From left: Mary Zahau-Loehner, Rebecca Zahau, Snowem Horwath. “I keep thinking she’s going to call me,” says Mary.
  • From left: Mary Zahau-Loehner, Rebecca Zahau, Snowem Horwath. “I keep thinking she’s going to call me,” says Mary.
  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

The woman on the other end of the phone is in tears. “I was just praying to God when you called,” she says.

“That He’ll help us with what happened to our daughter. We are Christian. We are not allowed to commit suicide.”

It’s Pari (Mrs. Zung Tin Par), Rebecca Zahau’s mother. Rebecca is the 32-year-old Burmese-born millionaire’s girlfriend who died at the Spreckels mansion in Coronado. She was found hanging from a rear balcony, completely naked, on July 13.

And her mother, who lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with Rebecca’s father (Mr. Khua Hnin Thang), wants to know why. Suicide, the official verdict, is not an option.

“Why would they say that?” she says. “That she committed suicide? Our family is hurting. We’re a poor family. We can’t pay for investigators. My husband says nothing. All his feelings are trapped inside. But we know for sure, she wouldn’t ever kill herself. And she was very modest. It is our Asian way. She would never do a thing like that, and never without clothes on. But nobody will listen to us.”

I didn’t make this phone call. My wife Lita did. We had been discussing how little the public knew about Rebecca.

“You should talk to the family,” Lita said. And in her direct way, she picked up the phone and dialed 411. In half an hour she was talking to Rebecca’s mom. But not for long. It was too emotional for Pari. She gave Lita the number of Mary Zahau-Loehner, Rebecca’s older sister.

“Hello?”

“Mary Zahau-Loehner?”

“Yes.”

And so began a conversation about what this investigation looks like from Rebecca’s family’s point of view.

∗ ∗ ∗

“We were pretty close,” says Mary. “We talked to each other almost every day, either by text or by phone. If not every day, at least two or three times a week.

“Rebecca is more outgoing than I am. She is a jolly person. She can laugh about simple things. She’s cheery, she likes to cheer everybody up. She just likes to live life. I don’t know how else to explain it. She’s a year and a half younger than me. We have another sister [living in Germany]. We’re all close, but Rebecca and I got really close because we can talk to each other here.”

The sisters were born in the town of Falam, in the Chin Hills of northwest Myanmar (formerly Burma), near the border with India. The Chin people live in a hard area, less fertile than anywhere else in Myanmar. To add to their woes, the Myanmar military has regularly persecuted the Chin people and reportedly used them for hard labor.

It’s what turned the Chin to Christianity. An early missionary, Adoniram Judson, first visited the area in 1813. The Chin have embraced Christianity, especially over the last century, despite the persecution it brought.

About two years ago, Rebecca became involved with Jonah Shacknai, who founded Medicis Pharmaceutical Corporation, based in Arizona, and owns the Spreckels mansion in Coronado.

Then on July 13 came the appalling news.

Rebecca Zahau was found hung to death from a balcony facing the courtyard of Coronado’s Spreckels mansion.

“I found out from my husband Doug that my sister had died,” Mary says. “Jonah had called him. He came to my work, and he told me that we need to go to my office to talk. And that’s when he told me.

“I felt desperation, wanting to believe it’s not true. Maybe some prank. He said he was told that it was suicide by hanging. I said ‘No!’ I remember saying, ‘No. Where is she? I need to talk to her.’

“We didn’t know Jonah well. I called him the day of [Rebecca’s death], and he said he didn’t know, he didn’t know [what happened]. That’s all he answered me.”

What sort of partner was Jonah Shacknai to her sister?

“We had met him a few times [before this]. My husband has met him twice, and I think that I have met him four or five times. Jonah is a difficult man to read. We didn’t [ever] have much of a conversation. Usually it was dinner or something like that. He was busy. Most of the time when I visited my sister, I just hung out with her. He was gone a lot, and we might have a dinner here and there, [but] it had to be arranged ahead of time.”

Mary thinks Rebecca, who was an ophthalmic technician, met Shacknai through work.

But she says it wasn’t easy for Rebecca to fit into the privileged family, which included two teenaged children from Shacknai’s first marriage; Max, 6, from Shacknai’s second marriage; and Max’s mother, Dina, Shacknai’s recently divorced second wife.

“I didn’t ever meet Jonah’s ex-wife,” says Mary. “I just know that she was making Becky’s life difficult. I think she was rude to her a lot of times, requesting that Becky not attend any function with the kids, especially Max. Things like that.”

Was Shacknai in love with Becky?

