Family Sues to Reopen Coronado Mansion Death Investigation

Family members set up a crowdfunding account to help fund an independent investigation into the hanging of Rebecca Zahau

Nearly two years after Rebecca Zahau was found hanging at an historic Coronado mansion, her family has filed a lawsuit demanding the case be reopened.

San Diego County Sheriff’s Department homicide investigators concluded Rebecca Zahau, 32, killed herself July 13, 2011.

Zahau's nude body was found hanging from a balcony at Spreckels Mansion two days after boyfriend Jonah Shacknai's 6-year-old son, Max Shacknai, fell at the home while under her watch.

Timeline: Deaths at Coronado's Spreckels Mansion

On Wednesday, attorneys for the Zahau family would not identify any potential suspects in the case but they listed the evidence they say points to homicide.

"Anybody that looks at this objectively, doesn't see suicide," said attorney Marty Rudoy.

“My guess is 99.9% of people in the world think this is a homicide and the only people who think it’s a suicide are the authorities in San Diego,” Rudoy said.

Rebecca Zahau's sister Snowem said there has been no communication between the family and her sister's former fiance, multi-millionaire Jonah Shacknai, founder and CEO of Medicis, a pharmaceutical company based in Scottsdale, Ariz..

Max Shacknai died July 17, 2011,  almost a week after suffering serious injuries in a fall down the stairs at the historic mansion.

When Sheriff Bill Gore and his detectives revealed the result of their investigation in September 2011, sources told NBC 7 that investigators believed Zahau felt tremendous guilt over the boy's death.

Snowem said that her sister never indicated that Max's family blamed her.

“She was sad of course because she loved the boy, she loved Max but she never, ever said anything or felt responsible for his fall,” Snowem said.

Zahau's last text the night of her death was “I have to be strong for Jonah” according to Rudoy. He said it was another key suggesting an absence of Rebecca’s suicidal state.

“We’re not just looking for compelling evidence of suicide, we’re looking for any evidence of suicide,” said attorney David Fleck.

“I believe there are several people who should have been in jail later that day that Rebecca was found dead and they should’ve been charged with first degree murder within two days after,” Fleck said.

Attorneys also questioned 8 seconds of audio they say is missing from the original 911 call made by Adam Shacknai, duct tape residue found on Zahau's leg which was unexplained and two paint brushes and two knives found in the hanging room. 

They criticized the sheriff's investigators theory that Zahau herself tied a series of intricate knots on her hands behind her back, put the noose over her head and propelled herself off the mansion's balcony.

Sheriff's investigators even released a video that they say shows how it can be done.

Fleck blamed the suicide theory on "group think."

“That’s truly what I think happened here. Somehow they got on the idea of suicide and were blinded to the mountains of evidence of homicide,” said Fleck.

Younger sister Snowem said Rebecca would be 34 years old had she lived.

"I’m here today on behalf of my sister and be her voice," she said.

"We will not stop pursuing or fighting for justice to find the truth of what happened to her and we hope that soon the truth will be revealed."

Sheriff's Department homicide Lt. Glenn Giannantonio said unless additional evidence comes out, the case will remain closed and rule a suicide. He also said it will be up to the court to decide which requested evidence is released.

Shacknai has stood by the sheriff's conclusions, and cooperated with authorities throughout the investigation.

Jonah Shacknai's company was sold to another pharmaceutical company in September 2012 for $2.8 billion.

The Zahau family has created an Indiegogo crowdfunding account to try and raise money for their investigation and any future civil lawsuits. The goal is $535,000.

“There is no way they could come up with the money to hire experts and investigators to do the job of the police and then hire lawyers to take the case. So we’re turning to you,” the account states asking for donations starting at $1 or $5.

Rudoy said timing is critical since the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases in civil court is two years.

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