Millionaire's Girlfriend Found Dead in Coronado Mansion

Investigators describe the woman's death as a "violent" one

By R. Stickney, Michael Gehlken, Artie Ojeda and Danya Bacchus
|  Thursday, Jul 14, 2011  |  Updated 9:46 PM PDT
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Rebecca Nalepa, also known as Rebecca Zahau, was found dead Wednesday morning at the Spreckels Mansion, owned by her boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai. It is not yet known whether the 32-year-old woman's death, described by police as

Rebecca Nalepa, also known as Rebecca Zahau, was found dead Wednesday morning at the Spreckels Mansion, owned by her boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai. It is not yet known whether the 32-year-old woman's death, described by police as "suspicious" and "violent," was a homicide.

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Friend Doubts Coronado Death a Suicide

Rebecca Nalepa, who went by her maiden name, Rebecca Zahau, was found dead Wednesday morning at Spreckels Mansion in Coronado. A friend of the 32-year-old woman said she was a "survivor" who wouldn't commit suicide.

Investigators Update Spreckels Mansion Death: Raw Video

Rebecca Nalepa, also known as Rebecca Zahau, was found dead inside a Coronado mansion owned by Jonah Shacknai, founder and CEO of Medicis, a pharmaceutical company based in Scottsdale, Ariz. On July 14, investigators with the Coronado police department and San Diego County Sheriff's Department brief the media on its investigation.
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A millionaire's girlfriend was found dead in a Coronado mansion, a landmark in one of San Diego's most exclusive neighborhoods.

Investigators updated the case Thursday revealing new details on what police discovered when they were called to the Spreckels Mansion on Ocean Boulevard Wednesday morning.

Rebecca Nalepa, also known as Rebecca Zahau, was found Wednesday, just before 7 a.m., hanging by a rope around her neck from the second-story balcony above the home's courtyard.

The home is owned by multi-millionaire Jonah Shacknai, founder and CEO of Medicis, a pharmaceutical company based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Shacknai's brother Adam discovered Nalepa's body, cut her down from the balcony and called 911, he told investigators.

During that call, he told police there was a woman on the property who appeared to be dead, according to Capt. Tim Curran with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Nalepa's body was found nude, her hands bound behind the back and her feet bound. The material used to bind her was not released. Curran said it has not yet been determined if she had been sexually assaulted.

Investigators identified Nalepa, 32, as Shacknai's girlfriend. The cause of death is pending autopsy results, but Curran hesitated to label this a homicide.

"This is a very bizarre death, there is no doubt about it, no question about it," Capt. Tim Curran said.

"Until we can absolutely establish one manner or another, we're not ready to call this a criminal matter or a suicide," he said.

Nalepa and Adam Shacknai were the only two people staying at the home the night of July 12. Nalepa was staying in the main house. Adam Shacknai was staying in the guesthouse. Jonah Shacknai was not at the residence the evening prior to the discovery of the body nor at the time she was discovered, Curran said. He refused to reveal where Jonah Shacknai was at the time Nalepa was found.

On Monday, Coronado police were called to the same home for an incident involving the 6-year old son of Jonah Shacknai. The boy had fallen down stairs, was not breathing and did not have a pulse when paramedics arrived, officials said.

Emergency crews administered CPR and transported the child to a Coronado hospital. He was transferred to Rady Children's Hospital.

A female inside the home called 911 to report the child's accident, officials said. 

“At that time, and at this time, we have no information to believe that this is anything other than a tragic accident with the child,” Coronado Chief Louis Scanlon said.

A release from investigators asked anyone with information on Nalepa's death to call San Diego County Crimestoppers at 888-580-TIPS.

Curran said Thursday that even though circumstances surrounding the death are bizarre, he doesn't believe the community is at risk.

“We don’t have any other signs or evidence or information that this is anything more than one location, an isolated incident,” he said.

Shacknai's company released an official statement late Wednesday afternoon:

The Medicis family is deeply saddened to learn of a tragic incident at a California property owned by Jonah Shacknai. Our thoughts are with Jonah and his family and ask that the family’s privacy be respected during this difficult period. At this time, the Company has no further comment.

According to a document filed to the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County, Rebecca Nalepa successfully petitioned to have her name changed to her maiden name, Rebecca Zahau. The ruling was "effective immediately" on May 17, 2011, the document said.

The mansion, one of the most storied residences in Coronado, was built in 1908 as a beach home for John D. Spreckels, who owned the nearby Hotel del Coronado.

The 27-room main house includes six bedrooms, 4.5 baths, basement, attic, an unfinished wine-storage room used during Prohibition and a guest home.

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