'Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind': Shrouded in mystery, here are 4 questions raised over her untimely death

'Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind': Shrouded in mystery, here are 4 questions raised over her untimely death
Natalie Wood aboard her yacht 'Splendour'

'Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind' is an HBO documentary on the life and career of celebrated actress, Natalie Wood, through candid and unique perspectives of her daughter and loved ones that she was once close to. The 'West Side Story' star tragically passed away on 29 November 1981, at the age of 43, due to accidental drowning. However, for years since, the circumstances surrounding her death have raised several questions.

Here are four things you probably did not know about the late actress' inexplicable death.

Wood's fear of dark waters

Catalina Island (HBO)

When Wood's mother Maria moved to China from a war-stricken Russia as a refugee, she encountered a gypsy and had her fortune told. The gypsy told her that her second child "would be a great beauty, known throughout the world", but told her to "beware of dark water". Maria eventually passed on the prophecy to Wood, who indeed fulfilled the first part but also developed a fear for dark waters. Her phobia wasn't a kept secret, for everyone and everyone that had been a part of her life knew of it, and that is what raises the first doubt. Why on earth would Wood venture out into the sea in the middle of the night, especially when she was "deathly afraid" of dark waters?

Delay in calling for help

Natalie Wood with husband Robert Wagner (HBO)

Biographer Suzanne Fansted wrote in her book that she believed  Wood's husband Robert Wagner had a hand in her death. The actress was believed to have gone missing around 11:30 pm from their yacht 'Splendour', which was docked on the waters of Catalina Island. However, Wagner waited two hours before contacting the Coast Guard and Shore Patrol. According to Finstad and the yacht Captain Dennis Davern, Wagner didn't make the first call until 1:30 am. In his revised police statement, Davern also said Wagner refused to turn on the boat's in-built floodlights because he didn't want to attract bad publicity. 

Wagner-Wood tiff 

Natalie Wood with 'Brainstorm' co-star Christopher Walken (HBO)

A confidential source revealed to Finstad that right before Wood went missing, Christopher Walken said he had heard her fight with Wagner, and that he confided in his friend not long after the incident. Another witness described hearing sounds of yelling and crashing coming from the couple's bedroom on deck. Marilyn Wayne, a witness who emerged when the case was reopened in 2011, told authorities that she heard a woman calling out "Somebody please help me, I’m drowning," around 11 pm until about11:30 pm, when her boat was docked about 80 feet away from the yacht. Davern also mentioned that the last words he heard Wagner say to Wood were "Get off my f***ing boat!"

Bruises found on Wood's body

Robert Wagner, and daughter Natasha Wagner at Natalie Wood's funeral (HBO)

Natalie's death was originally ruled as "accidental drowning" and "probable drowning in the ocean" by coroner Thomas Noguchi. He also noted in his report that Wood had “numerous bruises to arms and legs” that were “superficial and probably sustained at the time of drowning”. Furthermore, he wrote, “No other trauma noted and foul play is not suspected at this time.” 

Vidal Herrera, a witness who was present during Wood's autopsy, told Finstad that he had observed significant wounds to Natalie's head. Ralph Hernandez, an investigator on the reopened case, said he'd seen the photos as well and stated that her head wounds are “troubling.” The head wounds possibly indicated that she was in a violent fight and was either pushed or tossed into the water while unconscious. Dr Michael Franco, who was an intern at the coroner's office when Wood's body had come in for autopsy, said he found the bruises on Natalie's anterior thighs and shins suspicious, describing them as "friction burns." They were in the opposite direction of what one would expect with her cause of death. When he raised his concern with Noguchi, the coroner replied saying, "Some things are best left unsaid.”

'Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind' premiered on 5 May at 9 pm on HBO Max.

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