After learning about the grave medical condition of her boyfriend's son, Rebecca Zahau painted a message inside a Coronado mansion, bound her own feet and legs, and then hanged herself from a second-story balcony, authorities announced Friday.
Her DNA alone was on the rope. Only her footprints were found on the balcony. There were no drugs in her system.
“There is really no logical explanation for what happened except that she took her own life,” San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said Friday in a public briefing of the investigation into the death of Rebecca Zahau.
The Spreckels Mansion, owned by pharmaceutical tycoon Jonah Shacknai, was the location of two deaths within days of each other two months ago.
Shacknai's 6-year-old son Max died from injuries he sustained July 11 in a fall at the home. Two days after Max's fall, Shacknai's brother discovered Zahau, 32, hanging nude from a second-story balcony at the home.
Zahau was Shacknai's girlfriend and appeared to be the victim of a "violent death" that was "suspicious in nature" investigators said in the initial days of the investigation.
However, weeks later, investigators revealed new details into both deaths including a message left in black paint on a door, the same paint found on Zahau's hand and torso. They did not reveal what was contained in the message saying only it was not clearly a suicide note.
Mary Zahau-Loehner told NBC 7 San Diego the message read in black paint and capital letters: "She saved him, can he save her."
Zahau's family members continue to dispute the investigation's findings that Zahau killed herself.
Detectives said the red rope tied around Zahau's neck was attached to a bed inside the home and the foot and toe impressions found on the balcony were hers.
Forsenic evidence showed Zahau leaned over the railing and fell to her death, investigators said. They said that the railing disturbances were consistent with Zahau's petite torso. Toe impressions were consistent with person leaning up over railing and going over the railing, officials said.
They said there was no toxicological evidence that she was unconscious or incapacitated prior to hanging.
"So you mean to tell me," Zahau-Loehner said, "that some phone call at 12:30 at night, and a voice message that she listened to all of a sudden make her decide to come up with this elaborate plan?"
Jonathan Lucas, M.D., San Diego County Medical Examiner, told the reporters gathered for the panel, which exceeded an hour in length, that he would be the first to admit this was a unique and unusual case.
Investigators released a video showing the ability of a person to bind their own hands without assistance. In the days leading up to the press conference, Zahau-Loehner has adamantly denied the investigation's finds.
"There was no search on the Internet for this type of suicide," Zahau-Loehner said. "There was nothing on her computer, nothing that even showed that she even looked for this type of binding.
"I mean, I love my sister and she was smart in a lot of ways. But Becky was not smart in that kind of sense."
"Sometimes family members hear what they want to hear," Gore said. He said he did discuss the findings with Jonah Shacknai, who accepted the conclusion.
A source close to the investigation told NBC 7 San Diego a week and a half ago that detectives are reasonably confident her death was a suicide.
Sources told NBC San Diego Zahau felt tremendous guilt over the death of 6-year-old Max Shacknai because his fatal injuries happened while she was watching the boy.
Max Shacknai fell from a railing in the home's front stairwell and struck the carpeted floor face first, fracturing his forehead, officials said. If that were the only injury he had sustained, he may have survived, according to the medical examiner.
However, the fall caused a bending of the child's neck, causing an injury of the spinal cord. That injury interfered with his heart rate and breathing, causing irreversible brain damage, Lucas said.
“There was no evidence indicating any foul play in this. It was a tragic accident and we’ve ruled Max’s death an accident,” said Commander Mike Lawton, Coronado Police Department.
Shacknai, 54, is the founder and CEO of Medicis, a pharmaceutical company based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Shacknai released a statement Friday afternoon saying Zahau "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 needed answers, we will try to rebuild our lives and honor the memories we carry with us," he said.
Zahau and Adam Shacknai, Jonah's brother, were the only two people staying at the home the night of July 12.
Zahau 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, officials said.