Rebecca Zahau

Rebecca Zahau's Family Drops Suit Against Sheriff in Wake of Coronado Mansion Death

Zahau's brother-in-law, Adam Shacknai, was found responsible for her death in a civil suit settled out of court in 2018

Rebecca Zahau
Rebecca Zahau Fund

The family of Rebecca Zahau, whose body was found hanging outside a Coronado mansion in 2011, has dropped its suit against former San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore.

Family attorney Keith Greer on Wednesday confirmed the legal move to NBC 7. The suit was filed in an effort to gain access to records connected to the investigation into the death of Zahau, whose body was found at the beachfront Spreckels Mansion she shared with her boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, a pharmaceutical company executive.

New York Times best-selling author Caitlin Rother -- who lives in San Diego -- just released a book about called “Death on Ocean Boulevard: Inside the Coronado Mansion Case," reports NBC 7's Mark Mullen.

The suit called for Gore to give Zahau's family and attorneys access to all case records regarding the investigation, arguing that, while the department had released many records, it only disclosed those that support the belief that Zahau's death was a suicide.

Zahau's death was ruled a suicide in two separate sheriffs’ investigations, but a civil suit in 2018 found her boyfriend’s brother, Adam Shacknai, responsible for her death, with a settlement reached out of court. Adam maintained he was not responsible for the death.

The suit against the former sheriff was dropped, Greer said, due to the fact that nothing connected to the case could be provided by Gore, who retired in February of this year, prior to the end of his term. He had held the office for 12 years prior to that.

WARNING GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: Outside the courtroom and following the announcement that the civil case was dismissed with prejudice, Adam Shacknai responds to NBC 7’s question. “Did you kill Rebecca Zahau?” he was asked. 

In the run-up to June's primary election, NBC 7 asked the two candidates for San Diego Sheriff who will advance to the general election what their stances were on re-examining the case, which the Zahau family has requested.

John Hemmerling said he was willing to reopen the case while Kelly Martinez, who has been with the department for 37 years and is currently acting sheriff, said she was open to an outside agency investigating Zahau's death.

Greer said the Zahau family would next pivot to efforts to get the San Diego County Medical Department to change its findings on Zahau's cause of death to homicide or undetermined. Should they succeed in those efforts, the family would them attempt to the get the criminal case reopened, in the hopes that prosecutors would then target Adam Shacknai.

The Family of the late Rebecca Zahau demands the Sheriff's Department to re-open death investigation. NBC 7's Allison Ash has more.


Sheriff's investigators' suggested 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.

Zahau's death came just days after Shacknai's son, 6-year-old Max Shacknai, died in a deadly fall at the mansion while Zahau was watching the boy.

Rebecca Zahau's family is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Adam Shacknai. NBC 7's Bridget Naso has more.

Adam Shacknai, who was staying at the mansion at the time as well, was the last person to see the 32-year-old Zahau alive. Jurors in the wrongful death lawsuit voted 9-3 that Adam battered Zahau and that his actions caused her death. They determined Adam owed Zahau's mother, Pari Zahau, nearly $5.2 million in damages.

In November 2018, Adam told NBC's "Dateline" he felt the system had "failed" him. He appealed the verdict in the civil trial the following year, which was settled by his insurance company during the trial. Adam told NBC 7 in 2019 that the insurance company covering his legal exposure had settled with the Zahau family for $600,000 without his knowledge or involvement. He told members of the media outside court that the company believed in his innocence but was "tired of throwing money" at his legal defense.

In December 2018, the sheriff's department decided it would not change its initial findings on the case; Zahau's official cause of death would remain a suicide. The Zahau family considered the decision not to reopen a criminal case "improper and biased."

Gore said after the civil trial that he was surprised by the verdict and suggested that if new evidence was presented, his agency would consider reopening the case.

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