The wrongful death lawsuit filed in the case of Rebecca Zahau, whose body was found hanging at a historic Coronado mansion, will move forward, a federal judge ordered this week.
Zahau’s family claims her death was a murder, not a suicide, perpetrated by family members of the alleged victim’s millionaire boyfriend Jonah Shacknai, who owned the famous Spreckels Mansion where Zahau’s nude body was discovered dangling from a second-story balcony on July 13, 2011.
"Nobody that's looked at this evidence has said it's anything other than murder," said Zahau family attorney Keith Greer.
After a lawsuit was dismissed three times, the family filed an amended wrongful death complaint in July 2014 against defendants Adam and Dina Shacknai — Jonah’s brother and ex-wife — and Dina’s twin sister Nina Romano, claiming they conspired to batter Zahau.
"The judge in this case made us really come forward with evidence and show exactly who did what, when they did it and how they did it," said Greer. "And we included that in this complaint."
On Oct. 15, United States District Judge Thomas Whelan denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
The Zahau family refuses to accept the results of the San Diego County Sheriff’s investigation, which found Zahau committed suicide by hanging because she felt guilty over the death of Jonah’s 6-year-old son Max. The boy had died just two days before her death after falling at home under Zahau’s watch.
Instead, the $10 million lawsuit claims Adam, Dina and Nina “actively participated in the planning, implementation, execution and subsequent concealment of the scheme to murder (Zahau).”
Dina is accused of striking Zahau in the back of the head four times with a blunt object as she and Nina confronted the alleged victim about Max’s death.
"We had an independent medical examiner look at the case. He found four blows on the back of her head that the San Diego Cororner didn't find," said Greer.
He claims once Zahau was unconscious, the three defendants had to figure out what to do next.
The plaintiffs say Adam carried Zahau’s body into the house, where the trio stripped off her clothing, gagged her, and tied her up with tape.
According to the lawsuit, Adam allegedly bound Zahau with a rope and choked her to death, later throwing her body over the edge of an adjacent balcony while “either Dina or Nina was sitting on the bed to which the rope was secured,” the court document states.
Zahau’s family accuses Dina of instructing Adam to paint the cryptic message “SHE SAVED HIM. CAN YOU SAVE HER” on the door outside.
The motive: Max's death, Greer alleges.
"Dina thinks that Rebecca was involved with her son's death, Rebecca stole her husband. That's the kind of rage that kills," said Greer.
Attempts to reach Dina on this latest development were unsuccessful.
But in court documents, the defendants flatly deny all the accusations put forward in the lawsuit.
Their attorneys say the complaint remains “devoid of facts and this lace of factual content makes the allegations made on information and believe implausible.”
The claim directly contradicts the coroner’s findings, which stated Zahau’s cause of death was suicide.
However, Judge Whelan said looking at the accusations in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the factual allegations are sufficient to support the conspiracy theory.
Greer believes the case will not be settled and will go to a jury trial. Depositions start next week.