Rebecca Zahau’s body was found nude and bound in the courtyard of boyfriend Jonah Shacknai’s Coronado Spreckels mansion on July 13, two days after Jonah’s son Max suffered a fall that left him comatose. Despite the final ruling of suicide in September, many have not considered her death a closed case. Zahau’s family has struggled to accept the verdict, and after reaching out to Dr. Phil for answers, a private investigation was launched and second autopsy was performed.
Further Investigation of Rebecca’s Death
On Monday’s show, Dr. Phil was joined by Rebecca’s sister Mary Zahau-Loehner, her husband Doug, and their attorney, Anne Bremner, to reveal never-before-heard details about the case. For a more intimate setting, the interview took place on a closed set, meaning only the guests and cameras were present no audience, no distractions, no hoopla.
Anne discussed the pieces of the crime scene that were not thoroughly (or in some cases, not at all) investigated or analyzed at the scene, including a pair of black gloves, a pair of women’s underwear found in the guest house’s garbage, blood in the shower, “mixed DNA” in Rebecca’s fingernail clippings, and footprints in the kitchen. She also states that the computer in the house was used after Rebecca’s death, though Dr. Phil dismisses this as misinformation. Bremner considers the original investigation to be rushed and judged too quickly, with Zahau’s case closed after a short seven-week investigation. She has deemed Rebecca’s death to be a “staged homicide,” due to the fact that the crime scene was “too clean”.
Rebecca had no history of mental illness, depression, or psychosis, and Mary asserts that she would never have committed suicide, especially in such an unnecessarily elaborate manner. Mary was the last person Rebecca talked to before her death, and gave no indication that she felt guilty for Max’s fall. Even if she had felt guilty, Max was still alive (though comatose) and considered to be improving at the time of her death.
Mary also discounted speculation that presenting oneself nude in death had to do in part with the family’s culture. “Displaying yourself nude in public is not even an option,” she says, explaining that Rebecca would not bind herself naked for the world to see. “Knowing my sister, there is no way she would go in this manner.”
Possibly the most thought-provoking information presented was that Rebecca sustained no severe injury from the fall. Paul Ciolino, a private investigator who offered his services to the Zahau family, says that the nine-foot drop would have, at the very least, caused the neck to break Rebecca’s did not. Ciolino also discusses several other inconsistencies with the death being suicide, like the fact that there is nothing in her background that suggests the skill set or mindset to execute such an intricate suicide plan, and that neighbors on either side of the mansion later reported hearing a woman’s screams for help around 10:20pm on the night of her death. 911 was not alerted because they heard only one scream.
Interesting clip from Monday’s show – more evidence against the suicide theory
The Second Autopsy Results
The second autopsy was performed by top forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht (known for high-profile cases like John F. Kennedy, JonBenet Ramsey, and Anna Nicole Smith), and results were revealed on Tuesday’s show. Dr. Wecht prefaces his statements by explaining that he has no criticism of the initial post-mortem examination, and mostly expands upon its original findings. Wecht describes four hemorrhages under Rebecca’s scalp which suggest blunt force trauma to the head. Though this hemorrhaging was found in the initial autopsy, it seems to have been inexplicably dismissed by law enforcement. These injuries would undoubtedly have caused a concussion or unconsciousness in which her immobility would easily explain the lack of evidence of a struggle and clean toxicology report. With the second autopsy, Wecht was able to corroborate Ciolino’s claims that Rebecca would have suffered more severe neck injuries had she fallen from such a height. Rebecca suffered fractures to the front structures of the neck but no fractures of the neck’s vertebrae something that would have happened as a result of a hanging, Wecht says.
Ultimately, Wecht has “grave and serious doubts about the conclusion that the manner [of death] was suicide” and tells Dr. Phil that he “lean[s] very strongly toward it being a homicide”. He considers these findings sufficient enough to warrant a reexamination of the investigation, and recommends changing Zahau’s manner of death to “undetermined,” in order to keep the case open.
Sadly, answers to Rebecca Zahau’s mysterious death don’t seem any clearer. Though the Zahau family has expressed their desire to get the case reopened and conduct yet another reexamination by private investigators, it remains uncertain whether the case will truly close anytime soon. Bremner has stated that the goal of these exhaustive investigations isn’t to prove that Rebecca’s death was a murder, but to find truth and make sure that all evidence is thoroughly and properly scrutinized.
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