Entries in Spreckles Mansion (11)


Coronado Mansion Death Probe Becoming a Book?

Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center(CORONADO, Calif.) -- The lawyer representing the family of Rebecca Zahau, the dead woman found bound, naked and hanging from her boyfriend's mansion in Coronado, Calif., is working with a literary agent and may commission a true crime author to write a book about the case.

The news comes days after lawyer Anne Bremner confirmed that Zahau's family had exhumed her body and would be appearing on Dr. Phil in November to discuss a second autopsy, which was conducted by renown forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Jonah Shacknai, Zahau's boyfriend and owner of the Coronado mansion, declined to comment through his spokesman, Terry Fahn.  Shacknai has kept a low profile since Zahau's death, which came two days after his 6-year-old son Max toppled over a balcony railing at the top of a staircase at the mansion.  He died from injuries he suffered later that week.

ABC News affiliate KGTV reported Tuesday that Shacknai has sold the historic mansion to "an unidentified group of investors at an undisclosed sale price."

Bremner has a history of adapting her high profile cases into books, TV appearances, and most recently, a movie.  And Zahau's death, which sparked lurid headlines,"doesn't pass the smell test" according to Bremner.

Zahau's body was found bound and gagged with her hands tied behind her back hanging from a mansion balcony.  Her death was ruled a suicide by the San Diego Sheriff's Department, and Max's death was ruled an accident.

Zahau's family, however, doesn't believe she killed herself, and hired Bremner to spearhead efforts to get the investigation reopened.

The family and Bremner have established two websites about Rebecca Zahau, one of which solicits donations and is overseen by Sharlene Martin, a literary manager from Martin Literary Management in Seattle.

Martin told ABC News there is no Zahau book currently in the works, but if there was her agency would handle it.

Ann Rule, the author of 32 non-fiction books about homicide and other crimes, told ABC News that she recently met with Bremner and during dinner they discussed the possibility of writing a book about the Zahaus.

Rule, who said she has been a close friend of Bremner for 25 years, noted Martin's involvement in the family website "seems really odd" and that she's "never heard of such a thing."

The probability of writing a book about the Zahaus, however, is about "50/50 -- if charges were brought," she said.  "It's a difficult thing because the little boy's father is very, very wealthy so for legal reasons it's kind of a mine field."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Spreckels Mansion Deaths: Millionaire Wants Review of Investigation

ABC News(CORONADO, Calif.) -- Jonah Shacknai, the California millionaire whose son died in an accident and whose long-time girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, died in a mysterious hanging, has asked the California attorney general to review the investigation of their deaths.

Further investigation would be helpful in "bringing some clarity, dignity, and ultimately closure to the devastating deaths," Shacknai wrote in a letter sent to the attorney general Monday and obtained by ABC News.

"The circumstances of Rebecca's suicide were so unusual and upsetting that it was difficult to accept the hard facts that were presented," he wrote.

Zahau, 32, was found hanging from a balcony in Shacknai's Coronado, Calif., mansion on July 13.  She was found nude with her wrists and feet bound with red rope.  She allegedly scrawled "she saved him can you save her" in black paint in a nearby bedroom.

Shacknai's 6-year-old son, Max, died from injuries sustained after falling down the stairs.  His death was ruled an accident.

Zahau was babysitting Max when he tumbled down the stairs on July 11 . Mary Zahau, her sister, said she called her soon after it happened.

"She said, 'I was in the bathroom and I heard this loud crash,'" Mary Zahau said.  "And she said, 'I came out and saw that Max was -- Max was on the floor.'  She sounded upset, but not frantic, not hysterical."

Mary's husband Doug Loehner said he spoke to Rebecca Zahau the next day when the little boy was in critical condition at the hospital.

"I told her like, you know, it's not your fault, you know, don't blame yourself," he said.  "And she's like, no, I don't, I don't.  I just have to be there for Jonah.  She was upset, but she wasn't...she didn't blame herself."

Investigators concluded that Rebecca Zahau took her own life two days after Max's fall, saying she was riddled with guilt about his injuries and knowledge that his condition was grave.

Roy Black, a criminal defense attorney, has followed the case closely and examined the autopsy reports.  He told ABC News that the police's conclusion Zahau committed suicide is "inescapable."

