Thursday, September 22, 2011
by Anne Bremner
A woman screams for help at 11:30 p.m. in a 27-room historic mansion in Coronado, California; a 6-year-old child, Max Shacknai, has fallen two days earlier and is in critical condition; the millionaire boyfriend and father of the child, Jonah Shacknai, and his girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, have been consumed by the boy’s care and condition in the hospital.
Rebecca Zahau, the live-in girlfriend of Jonah Shacknai, who loved Max as her own, had had a wonderful career. But she gave it up to care for Jonah and his family and their homes. She was kind, athletic, generous to a fault, and beautiful. On the evening in question, Rebecca had gone to dinner with Jonah and his brother Adam. Adam had just flown in that day from Tennessee. Rebecca returned to the mansion, Adam to the mansion guesthouse, and Jonah reportedly to the hospital. Rebecca had a relatively uneventful telephone conversation with her sister Mary and then was never heard from again. The authorities maintain that she received a telephone call at 12:30 a.m. advising that young Max had tragically taken a turn for the worse. She purportedly retrieved that message at 12:50 a.m. Yet, the message was erased, and her phone records do not show any such incoming call at 12:30.
Adam Schacknai found Rebecca at 6:30 the next morning. She was hanging from a Juliette balcony off one of the mansion’s guestrooms. Her feet and hands were bound, she had abrasions, there was tape residue on her legs, and a turquoise women’s athletic shirt was wrapped around her neck three times and part of the shirt was used as a gag in her mouth. There was blood on her legs. The ropes used in the hanging were tied with expert knots to a bed in the room. Partial footprints were found on the balcony, including two footprints from a man’s boot. Written on a door in paint was the phrase “She save him, can you save her.” But the autopsy cites the language as “She saved him, can you save her. “
The family said Rebecca had never been depressed or suicidal (she had no history whatsoever of psychological or psychiatric disturbance or treatment), the note was not in her handwriting, and she did not know how to tie expert knots like that. And she would never have killed herself, because she loved her family so much and, because of her religious beliefs, did not allow, in any event, to do so in such a violent and appalling manner. There is no recorded suicide involving a woman with circumstances like this one. Women simply do not kill themselves this way. The authorities said it was possible that she could have killed herself this way. They illustrated it with a video demonstration of a woman binding her own hands. But they did not show a demonstration of the rest (binding her feet, gagging herself) could have been accomplished. It would have taken a contortionist – frankly, a Cirque De Soleil performing artist – to accomplish such a “suicide” feat.
Expert pathologists have confirmed that Rebecca died while on her back – not from or while hanging. Lividity was fixed in her back, not in her legs or feet. Renowned pathologist Dr Cyril Wecht has reviewed the autopsy report and has concluded this is not a suicide and that she had blunt force trauma in four places on the top of her head, inconsistent with the fall and consistent with blows that could have rendered Rebecca unconscious. The bed that was tied to the rope did not drag across the carpet. It was picked up and moved. Hair clumps and black gloves were found at the scene. Rebecca screamed for help before getting any call (if indeed there was a call) about Max. Someone was seen lurking around the front door shortly before the screams. News helicopter footage showed the balcony French doors open and no rope on the balcony while Rebecca’s body lay naked on the lawn. Doctors Larry Kobilinsky and Maurice Godwin, both famed criminologists, have weighed in that this was not a suicide as have forensic psychiatrists and suicide experts. A polygraph was administered to Adam Shaknai, and the results were reported as inconclusive. No one else was polygraphed or fingerprinted. Phone journals from eight months prior were cited as being contemporaneous, and a witness said Rebecca was not training as much six months earlier. Her own trainer disputes this.
After seven weeks of investigation, the case was closed. The investigation concluded, and Rebecca’s death was classified as a suicide. Still, so many questions remain. In fact, there are more questions than answers. We think the investigation should be reopened. What do you think? Doesn’t justice so require?
As disclosure, Anne Bremner represents Rebecca Zahua's family as they press authorities for a more thorough investigation into Rebecca's death. Click here to donate to the Rebecca Zahau Fund.Tweet