Wednesday, July 20, 2011
by Cathy Scott
A real mystery–and a true tragedy–is unfolding on Coronado Island, a wealthy seaside enclave across the bay from San Diego. And it's gripped this typically quiet tourist town.
On July 13, Rebecca Zaha's nude body was found hanging from a rope tied to a second-floor balcony at the Spreckels 27-room mansion on Ocean Boulevard. Her hands were tied behind her back, her feet bound with orange electrical cord.
At first, suicide was suspected. But that's akin. at least in the 1970s and '80s, to a Las Vegas coroner ruling a known mob hit a suicide when the person was shot twice in the back of the head.
A week after Rebecca's death, police are now saying violence was evident in her death, but the manner–homicide or suicide–had not yet been decided. Results of an autopsy have been sealed, police said.
This typically quiet town of 27,000 residents has seen just two murders in the last decade. Coronado police don't have a homicide unit and asked the San Diego County Sheriff's Department to help with its investigation. "A case like this," Coronado mayor Casey Tanaka told The San Diego Union-Tribune, "would be unusual anywhere."
Responding to reporter's questions about the circumstances under which Rebecca was found, Sheriff's Sgt. Roy Frank said, "Sometimes suicide can look very similar to homicide or vice versa."
Rebecca's death wasn't the first that week. Two days earlier, while she was babysitting her billionaire boyfriend Jonah Shacknai's 6-year-old son Max, the boy fell down a flight of stairs in the mansion built in 1908 and once owned by John D. Spreckels, a surgar baron, owner of the historic Hotel del Coronado and onetime owner of the San Diego Union and San Diego Evening-Tribune. Max was not breathing and did not have a pulse when paramedics arrived. He was in a coma until he died five days later. Police has said there's no evidence thus far tat the two deaths were connected. At the time of Rebecca's death, Max was still alive, on life support at Rady's Children's Hospital until he passed away over the weekend.
Zaha, 32, also known by her married name Rebecca Nalepa, had for two years dated 54-year-old Shacknai, the CEO and founder of an Arizona-based pharmaceutical company, and had left her job in Phoenix last December, moving into the mansion so she could spend more time with Shacknai's three children.
The body of the former ophthalmic technician was discovered by Shacknai's brother Adam, who was staying in a guest house on the property. He cut the rope from which she was hanging, then called police, according to authorities.
The case is unfolding as I write this. Stay turned for more about these bizarre but tragic deaths.Tweet