"The chances of someone wrapping a rope around her neck, dragging her up and throwing her over the balcony without her fighting back, without a single piece of evidence with no evidence of a struggle is virtually impossible," he said.

Many, including Zahau's family, have questioned the ruling of the death as a suicide.  Zahau was found gagged, with blood on her body, and she suffered hemorrhages.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mystery Mansion Death: Victim's Family Wants Case Reopened

Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center(CORONADO, Calif.) -- The family of Rebecca Zahau, the woman found naked, bound and hanging at a Coronado, California mansion, want the investigation into her death reopened.

"It seemed like from the beginning a lot of things were ignored," said Mary Zahau-Loehner, Rebecca Zahau's sister.

The family believes that Rebecca Zahau is the victim of murder, not suicide.

Rebecca Zahau was the girlfriend of pharmaceutical mogul Jonah Shacknai.  Her death came two days after Shacknai's 6-year-old son Max fell down the stairs at the historic Spreckels Mansion where they were staying.  The boy died of his injuries.

Rebecca Zahau's nude body was found on July 13.  Her hands and feet were bound.  She allegedly painted a message in black paint that read, "she saved him can you save her."

Investigators have ruled Rebecca Zahau's death a suicide.

"Rebecca received news regarding Max's grave condition at about 10 minutes to one in the morning.  She made the decision to take her own life," said San Diego County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Nemeth.

Zahau-Loehner said that she spoke to her sister just hours before she learned that Max had taken a turn for the worse.  She said that her sister sounded normal.

Zahau-Loehner and her family continue to question how the 32-year-old woman could have killed herself if her feet and hands were bound.

Since investigators ruled the death a suicide, respected forensic examiners have questioned the ruling, saying that Zahau's death could indicate a ritualistic killing and that the injuries suggest a substantial blow to the head.

Red rope was found tied around Rebecca Zahau's ankles and wrists.  The autopsy report showed that Zahau had four hemorrhages and blood was found on Rebecca Zahau's legs, as well as bruises and tape residue.  It also showed that part of a T-shirt had been in her mouth.

ABC News' legal analyst Dan Abrams said its unlikely that the case will be reopened in a way that will make the Zahau family happy.  He said that even if the case is labeled closed, investigators are still looking at new evidence and leads as they get it because of the high profile nature of the case.

Abrams said that the circumstances of the death were odd, but investigators would argue they have an explanation for each circumstance.

"If this had been a murder, there probably would be an enormous amount of evidence public," he said.

The Zahau family has launched a website and fund to help them in their quest to learn more about Rebecca Zahau's death.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mansion Death: Victim’s Boyfriend Threatens to Sue Her Family’s Lawyer

ABC News(CORONADO, Calif.) -- A lawyer for pharmaceutical mogul Jonah Shacknai has sent an email to the lawyer representing the family of his dead girlfriend, whose body was found at his historic mansion, threatening to sue if her family’s lawyer doesn’t stop insinuating that Shacknai influenced the probe into her death.

The body of Shacknai’s girlfriend Rebecca Zahau, 32, was found on the grounds of his Spreckels Mansion in Coronado, California on July 13.  She died two days after Shacknai’s young son fell down the stairs of the mansion, suffering fatal head injuries.

A police investigation determined Zahau’s death was a suicide, but her family has hired lawyer Anne Bremner who has raised questions about the death and has pressed police to reopen the case.

ABC News has obtained an email that lawyer Dan K. Webb of the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP sent to Bremner Tuesday morning warning that “your false public statements constitute defamation, per se, and under law, entitle Mr. Shacknai to recover from you, and your law firm, substantial damages.”

“What is most concerning are recent false public statements you have made that Mr. Shacknai, because of his business success, has somehow improperly influenced the investigations… You have further made public comments that these agencies have applied a different standard in conducting their investigations because of Mr. Shacknai’s wealth,” the letter said.

Webb called Bremner’s statements “highly insensitive on a human level.  Mr. Shacknai and his family have suffered two tragic losses under the harsh and unkind glare of a national media frenzy you have now helped sustain.”

Bremner responded to the allegations Thursday night, telling ABC News, “I haven’t said anything about his wealth nor have I said anything that could be considered false or defamatory…We are simply seeking the truth and justice.”

In the email, Webb emphasized that he was not advocating that Bremner’s clients accept the results of the police investigation.  “They are, of course, entitled to their point of view regarding this matter,” he wrote.

The email concludes with, “You must cease and desist from making any further false public statements about Mr. Shacknai.”

A spokesman for Shacknai, Terry Fahn, declined to comment.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


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


Mystery Mansion Death: Autopsy Reveals Startling Details

Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center(SAN DIEGO) -- New details have emerged about the mysterious death of 32-year-old Rebecca Zahau, who was found hanged, bound and naked at a California millionaire's historic mansion.

On Friday, investigators announced the case was closed and ruled her death a suicide, but Zahau's last cryptic message and information from the autopsy that had not been divulged during Friday's press conference have raised new doubts about the sheriff's conclusion.

The message, painted in black on the door of the bedroom near where Zahau was found hanging said, "She saved him can you save her?"

In addition, the autopsy report revealed there were hemorrhages under Zahau's scalp, tape residue and blood on her legs, and the T-shirt that was wrapped around Zahau's neck had been partially stuffed in her mouth.

Zahau's family has hired Seattle lawyer Anne Bremner and are asking police to reopen the case.

Bremner told ABC News on Monday that the message scrawled in black paint is just one of the many reasons why Zahau's death warrants further investigation.

"The single most important thing is there has never been a reported suicide of a female like this.  Bound hands and feet.  Gagged.  A noose around her neck.  Naked.  Blood down her legs.  A shirt wrapped three times around her neck.  Tied to a bed with neat slip knots and square knots," Bremner wrote in an email to ABC News.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department was not immediately available for comment.

The body of Zahau was found on the grounds of the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado, Calif., on July 13.  When police arrived, they found Zahau on the back lawn, her hands tied behind her back and her feet bound.  Her body had been cut down by her boyfriend's brother, Adam Shacknai, who was staying at the home.  He also allegedly removed the T-shirt from her mouth.

Zahau was the girlfriend of pharmaceutical mogul Jonah Shacknai.  Her death came two days after Shacknai's 6-year-old son Max fell down the stairs at the historic Spreckels Mansion owned by Shacknai.  The boy died of his injuries on July 16.  Police ruled his death an accident.

Bremner told ABC News Zahau had not expressed guilt about Max's accident to her family.

Zahau was "very religious.  She did believe if you commit suicide you go to hell," Bremner said.  "The case is being prematurely closed."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


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


Spreckels Mansion Hanging Wasn't a Suicide, Victim's Sister Tells ABC News

Stockbyte/Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(CORONADO, Calif.) -- The sister of a woman allegedly found hanged at a millionaire's historic mansion has rejected suggestions that she could have committed suicide.

The body of Rebecca Zahau, 32, was found on the grounds of the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado, Calif., last Wednesday. Her hands and feet were bound.

Two days before Zahau's body was found, six-year-old Max Shacknai fell down the stairs at the mansion, which is owned by his father, pharmaceutical mogul Jonah Schaknai. The boy died of his injuries on Sunday.

Autopsies are being conducted on both bodies, and the San Diego sheriff's office said Tuesday it's unclear if the boy's injuries are related to Zahau's death.

"Our investigation would include Max's incident," San Diego sheriff spokesman Roy Frank told "As far as if they are related, that's something we are just going to have to wait and see."

Police also said they are trying to determine whether Zahau, who had been dating Jonah Shacknai for three years, committed suicide or was the victim of a homicide.

"Rebecca was a beautiful, vibrant, loving and kind person and she would never do this to herself," Zahau's sister, Mary Zahau-Loehner, told ABC News.

The sisters spoke the night before Zahau died, she said, and Rebecca talked about her plans for the following day.

"She was going to call mom and dad the next morning and text me throughout the day with updates on Max," said Zahau-Loehner. "She was very hopeful. She had to be strong and there for Jonah."

Zahau and Shacknai seemed happy together, her sister said.

Authorities discovered Zahau's body at the mansion last Wednesday after Shacknai's brother Adam Shacknai told police he found her naked with a rope around her neck, hanging from a balcony off the main house. When police arrived they found Zahau on the back lawn, her hands tied behind her back and her feet bound. Adam Shacknai told police he had cut her down.

The fact that Zahau's hands were tied behind her back does not rule out suicide, police said. "We have had other cases in the past where people have used creative ways to commit suicide," including people whose hands were tied behind their back, Frank told ABC News.

