WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) — An author and former federal prosecutor has sued the National Enquirer, claiming a story it published on the death of actress Natalie Wood used confidential information from his book manuscript.
Ex-Arkansas prosecutor Samuel Perroni claims he sent his manuscript to the National Enquirer in September 2019 for a potential publishing deal after years of researching Wood's death, according to his complaint filed Tuesday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
Perroni, represented by Gerald Greenberg with Gelber Schachter & Greenberg in Miami, claims to have amassed an exclusive body of evidence on the case. He alleges his agreement with the National Enquirer's publisher American Media dictated that his research and sources for the book would be kept confidential if they were not already in the public domain.
Wood died on a boat trip to Santa Catalina Island with her husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken in November 1981. The “Rebel Without a Cause” actress's passing was initially described by the coroner as an accidental drowning.
But speculation snowballed over the years about reports of discord between Wood and Wagner, as well as autopsy findings that Wood's body was found covered in bruises. The criminal investigation into her death was reopened in 2011 after the captain of Wagner's yacht made public statements indicating there was an argument between Wagner and Wood the night of her disappearance.
According to the lawsuit, National Enquirer's editors in late 2019 wanted to buy some of the crime scene photos Perroni had obtained, but he declined. The tabloid then returned the manuscript to Perroni via FedEx.
Just days after returning the book, the Enquirer published the story "Natalie Wood Death Cover-Up Evidence" using information gleaned from the manuscript, the lawsuit claims.
The article appears to include an interview with the boat captain, Dennis Davern, who reportedly told the Enquirer that on the night of Wood's death, there was shattered glass and a table broken on the yacht.
The article reads: "Crime scene photographs of the ransacked room aboard the yacht, Splendour — which support Dennis’ claim — exist. But the sheriff’s department has kept the photos hidden for decades and refused repeated requests to release them to the public."
Perroni's lawsuit keys in on this section of the story. He's alleging that the existence of these photos was part of the confidential information he entrusted to the tabloid when he handed it his manuscript.
The Enquirer has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Perroni, who has worked as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney in his career, lists a single count for declaratory relief. He's requesting a judgment affirming that American Media breached the parties’ contract.
According to the complaint, Perroni's ability to negotiate a good price for his manuscript has been stifled by the release of the article. He claims the price tag on a prospective book deal "declines with every day that the [Enquirer article] remains available" online.
No counts for damages are included in the initial version of the complaint, however.
The Enquirer has reported that in 2018, 37 years after Wood's death, Los Angeles County detectives named Wagner a "person of interest" in the investigation.
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