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Sheriff: Mansion deaths not homicides

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RebeccaZahauMaxShacknaiSAN DIEGO — A woman found hanging outside her boyfriend’s historic Coronado mansion committed suicide shortly after learning of the worsening condition of the homeowner’s son, injured two days earlier in a fall, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said Friday.

“Science doesn’t lie. That is why I’m so confident here,” Gore said during a late-morning news conference,

Rebecca Zahau was found hanging from a balcony at the Spreckels Mansion on July 13. Adam Shacknai, the brother of Zahau’s boyfriend,Jonah Shacknai, was the only person home at the time and cut Zahau down after making the gruesome discovery.

“There’s no evidence of a struggle or sexual assault,” Deputy Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas said.

Zahau’s family repeatedly has said they do not believe the 32-year-old woman took her own life.

Two days before her death, her boyfriend’s 6-year-old son was critically injured in a tragic fall at the mansion, the sheriff said. Max Shacknai suffered an injury to his upper spinal cord after falling over the railing of a staircase at a time when he was being looked after by Zahau. The spinal cord injury stopped the boy’s heart and breathing long enough to cause irreversible brain damage, and that is what finally caused his death five days later, Lucas said. The Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death accidental, Lucas said.

“These deaths were not the result of any criminal act,” Gore told reporters.

Mary Zahau-Loehner, who was briefed by investigators earlier this week,, told reporters Thursday night in emails and interviews that the family does not believe her sister took her own life.

“We, her family and friends, do not believe it’s a suicide,” Zahau-Loehner wrote in an email. “There are still unanswered questions.”

To represent its interests in the case, Zahau’s family has retained Seattle attorney Anne Brenmer, a high-profile lawyer who represented the family of Amanda Knox, the young American woman convicted in 2009 of murdering her roommate in Italy.

Zahau apparently decided to take her life just before 1 a.m. on July 16, said Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Nemeth, who supervised the investigation into her death. She had just learned that Max Shacknai’s condition had seriously deteriorated, Nemeth  said.

Physical evidence, including fingerprints, footprints and DNA profiles, showed that she was the person who painted a message in black paint on her bedroom door, then tied a rope around her neck and anchored it to the bed in her room, tied her hands and legs and threw herself over the balcony, Nemeth said.

The message on  Zahau’s door was, “She saved him, can he save her,” a source at the Sheriff’s Deparment confirmed to Fox 5.

Investigators showed a video reenactment of how they believe Zahau tied her own hands behind her back. Nemeth said the rope used in the video was the rope Zahau actually used and the knot was the same slip knot that bound her hands.

The seven-week investigation into Zahau’s death was conducted by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and the Coronado Police Department.

Jonah Shacknai, 54, is the founder of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp., which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and makes anti-aging products. He has owned Spreckels Mansion since 2007. He released a statement Friday after the Sheriff’s news conference thanking authorities for their efforts. He wrote, in part:

“While the investigation is over, the emptiness and sadness in our hearts will remain forever. Max was an extraordinarily loving, happy, talented, and special little boy.. He brought joy to everyone who knew him, and we will miss him desperately. Rebecca too was a wonderful and unique person who will always have a special place in my heart. Nothing will ever be the same
for our families after these losses, but with today’s information providing some much neededanswers, we will try to rebuild our lives and honor the memories we carry with us.”