'Woman Sydney forgot' spurs will battle

By Billy Adams

Natalie Wood.
Natalie Wood.

They didn't give the old lady a second thought as she lay dead on her bedroom floor for almost eight years.

Now Natalie Wood's extended family are circling, and staking a claim on a piece of her million-dollar estate.

All but ignored in life, the woman with the famous name has gained macabre celebrity in death, which experts believe happened in January 2004.

The discovery by police of skeletal remains in Wood's Sydney home in July 2011 prompted an outpouring of shock and public introspection.

Today a coronial inquest will hear how family, neighbours and authorities remained oblivious to her fate, and how no one attempted to confirm her whereabouts.

Investigating detectives have recommended the establishment of a monitoring system involving various agencies - including social security, energy providers and banks - to prevent future grisly repeats.

But family members will be most interested in the coroner's decision on the official date of death.

If it remains as the day her body was found, at least five of Wood's relatives are understood to be in line to receive a share of her estate.

The pensioner left no will to dispose of almost A$80,000 ($86,4,00) in her bank account and a now derelict terraced house near Sydney's main railway station.

In the current booming property market, the two-storey house would fetch at least A$800,000.

Changes in 2010 to the New South Wales intestacy law broadened the definition of family members who are entitled to a share in such cases.

Before that they would have had no claim, and the proceeds would have probably been awarded to the estate of Wood's older brother, Vane, who died in 2009. His widow, Enid Davis, is the sole beneficiary.

She is now contesting a joint legal claim by other members of the extended family.

Her solicitor Vasso Tsolakis denies telling the Sydney Morning Herald the case would get "ugly" but says his client will lose out if the coroner retains the existing date of death. "If he finds it is in 2004 our client is entitled to get the estate," he said.

Wood, born in 1924, was briefly married to a navy seaman after World War II but spent much of her adult life living with her mother, Phyllis. In 1979 they moved in with Vane and Enid, before Wood returned to the terraced house in the late 1990s.

Davis reportedly told police her sister-in-law became a recluse.

"She wouldn't answer the door unless you knocked using a special code," she said.

The last time Wood was seen was on December 30, 2003, when she collected high blood pressure medication from a local pharmacy.

Police believe she died within weeks, and in the years that followed neighbours say they assumed she had gone to live with relatives again because she was suffering from dementia.

Debt collectors turned up to settle electricity bills, before power was disconnected. State pension payments, which continued until 2008, stopped after officials gave up trying to track her down.

Even her brother and sister-in-law fell out of touch, and it was only two years after Vane's death, when Enid asked police to help find Wood, that they made the horrific discovery.

Ten years after she died, Wood continues to prove elusive. In the absence of living blood relatives, forensics experts could not confirm her identity using DNA.

They turned to dental records, but Wood had no teeth - only dentures found close to the remains.

The "woman Sydney forgot" will be remembered based on the "balance of probabilities".

And for an unsavoury legal battle still to come.

- NZ Herald

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