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Thursday
Jul212011

Mansion Deaths Highlight Owner's Turbulent Marriage

Stockbyte/Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- The investigation into two deaths at the historic Spreckels Mansion has put a spotlight on the turbulent marriage of the mansion's owner, Jonah Shacknai, and the accusations of violence that surrounded the marriage.

Shacknai, the millionaire owner of a pharmaceutical company, recently lost his six-year-old son Max, who died Sunday of injuries suffered when he fell down the stairs at the mansion last week. His girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, was found at the mansion last Wednesday with her hands bound behind her back, her ankles tied together, and a rope around her neck.

Autopsies are being conducted on both victims, and the San Diego sheriff's office said it's unclear if the two deaths are related. Police said that 15 detectives have been assigned to the investigation.

Despite the circumstances of Zahau's death, police say they still haven't ruled out suicide.

Shacknai was not home during either incident, police say, but the tragedies have brought a focus on his life.

Shacknai, 54, has been married twice. He divorced Kimberly Shacknai in 1993. His subsequent marriage to Max's mother, Dina Shacknai, also ended in divorce, with accusations on both sides of verbal and physical assault.

In Arizona police reports obtained this week by ABC News, Shacknai's ex-wife, Dina Shacknai, said she was "scared of what he is capable of doing to me physically…and the lengths he would go to try to 'destroy' me." Shacknai denied the allegations, telling police Dina had filed "false and misleading reports."

She told police she was attacked by her husband's German shepherd, just as she had been several times in the past. She gave police photos from 2006 showing cuts to her arms and knees from incidents during which Dina claimed the dog bit her because the dog is "very sensitive to changes in voice tone and body language and any tense exchange with Jonah may result in an attack response." She told police, however, that Jonah didn't command the dog to attack her.

Shacknai said his wife came at him and tried to choke him, according to the documents.

In January 2009, Dina Shacknai accused her husband of elbowing her in the breast. Shacknai told police he was trying to "nudge" her out of his car because she had reached for the ignition and tried to grab the steering wheel as he attempted to drive away. He also claimed he had been assaulted "several times" by his wife.

Jonah and Dina Shacknai sent out a statement earlier this week saying the records release "pains us greatly," especially now after losing their son.

"While our marriage did not work out as either of us had hoped, it did produce a wonderful son, Max, whom both of us loved very much," the statement read. "His loss is unimaginable. These police reports are not reflective of the totality or the precise details of the events during a difficult time in our marriage that we worked through together."

Shacknai is not considered a person of interest in the Zahau investigation. On Thursday, police confirmed Shacknai has left San Diego.

Police said it "could take weeks" for forensics and lab results on Zahau's death, just one element of the lengthy investigation to determine whether her death was a suicide.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio