Since Rebecca Zahau's death this summer, her family has insisted that there's no way she bound her hands and feet, tied a noose, and hung herself off a balcony at a Coronado, California mansion. Her boyfriend Jonah Shacknai says he still has "no reason to doubt" the authorities' findings, but he wants the case re-examined to squash speculation that she was murdered.
In a letter asking the California attorney general to review the findings to "enhance the public's confidence," Jonah Shacknai writes:
I believe the only way to achieve some dignified resolution for everyone who has been touched by the horrible events of this summer will be through the efforts of your office. I pray Max and Rebecca are now at peace and I hope you might be able to help the rest of us ... achieve some peace and closure."
Yet, new details have only increased the controversy over how Zahau died. The L.A. Times reports that the search warrant for Shacknai's mansion, which was unsealed this week, states that detectives originally suspected she was murdered because of the bindings on her hands and feet. Later investigators concluded that she'd committed suicide, partially because only her DNA was found on the rope tied around her neck. The documents also reveal that Shacknai's brother Adam, who found Zahau's body, voluntarily took a polygraph test. The results were inconclusive, but the examiner said she felt he wasn't involved in her death.
The San Diego County Sheriff's department is checking Zahau's cell phone again, but says the case won't be reopened unless "something relevant" is found, according to the Associated Press. In the meantime, experts have started publicly sqabbling over whether or not the police came to the correct conclusion. Criminal defense attorney Roy Black, who isn't involved in the case, told ABC News that suicide was the only reasonable answer because,
"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."
However, forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, who was hired by Zahau's family, feels many pieces don't fit. He says he's been involved in many suicide cases over the past 50 years, and it's very unusual for a woman to kill herself while nude. He also questioned how she sustained four subgaleal hemorrhages, telling CNN:
"You only get those from blunt force trauma. That means your head struck something or was struck by something. I repeat for emphasis: Four separate locations. The head is contoured; to have it bruised in different places, that means you have to strike different parts of the head."
Wecht added that the tape residue found on her legs is suspicious, saying, "Did she first plan to bind her legs together with adhesive tape, change her mind and say, 'No, I'm going to do it with rope?'"
In a press release, the county medical examiner's office said that the hemorrhages were minor, and Zahau may have hit her head while going over the balcony. While police have no explanation for the tape residue and the t-shirt found in her mouth, the report concludes "None of the observations listed above are inconsistent with the conclusions reached regarding the cause and manner of death of Rebecca Zahau."
While the case will almost certainly be turned into an episode of some cop drama, unfortunately the mystery of Zahau's death isn't going to wrap up neatly anytime soon. On TV, we'd learn that the tug boat worker brother was the killer, but in real life it's unfair to call Adam a murderer simply because he knows how to tie knots. A police representative says, "we're standing by our investigation," but clearly the suicide ruling left many unanswered questions. For the sake of both the Zahau and Shacknai families, authorities should give the case another look.
Evidence At Spreckels Mansion Quickly Pointed To Suicide [LAT]
SD Sheriff To Re-Examine Zahau's Cell Phone [AP]
Mansion Deaths: Jonah Shacknai Wants Review Of Investigation [ABC News]
Millionaire Seeks State Investigation Of Son's, Girlfriend's Deaths [CNN]