on both of her arms, a small scratch on her neck and abrasions described as superficial on her forehead, left brow and cheek.

"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," the report states. "Since there are unanswered questions and limited additional evidence available for evaluation, it is opined by this Medical Examiner that the manner of death should be left as undetermined," Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran wrote in the report completed in June.

Officials also considered that Wood wasn't wearing a life jacket and had no history of suicide and didn't leave a note in amending its report and Wood's death certificate.

The report was released Monday after sheriff's officials released a security hold.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the agency has known about the findings in the newly released autopsy report for several months and it does not change the status of the investigation, which remains open. He said Wagner is not considered a suspect in Wood's death.

Wood was nominated for three Academy Awards during her lifetime. Her death stunned the world and has remained one of Hollywood's most enduring mysteries. The original detective on the case, Wagner, Walken have all said they considered her death an accident.

Conflicting versions of what happened on the yacht shared by Wood, her actor-husband Robert Wagner and their friend, actor Christopher Walken, have contributed to the mystery of how the actress died.

The newly released report states there are conflicting statements about when the boat's occupants discovered Wood was missing. The report estimates her time of death was around midnight, and she was reported missing at 1:30 a.m.

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