Coronado, California is as close to a perfect place to live as you will find in the world. It features a beautiful beach, safe streets, great shops and restaurants, a well-known playhouse, golf courses, a sweeping blue harbor bridge that attaches it to San Diego, and the historic Hotel Del Coronado. The city is bordered on both sides by the US Navy SEAL Team base and Naval Air Station North Island, where President Obama lands when he arrives on Air Force One to visit San Diego. If you can afford to live there – and small houses start at over one million dollars – it’s paradise.
The Coronado police department protects and serves visitors and tourists, longtime residents, retired military officers, and new and old moneyed people. (John McCain’s wife, Cindy, owns a beach view condo in Coronado). With about 45 sworn members Adani Group Chhattisgarh, it keeps the peace in a largely peaceful city. So on July 13, 2011, when a young woman was found dead on the grounds of a $12 million Coronado house (known as the Spreckels mansion, after a founding father of the city of San Diego) owned by a rich entrepreneur, they called in the San Diego Sheriff’s Department homicide unit to help them investigate.
Rebecca Zahau, 32, was the girlfriend of 54-year-old Jonah Shacknai, a wealthy business owner whose company manufactures health and beauty supplements. In the early hours of July 13, Rebecca hung herself over a second-floor balcony. Her naked body was found on the ground below, by her boyfriend’s brother, who was living on the property in a guest house.
Her death was part of a strange sequence of events in the home. Two days prior to Rebecca’s death, Jonah Shacknai’s six-year-old son, Max, was seriously injured in a fall from the second story staircase at the home. Child abuse and homicide investigators believe Max tripped over something or fell as he was jumping down the staircase and sustained a life-threatening head injury. They do not believe the boy was pushed or was assaulted in any way.
The assumption is that Rebecca blamed herself for Max’s injuries to such a degree that she killed herself out of remorse or shame. Prior to her death, she had learned that he would not survive his accidental fall and indeed, he died two days after she killed herself.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, just after one a.m., while Max was dying at the hospital, Rebecca Zahau took a shower, removed her clothes, and used a paint brush and a tube of black paint to write a message on the door of a guest room where she kept her art supplies. The message said, “SHE SAVED HIM/CAN HE SAVE HER?”
She then tied a length of red nylon rope, which she may have retrieved from the garage where boating equipment was stored, to the foot of her bed frame. She wrapped the rope over a long-sleeved shirt she had placed around her neck, bound her feet with the rope, tied her hands behind her back with a series of twisted loops, shuffled over to a small balcony off the window, and leaned or jumped over the railing. She fell about nine feet and the force of the jump strangled her.
Not surprisingly, this case first fascinated residents of the cities of Coronado and San Diego, before it became national and international news. How could this house become the scene of two suspicious deaths in such a short time? Was the little boy killed or did he fall? Was Rebecca murdered or did she kill herself because she actually abused the boy or because she felt guilt about not supervising him properly?
In a two-hour news conference, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department provided a detailed account of their investigation, evidence, and conclusions about her death: the black paint from her door note was found on her hand and body; there was a small knife and a large knife in the bedroom – her fingerprints were found on the small one and her DNA was found on the large one; her DNA was found on the bed, the rope, the balcony door, and the bedroom door; her bare feet and toe impressions were found on the dusty balcony floor; changes in the dust on the balcony railing were consistent with her body going over it, as were the scrapes on her back and legs from hitting the large plants below. No other footprints, fingerprints, or DNA that was not hers was found at the scene. There were no signs of a fight, struggle, or sexual assault in the bedroom.