CORONADO, Calif. – A new book out Tuesday takes a deep dive into the tragic 2011 deaths of Rebecca Zahau and 6-year-old Max Shacknai at Spreckels Mansion in Coronado.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Zahau’s body was found bound and hanging from the historic mansion owned by her millionaire boyfriend, Arizona pharmaceutical company executive Jonah Shacknai. Zahau’s death was ruled a suicide by San Diego County Sheriff’s Department investigators, but her family believes that she was murdered.
In “Death on Ocean Boulevard: Inside the Coronado Mansion Case,” award-winning investigative journalist Caitlin Rother weaves in stunning new details in the case, which has generated international attention since its start a decade ago.
Rother, a New York Times bestselling author who lives in San Diego, said she’s hoping the nearly 400-page book clears up a lot of misinformation and speculation surrounding the story. The book is dedicated to Zahau and Max Shacknai, who died from injuries sustained after falling from a staircase at the mansion while under Zahau’s care.
“I don’t want Max Shacknai, a 6-year-old boy, to get lost in what I think for a lot of people turns into a parlor game of what happened to Rebecca Zahau,” Rother said. “The tragic thing is two people died here and I don’t want anybody to forget that.”
Jonah Shacknai’s brother, Adam, claimed to have found Zahau’s body dangling from a second-story balcony on the property just two days after Max’s fall. A civil jury ultimately would find Adam liable for Zahau’s death, despite investigators saying that she committed suicide.
Through her reporting, Rother said she learned that Zahau was “a woman who showed different faces to different people.”
“She must have had her reasons for doing this, but I just thought that was really interesting and it’s something her family wouldn’t have known about her,” Rother said. “The person she showed to Jonah was very different I think than the person she showed to her family, so he was actually surprised by some of the information I told him that other people had said. We count it as a learning experience for both of us.”
She goes on: “I wanted to explore some of the things Adam Shacknai’s defense team brought up in passing to make Rebecca look like she was some reckless harlot, unstable and impulsive and sleeping with all these different men. I didn’t think that was fair. I wanted to really find out what that was all about.”
She also sat down with Adam Shacknai for the book. Rother calls him “kind of an odd guy,” noting he’s eccentric and prone to speaking his mind.
“(He’s) made comments to the media, very defamatory and derogatory statements about (Zahau family attorney) Keith Greer, about the Zahaus and even about his own legal team,” Rother said. “I learned more about him by going and listening to his testimony and by listening to all of the 9-1-1 calls and the interviews and comparing it all.
“I basically just laid all of that out for the reader and you’ll see toward the end of the book, there are some surprises there.”
For readers, Rother hopes to leave them with some clarity on the case “just by telling the truth.”
“I don’t have an agenda,” she said. “I’m not trying to control the narrative. I’m not even taking a position on this case of whether it’s a suicide or a murder because honestly I still don’t even really know. I think there’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered and some of them may never be answered.”