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Thursday
Sep082011

Mystery Mansion Death: Was Ritualistic Killing Involved?

Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center(CORONADO, Calif.) -- Rebecca Zahau, the woman found naked, bound and hanging at the Spreckels mansion in Coronado, California on July 13, may have been the victim of a ritualistic killing, a forensic psychologist told ABC News Wednesday.

The bedroom near the balcony where Zahau was reportedly found hanging appeared "staged," said Maurice Godwin, who has a Ph.D. in criminal psychology and runs a forensic consultancy business in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

"This death has many hallmarks of a ritualistic killing," he said.  "I think someone assaulted her physically.  I think she was dazed, and they bound her."

Zahau allegedly used black paint to write the words "she saved him can you save her" on a bedroom door near the balcony where she was found hanging.  Godwin, who has been investigating crime scenes for 15 years, believes the black paint, which was also found on Zahau's breasts, collarbone and hands has a "ritualistic overtone."

The odd circumstances of Zahau's death, including the red rope tied around her ankles and wrists, as well as the autopsy report detailing hemorrhages, bruises, and blood on the body of the 32-year-old, have raised several questions among forensics experts.

"It's the entirety [of the case] that's troubling.  And I think to write it off as a suicide, it's premature," said Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky, a DNA expert and forensic scientist who heads the Department of Sciences at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

According to both Kobilinsky and Godwin, the injuries as described in the autopsy report suggest "a substantial blow to the head."

"There are four hemorrhages in four different positions," Kobilinsky said.  "When you see these kinds of scalp hemorrhages you have to explain them."

Godwin concurred, adding, "The chances of bumping into the railing, going over the balcony and hitting your head four times is highly unlikely."

On Tuesday, San Diego medical examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas issued a statement to respond to press inquiries about the autopsy report.  With regard to the hemorrhages, he said, "Because there was evidence that she went over the balcony in a non-vertical position, she may have struck her head on the balcony on the way down."

Renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz, who testified during the Casey Anthony trial, told ABC News on Wednesday that it's entirely possible Zahau hit her head while hanging.

"When the body first dropped, she doesn't necessarily jump to her death, so she would drop directly downward and she could easily hit against the side of the structure from which she is hanging," he said.

Even so, he admits it's not a cut and dried case.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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