San Diego

The System Failed Me, Adam Shacknai Told Dateline NBC

The strange death of Rebecca Zahau in 2011 captured the nation’s attention and shined a spotlight on a quiet, seaside city.

More than six years after her death, Adam Shacknai, the brother of Zahau’s boyfriend, millionaire Jonah Shacknai, was found liable for her death in a civil wrongful death trial.

In an interview with Dateline NBC, Adam Shacknai, speaking for the first time since the jury’s verdict in April, said he placed trust in the system and the system failed him.

When Dateline NBC’s Josh Mankiewicz asked if he could live with that, Shacknai said, “No, I really can’t.”

It’s been seven months since the jury awarded Pari Zahau, Rebecca’s mother, approximately $5.167 million in damages. The NBC newsmagazine spent the last week in Coronado to piece together what happened in this strange case.

Even though Shacknai has never been charged in Rebecca Zahau’s death, there has been plenty doubt and plenty of theories about what happened July 13, 2011. On that date, Shacknai found Rebecca’s nude body hanging from the second-story balcony with her hands and feet bound.

The investigators ruled the death a suicide but the Zahau’s family was not convinced. They believe Shacknai killed Rebecca believing she caused the death of his nephew, Max Shacknai.

Max, 6, fell inside the Spreckels mansion on July 11, suffering injuries that would eventually kill him six days later on July 17. Rebecca Zahau was alone with Max inside the Coronado home at the time.

The Zahau filed a $10 million civil suit against Shacknai in 2013. The case went to trial on March 2018. On April 5, the jury in a nine-to-three verdict found that Shacknai's actions caused Zahau's death.

Shacknai has maintained in innocence and denied all allegations made against him.

“Apparently, it didn’t seem to do a lot of good in that trial because people will believe what they want to believe with no evidence,” Shacknai told Mankiewicz.

Investigators found no evidence of Shacknai having been inside the house at the time of Zahau’s death. He was staying in the guest house and found Zahau’s body around 6:45 a.m. July 13, 2011.

“Funny, when I watch legal proceedings, it’s almost like a bedrock thing, ‘Hey, you can’t make someone prove a negative,” Shacknai said. “But this is 100 percent, there is no circumstantial evidence other than me being in that house and finding her.”

The full Dateline NBC’s interview with Adam Shacknai airs 10 p.m. Friday.

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