Police said Max's autopsy is "routine for anyone who dies who isn't under the care of a doctor when the accident occurs," Coronado police spokesperson Lea Corbin told ABC News Tuesday.

Although Max died in a hospital under a doctor's care, Corbin said, "He was being cared for by a doctor, but we don't know why he died physically."

When Max fell on July 11, police received a call from a woman at the mansion who they would not identify, requesting medical aid for Max. Another person, a young female, was also present at the time of the accident, police said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Second Spreckels Mansion Death as Boy, 6, Dies from Injuries

Stockbyte/Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(CORONADO, Calif.) -- Millionaire Jonah Shacknai, already grieving for his girlfriend who was found hanged in his California mansion last week, has said that his young son has died from injuries suffered in the mansion.

Max Shacknai, 6, was injured at the historic Spreckels mansion in Coronado, Calif., last Monday. He was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries, and his death was announced Sunday.

Two days after Max was injured, Jonah Shacknai's girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, was found dead, hanging naked from a balcony at the mansion.

Police are investigating whether Zahau's death was a murder or a suicide. During a press conference last week, San Diego Sheriff spokesman Tim Curran said the crime scene appeared "suspicious."

At the time they did not believe there was a connection between Zahau's death and Max's injuries.

Jonah Shacknai sent out a statement Sunday, asking for privacy as he and his ex-wife Dina, Max's mother, grieve for their son affectionately known as Maxie.

"Despite heroic efforts on the part of paramedics and hospital staff, he was unable to recover from the injuries suffered early last week. His loving, kind and vibrant spirit will forever be in our hearts and those whom he touched every day. The loss to our families, Max's many friends of all ages and teammates, and the community is immeasurable," he wrote.

The couple is planning a private memorial service, according to the statement, and they asked that any memorial contributions be made to Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation. The statement concludes: "On behalf of Dina, myself and our families, please know of our appreciation for the tremendous outpouring of support provided during this very difficult time."

On July 11, police received a call from a woman at the mansion whom they would not identify requesting medical aid for Max.

The child "had fallen from stairs and was not breathing and did not have a pulse," Coronado Police Chief Louis Scanlon said last Thursday.

Paramedics performed CPR and the boy was hospitalized.

"At this time, we have no information that would lead us to believe this is anything other than a tragic accident with the child," Scanlon said.

In between the boy's accident and the discovery of Zahau's body, neighbors told ABC News affiliate KGTV, a loud party took place at the mansion on Tuesday night. However, police said last Thursday they were not aware of any parties.

Two days later, police received a call from Shacknai's brother, Adam Schacknai, that he found Zahau hanging from the balcony. When police arrived at the mansion they found the 32-year-old's body on the lawn in the backyard. Shacknai told them he had cut her down.

Police announced last week that an autopsy has been completed and they are still awaiting results from the forensics investigation and lab work.

Since 2007, the mansion has belonged Jonah Shacknai, the 54-year-old multimillionaire founder and CEO of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corporation in Scottsdale, Ariz., a company that makes treatments for acne and facial wrinkles.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mystery Mansion Death: Family Shocked, Devastated

Stockbyte/Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(CORONADO, Calif.) -- The family of Rebecca Zahau, who was found dead Wednesday at a historic mansion in Coronado, Calif., are shocked and devastated at her mysterious and unexpected death.

Authorities discovered Zahau's body on Wednesday after a houseguest, Adam Shacknai, told police he found her completely naked with a rope around her neck hanging from a balcony off the main house.

When police arrived at the historic Spreckels Mansion, owned by Shacknai's brother Jonah Shacknai, Zahau's multimillionaire boyfriend, they found the 32-year-old's body on the lawn in the backyard. Shacknai told them he had cut her down.

Zahau's sister Mary Zahau-Loehner, 33, told ABC News she spoke with her sister around midnight Tuesday, and everything seemed to be OK.

"She was normal, fine, just getting ready to go to bed," said Zahau-Loehner, who lives in Saint Joseph, Mo.

Zahau's ex-husband, Neil Nalepa, told ABC News affiliate KGTV the news was overwhelming. "I'm just trying to wrap my head around it," he said.

Police announced Friday that an autopsy has been completed and they are still awaiting results from the forensics investigation and lab work. They continue to investigate her mysterious death at the 27-room estate where her boyfriend's 6-year-old son suffered a severe injury just days before. All records will remain sealed until the investigation is completed, police said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio