Rebecca Zahau’s Last Days: A Tragic Accident, Conspiracy Theories and a Household That Insists Her Loss of life Wasn’t a Suicide

Courtesy of Mary Zahau-Loehner

To be clear, there is no such thing as a official homicide investigation into the loss of life of Rebecca Zahau.

However not for lack of making an attempt by her household, who eight years later nonetheless don’t imagine that the 32-year-old girl dedicated suicide at her boyfriend’s palatial San Diego-area residence in 2011.

“I, personally, have been agonizing over this case ever since I heard about it,” says former prosecutor Loni Coombs within the new Oxygen restricted sequence Loss of life on the Mansion: Rebecca Zahau, which premieres tonight. “Ever since I heard that they declared it a suicide, I wished to know, what’s actually occurring right here?”

Coombs notes that the common narrative of the unarguably tragic occasions in query appeared to deal with the truth that Zahau was a reasonably Burmese immigrant relationship a millionaire pharmaceutical govt who was 22 years her senior, and that is the place her story ended. “And if she wasn’t stunning, they most likely would not have talked about her in any respect,” Coombs provides.

Zahau was additionally a college-educated world traveler who spoke six languages and labored as an authorized ophthalmic technician in Arizona till about seven months earlier than she died within the small island resort metropolis of Coronado, Calif.

Her sister Mary Zahau-Loehner, who had moved with Rebecca to the USA from Burma a decade prior, advised The Each day Beast in 2011, “She has shut buddies all over. She was an individual who wasn’t afraid to maneuver. If she thinks there’s a higher probability for her profession, she wasn’t afraid to maneuver to a different metropolis. She was in Phoenix solely the final 4 years. She was in California and New York.”

In December 2010, Zahau reportedly stop her job to spend extra time along with her boyfriend and his household.

And on July 13, 2011, a Wednesday, authorities say Zahau hanged herself from a second-story balcony exterior a visitor bed room within the 27-room Coronado mansion the place she was dwelling along with her boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai.

She was bare, and her palms had been certain behind her again, and her ft had been certain as nicely, based on Adam Shacknai, Jonah’s brother. Adam advised police he discovered her that approach at 6:45 a.m., then reduce her down. Her physique was on the garden within the yard when police arrived on the scene.

Adam was staying in a guesthouse on the property and was believed to be the one different individual residence that morning. Jonah was not in Coronado on the time, based on police.

Mary Zahau-Loehner advised ABC Information that she had simply spoken to her sister from her residence in Missouri near midnight on Tuesday. “She was regular, positive, simply on the point of go to mattress,” Zahau-Loehner stated. 

A neighbor advised native ABC affiliate KGTV that they’d heard loud music coming from the mansion on Tuesday night time and assumed that there had been a celebration, although police by no means confirmed there was any gathering.

Jonah Shacknai purchased the 12,000-square-foot home, which was initially owned by transportation and actual property mogul John Spreckels, in 2007 for a reported $13 million and had primarily used it as a trip residence. His firm, Medicis Pharmaceutical Company, was based mostly in Scottsdale, Ariz., the place he met Zahau. (Rebecca had reportedly simply secured a divorce in February 2011 and was utilizing her maiden identify once more after going by Nalepa whereas married.)

“They had been collectively for 2 or three years and I feel they had been blissful,” Zahau-Loehner stated. “She goes to that Coronado home together with his children, they go there within the summertime.”

However that summer season, tragedy had struck.

On Monday, July 11, Jonah’s 6-year-old son Max Shacknai had tumbled over a second-story banister and fell 9 ft to the bottom flooring, whereas he was apparently alone within the residence with Zahau and her 13-year-old sister Xena, who known as 911 at 10:10 a.m. The kid did not have a pulse and wasn’t respiratory when first responders arrived; he was taken to a neighborhood hospital after which transported to Rady Kids’s Hospital San Diego.

Max was Jonah’s son together with his second spouse, Dina Shacknai; they divorced in 2008. Jonah has two older youngsters from his first marriage.

Adam Shacknai had arrived on the town Monday night time within the wake of Max’s accident, police stated.

“At the moment, we’ve got no info that may lead us to imagine that is something aside from a tragic accident with the kid,” Coronado Police Chief Louis Scanlon advised reporters on July 14.

Max was within the hospital when Zahau died, and he died of his accidents on Saturday, July 16.

“His loving, variety and vibrant spirit will eternally be in our hearts and people whom he touched day by day,” Jonah Shacknai wrote in an e mail despatched to numerous media retailers on July 17. “The loss to our households, Max’s many buddies of all ages, and teammates, and the group is immeasurable.”

Ted Greenberg, proprietor of dog-boarding service Camp Diggity Canines, advised The Each day Beast on the time that Rebecca had known as on the afternoon of July 11 to have her canine picked up, explaining that she needed to go to the hospital as a result of her son had been injured in a fall. When Greenberg went to select up the canine the next morning, Zahau was “very quiet and calm, nearly like somebody was asleep in the home. She wasn’t hysterical…She requested me to maintain the canine for just a few days.”

Speaking to reporters after Zahau was discovered lifeless, San Diego Sheriff’s Capt. Tim Curran known as it “a really weird loss of life.” However regardless of sure particulars that appeared antithetical to the idea that Zahau dedicated suicide by hanging, stranger issues had occurred.

“There are some very distinctive methods” through which individuals kill themselves, Curran added. “If it was decided to be a suicide, individuals will do some very weird issues.” 

Two search warrants had been executed on the property, one on July 13 and the opposite July 15, however all the main points of the investigation had been saved formally sealed till they had been able to launch their findings.

“At this level we’ve not come to a conclusion,” Sgt. Roy Frank of the San Diego County Sheriff’s murder division advised The Each day Beast. “It isn’t an accident, so what that results in is a suicide or murder. We course of the case as if it’s the worse-case situation, and that approach we do not miss something.”

Per week after Zahau died, Mary Zahau-Loehner advised a reporter, “It was not a suicide. As a result of I do know my sister.”

Rebecca Zahau

Dwight Smith/Horizon Eye Specialists

On the morning of Sept. 2, 2011, metropolis and county officers introduced at a press convention that Zahau’s loss of life had been dominated a suicide. The set off, they concluded, was guilt over what occurred to Max.

Investigators defined, with the assistance of a reenactment video, that they believed she had made a makeshift noose with a bit of pink rope and tied one finish of it to the footboard of the mattress earlier than tying her ft collectively, slipping the noose round her neck after which binding her palms. Then she made her approach exterior to the balcony and bought herself over the sting, they stated. Toxicology assessments discovered no medicine or alcohol in her system.

There was no proof of a battle and he or she “was alive when she went over the balcony,” Dr. Jonathan Lucas, San Diego County chief deputy medical expert, advised reporters. 

As for tying herself up, Lucas stated, it wasn’t frequent however “the pondering is, they bind themselves in order that they will not change their thoughts halfway by way of.”

The proof continued: her fingerprints had been discovered on a knife that she apparently used to chop the rope, in addition to on the door to the balcony. DNA proof on the rope and the foot of the mattress was a match to Zahau. Toe impressions on the dusty balcony additionally appeared to have been made by ft that had been certain collectively. The bindings had been tied with primary knots, no further experience wanted. There was additionally a message written in black paint on the bed room door, however authorities would not disclose what it stated on the time.

Rebecca Zahau, Mansion

Courtesy of San Diego Sheriff’s Division

Within the post-mortem report it acknowledged that the message learn, “She Saved Him Can You Save Her.” Investigators could not definitively show she wrote it, they stated, as a result of there was no different pattern of her handwriting on a door, in paint, to match it with.

“The [findings] are all compelling, and all level persuasively to a single conclusion: These deaths usually are not the results of any felony acts,” San Diego County Sheriff Invoice Gore stated on the press convention. “Science is our greatest witness on this case. Science isn’t biased, nor does it lie.”

With regard to Max’s accident, they theorized that he may have been working down the corridor when he tripped and stumbled over the banister. He had grasped for the chandelier earlier than he fell to the ground; items of the sunshine fixture had been additionally discovered on the bottom. Zahau was “clearly distraught” when interviewed afterward.

At 12:50 a.m. on the morning of July 13, investigators stated, Zahau had known as her voicemail and listened to a message from Jonah informing her that Max was probably going to die, after his situation had beforehand been declared steady.

Authorities stated they believed she had killed herself inside a few hours of listening to that message; Jonah Shacknai and his ex-wife had been at their son’s bedside when it occurred.

“Whereas the investigation is over, the vacancy and disappointment in our hearts will stay eternally,” Jonah stated in a press release in response to the police, sheriff and medical expert’s findings. “Max was an awfully loving, blissful, proficient, and particular little boy. He introduced pleasure to everybody who knew him, and we’ll miss him desperately.

“Rebecca too was a beautiful and distinctive one who will all the time have a particular place in my coronary heart. Nothing will ever be the identical for our households after these losses, however with at the moment’s info offering some a lot wanted solutions, we’ll attempt to rebuild our lives and honor the reminiscences we feature with us.”

In the meantime, Rebecca’s household wasn’t having it, and so they employed a lawyer to additional probe what occurred.

The lawyer, in flip, employed forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht as a guide to overview the post-mortem findings.

“I might have left the style of loss of life… as undetermined, as a result of I feel there are a number of issues so far as I can see that haven’t been defined,” he stated after the suicide discovering was introduced, CNN reported Sept. 7. He additionally stated that the post-mortem report confirmed Zahau had 4 hemorrhages on the highest of her head that indicated blunt pressure trauma.

“Meaning your head struck one thing or was struck by one thing,” he stated. “I repeat for emphasis: 4 separate areas. The pinnacle is contoured; to have it bruised elsewhere, which means it’s a must to strike totally different components of the pinnacle.” Whereas contact with vegetation beneath the balcony would account for a number of the abrasions on her physique, Wecht continued, they would not account for the pinnacle accidents. The report additionally famous materials that regarded like tape residue on her mid-left shin and decrease proper leg, and a bit of a shirt that was wrapped across the rope was caught in her mouth.

“Why would she do this?” Wecht famous. “Was she afraid of waking somebody up by screaming?”

Rebecca Zahau

Courtesy of Mary Zahau-Loehner

“Not one of the observations listed above are inconsistent with the conclusions reached concerning the trigger and method of loss of life of Rebecca Zahau,” Dr. Jonathan Lucas of the medical expert’s workplace acknowledged in a information launch in response to the questions Wecht raised.

“My sister was murdered, that is it,” one other of Rebecca’s sisters, Snowem Horwath, advised HLN’s Vinnie Politan on Sept. 7, 2011. “There isn’t any approach, no approach, my sister would commit suicide in such a state.”

“My sister by no means had a psychiatric drawback, by no means been on psychiatric remedy and by no means had tried suicide— not to mention ever talked about harming herself,” Mary Zahau-Loehner additionally advised Dr. Drew Pinsky for HLN.

“My sister didn’t commit suicide,” Horwath reiterated. “We, as a household, we would like justice for [Rebecca] and we’ll struggle nevertheless lengthy must be till the assassin of my sister is discovered.”

The household made good on their vow to maintain combating, however they weren’t the one ones who wished investigators to take a second have a look at the horrific occasions that occurred between July 11 and July 13.

Dina Shacknai, Max’s mom, employed her personal consultants to conduct an impartial investigation as nicely and, in August 2012, Dr. Judy Melinek acknowledged that she thought officers had gotten the circumstances of the 6-year-old’s loss of life incorrect, NBC 7 San Diego reported.

“It might be extra correct to certify that method as a murder, the place murder is outlined as loss of life by the hands of one other,” Melinek stated.

Dina Shacknai stated in a press release, “Issues simply did not add as much as me, so I employed impartial consultants to overview the findings. Once I began this course of all I knew is that I wished the reality, wherever that led, like every mother or father would…Despite the fact that nothing will convey my solely baby Maxie again, I owe it to him, as his mom, to verify the true information of his loss of life are recognized. It is vital that his story be advised, as a result of this might occur to anybody’s baby.”

To this point, authorities have held quick to their findings that Max’s loss of life was the results of an accident.

Rebecca Zahau, Jonah Shacknai

Courtesy of Mary Zahau-Loehner

In the meantime, with Zahau’s household insisting that she did not kill herself, which in flip meant the story was alive and kicking within the media, in September 2011 Jonah Shacknai wrote to then-California Legal professional Basic Kamala Harris to overview San Diego officers’ findings.

“The unrelenting and infrequently vicious hypothesis and innuendo in sure media retailers proceed to convey additional ache to everybody who has been touched by these tragic occasions,” he stated in a press release, per NBC 7 San Diego. “It’s insupportable to take a seat again and watch my different youngsters and the remainder of my household, and my former spouse Dina’s household, tormented with these unfounded rumors and accusations.”

Harris’ workplace declined to overview the findings, responding in a letter that they solely bought concerned with native investigations “beneath very slim circumstances,” and extreme hypothesis wasn’t one in all them.

That November, Zahau’s sisters and Dr. Wecht went on Dr. Phil to share findings of a second post-mortem carried out on Zahau, whose physique was exhumed on the household’s request. A non-public donation fund reportedly paid the bills.

In the end, Wecht stated, he agreed that she died by hanging, however he believed somebody may have positioned that noose round her neck.

“My sister didn’t point out that she was depressed, suicidal, or that she wished to harm herself,” Zahau-Loehner advised Dr. Phil McGraw, who in the end appeared to softly facet with the unique, official outcomes. “It nonetheless appears like a dream or some dangerous horror film.”

The household additional disputed that Zahau wrote on the door, saying the handwriting did not appear to be hers, and famous that none of them had heard the since-deleted voicemail about Max that supposedly instantly led to Zahau killing herself. They stated they doubted the voicemail ever existed.

Zahau-Loehner stated she bought a textual content from Rebecca studying, partially, “I must be sturdy for Jonah.” And so they additionally wished the legal professional common’s workplace to research, they stated.

Rebecca Zahau

Courtesy of Mary Zahau-Loehner

The state by no means intervened, however Zahau’s household sued to have the case reopened in Might 2013.

“Anyone that appears at this objectively, does not see suicide,” the household’s legal professional Marty Rudoy advised NBC 7 San Diego. “My guess is 99.9 p.c of individuals on the earth suppose it is a murder and the one individuals who suppose it is a suicide are the authorities in San Diego.”

Zahau household legal professional David Fleck additionally stated in regards to the try to have the case reopened, “We’re not simply searching for compelling proof of suicide, we’re searching for any proof of suicide. I imagine there are a number of individuals who ought to have been in jail later that day that Rebecca was discovered lifeless and they need to’ve been charged with first diploma homicide inside two days after.”

Then, in July 2013, the household filed a wrongful loss of life lawsuit alleging that Zahau was murdered. The criticism named Adam Shacknai, Dina Shacknai and her twin sister, Nina Romano. 

The case went to trial in 2018, by then with Adam Shacknai as the only defendant, and the plaintiffs alleging that he attacked and killed Zahau after which staged a situation that regarded like suicide.

“We’re assured that the trial on this case will conclusively vindicate Adam and at last convey closure to those outrageous allegations,” his legal professional Daniel Webb advised the San Diego Union-Tribune in February 2018, as jury choice bought underway. 

In a videotaped deposition performed in courtroom, Dina Shacknai recalled her ex-husband telling her, when Max was first hospitalized, “‘You must get down in your knees and thank [Rebecca] for saving Max’s life.’ I stated, in fact I am grateful to her, as a result of she gave him CPR.”

Additionally by way of video deposition, Zahau’s sister Xena, who known as 911 after Max fell, testified that she had been within the bathe that morning when she heard Rebecca scream, and when she ran downstairs Rebecca was on the ground with Max’s head in her lap, and items of the chandelier had been throughout them.

Through the trial, the protection identified that Adam’s DNA and fingerprints had been nowhere to be discovered within the bed room the place Zahau orchestrated her suicide, whereas hers had been all over.

Mary Zahau-Loehner, Rebecca Zahau

Courtesy of Mary Zahau-Loehner

Webb additionally intently questioned Zahau-Loehner on the stand about why her household had initially gone after Dina and her sister with their lawsuit as nicely, if now swiftly they had been so certain as to what had occurred.

“That was the idea we had in our household on the time,” Zahau-Loehner replied. The suicide ruling, bogus in her thoughts, “did not depart us any choice however to begin from scratch. We did not have sufficient proof to exclude any of them.”

Adam Shacknai testified that he went exterior that morning, noticed Rebecca hanging, stood on a desk to succeed in her and reduce the rope with a knife, then tried to manage CPR. He was the one who known as his brother to inform Jonah that she was lifeless, he stated.

On April four, 2018, after deliberating for lower than a day after a six-week trial, the jury discovered 9-Three that Adam Shacknai was liable in Zahau’s loss of life, and awarded her household $5 million in damages for lack of love and companionship, plus $167,000 in misplaced financial assist that Zahau might have been in a position to present had she lived.

“We had been extraordinarily disenchanted and in addition astounded verdict could possibly be rendered when there wasn’t a speck of proof that Adam Shacknai had something to do with the loss of life of Rebecca Zahau,” Webb advised reporters exterior the courtroom. 

Leaving courtroom, Shacknai stated he felt good about his probabilities at having the decision reversed on enchantment. “I am not fearful about these posers,” he stated. “They bought away with one thing as soon as. They bought fortunate one time. I do not suppose they are going to get fortunate once more.”

The plaintiffs’ legal professional C. Keith Greer stated the case had by no means been about cash, however reasonably what they actually wished was to have the case reopened.

Per the Los Angeles Instances, San Diego Nation Sheriff’s Commander Dave Myers, who was working in opposition to incumbent Invoice Gore for county sheriff on the time, stated he would reopen the “extremely controversial” investigation if he received.

Sheriff Gore, who had been in his put up when the preliminary findings had been launched, stated that he was open to contemplating new proof.

Nonetheless, in December, after assigning investigators to overview the case, he publicly stood by his division’s 2011 conclusion, that Zahau dedicated suicide. “It is a very uncommon case,” he acknowledged. “It lends itself to conspiracy theories. You had the Spreckles mansion on the ocean, you had a millionaire, you had the tragic loss of life of Max…after which the suicide of Rebecca Zahau.”

“All I can do,” Gore (who received re-election) stated, “is go the place the proof takes us. And the proof on this case—the interviews, the forensics proof—takes us to the conclusion that she didn’t die by the hands of one other. She took her personal life and the absence of proof on this case that signifies Mr. Shacknai—the legal professional [used] that to attempt to implicate him.”

Rebecca Zahau

Courtesy of Mary Zahau-Loehner

Adam Shacknai appealed, and in January San Diego Choose Katherine Bacal acknowledged that she was reluctant to throw out the jury’s verdict regardless of the protection’s allegations of juror misconduct and quite a few inaccurate rulings in the course of the trial. And she or he, too, had questions.

“The Court docket feels remiss if it doesn’t state that the Sheriff’s investigation leaves nearly as many questions unanswered as answered,” Bacal wrote in her ruling, per the LA Instances. 

“Given these information alone, frequent sense says Rebecca didn’t paint the amateurishly painted message on the door,” the decide wrote. “And if she didn’t, another person did. Figuring out who wrote the message would definitely be circumstantial proof pointing to who killed Rebecca Zahau. This was solely one in all quite a few items of circumstantial proof that places the Sheriff’s conclusion into query.

“Because of this, it isn’t unreasonable to nonetheless ask, ‘Who killed Rebecca Zahau?'”

Adam Shacknai adamantly maintains that he’s fully harmless.

“Apparently, it did not appear to do quite a lot of good in that trial as a result of individuals will imagine what they need to imagine with no proof,” he stated on NBC’s Dateline in November.

In February, with Bacal on account of hear last arguments, Zahau’s household and Shacknai’s insurance coverage firm reached a settlement of $600,000, ensuing within the civil case being dismissed with prejudice, that means it cannot be refiled. That in flip vacated the jury’s $5.167 million verdict and means he is now not legally chargeable for Zahau’s loss of life. 

“I suppose my insurance coverage firm did an finish round this entire course of,” Shacknai, who stated he was not conscious that negotiations had been going down, advised reporters after the dismissal, per Fox 5 San Diego. “They believed in my innocence however they had been uninterested in throwing cash at it. They settled for a pittance. Extortion is alive and nicely.”

“Mr. Shacknai is conscious that most individuals usually are not going to know the authorized particulars,” his legal professional Seth Weisburst stated. “He very a lot wished to take any alternative he can, whether or not it is within the courts or exterior of the courts, to point out that that is fully baseless and outrageous—that he had nothing to do with the loss of life of Rebecca Zahau.”

However such legalities have finished nothing to persuade Zahau’s household that she killed herself.

Death At The Mansion: Rebecca Zahau


Greer advised Individuals final month that they are contemplating submitting swimsuit in opposition to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Division subsequent of their ongoing quest to get method of loss of life modified from suicide to murder. 

“We carried out an goal and thorough investigation into Miss Zahau’s loss of life,” the sheriff’s division acknowledged in reply. “The information of that investigation have led to the conclusion that Miss Zahau took her personal life.”

In Might, Investigation Discovery aired Rebecca Zahau: An ID Homicide Thriller, and tonight Oxygen takes over the search with Loss of life on the Mansion: Rebecca Zahau.

“We wish Becky’s identify on the market,” Doug Loener, Mary Zahau-Loehner’s husband, advised Fox Information just lately. 

“We need to apply extra strain to the sheriff’s workplace to do the proper factor. I hope there’s public consciousness. I might like to see what these detectives are seeing. I am definitely not seeing what they’re taking a look at. I am really not. The one factor I can see is that there is murder written all over… Becky was killed. You possibly can’t deal with individuals this manner.”

Loss of life on the Mansion: Rebecca Zahau premieres Saturday, June 1, on Oxygen at 6 p.m. 

(E! and Oxygen are each members of the NBCUniversal household.)

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