Mary hesitates.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t read [them]. I mean, were they affectionate with each other? No, not really. Not in front of us. If I saw them, I probably wouldn’t get that impression. Becky told me that she did love him but that she was disappointed in a lot of ways because he wouldn’t…she was disappointed in his [teenaged] kids, [how] they were allowed to be openly rude to her. Those other two children didn’t want her, period. They resented her. And Jonah would not defend her [against them], stop that. Not really. Not by my impression.”

By this summer, it was coming to a crunch for Rebecca.

“We talked about it; that if the teenaged kids’ behavior doesn’t improve she was considering telling Jonah at the end of this summer that she…needed to have some time to herself.

“I don’t know if she ended up telling him or not.”

Did he give emotional support to his lover’s family?

“Emotional support?” says Mary. “No. He talked a few random times, yes. He talked more with my husband, but it was more of technical things like funeral arrangements and that kind of stuff.”

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader

More from the web

Comments

Fred Williams Sept. 14, 2011 @ 7:43 p.m.

According to the "investigation", the victim wrote a cryptic message (in someone else's handwriting), bound her feet, then gagged herself and wrapped the shirt around her neck, put the rope around her neck, then tied her hands together, then got those tied hands behind her back, then somehow hoppped over a balcony in such a way that the pre-tied rope was neither too long nor too short...

There's no word of any Internet evidence, but we do know that former DA Paul Pfingst was on the scene immediately. Did he prevent the investigators from examining mobile devices and computers in and around the mansion to glean searches or GPS location? Was the ex-wife or brother ever even questioned by investigators?

Almost immediately, police publicly speculated it was a suicide. In fact, it seems that the focus of the "investigation" was to somehow prove it to be nothing other than a suicide...regardless of all the evidence pointing at something or somebody else.

Now, with word that the "investigators" did not even properly interview the victim's sister, but rather devoted themselves to selling the family the suicide story, it's very clear what happened.

There is no other reasonable conclusion but that this is a cover up. Whether due to the influence of those involved, or just a desire to avoid association an unseemly case while running for higher office...it's still a cover up.

This case cries out for independent investigation. DA Bonnie Dumanis should be asked about this case at every campaign appearance as she runs for mayor.

Also, the Attorney General of California, or perhaps the FBI should be asked to re-investigate not only the alleged suicide, but also the reason for such a blinkered and flawed "investigation". If the Sheriff claims this is based on "science", ask if he's familiar with the Congressionally mandated National Research Council report on how seriously flawed and unscientific forensic "science" truly is...

(See: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12589 )

There's a lot to be done yet, and a need to put pressure on the authorities who have the power to re-open this investigation -- this time without blinders.

If Mary is reading this, I urge her to contact her own representatives in Congress (don't bother with the San Diego delegation) to ask them to request the DOJ to investigate (or get advice on what can be done next, if that isn't the proper course).

Best,

Fred Williams former member San Diego Crime Commission

0

istana Sept. 15, 2011 @ 6:29 a.m.

I have been following this case from Switzerland. I really feel sad for the family, but I think that the conclusion of the police that Rebecca committed suicide is probable. From what I can gather from the interview with Mary, the relationship Rebecca had with Jonah doesn't seem to have been very serene, especially since the 2 older children plus one of the ex wives and her didn't get along. This puts a strain on every relationship. Then the terrible accident with Max. There must have been resentments and Rebecca's life within this family must have become very difficult. She had given up work as well, was divorced once already, so her future can not have looked very bright. Mary says that Rebecca and her were very close, and yet she doesn't seem to know a lot about her sister's life and Jonah who was going to be her brother-in-law. You never know what's going on in people's mind. May Rebecca rest in peace.

0

SurfPuppy619 Sept. 15, 2011 @ 10:08 p.m.

She had given up work as well, was divorced once already, so her future can not have looked very bright == Are you for real??? Do you know how many marriages end in divorce??? 60%.

Hardly a reason to claim the future was "not very bright"

0

tomjohnston Sept. 16, 2011 @ 1:56 a.m.

Are you for real??? Do you know how many marriages end in divorce??? 60%.

I guess my wife and I skew those stats just a tad bit. Earlier this year we celebrated our 35th anniversary.

0

SurfPuppy619 Nov. 29, 2011 @ 9:33 a.m.

35 is some accomplishment. Don has you beat I am pretty sure........

0

tomjohnston Nov. 29, 2011 @ 9:59 a.m.

Yeahb but Do Bauder is what, 75? My wife and I both recently celebrated pur 61st birthdays.

0

SurfPuppy619 Nov. 29, 2011 @ 2:27 p.m.

You know, I dont know how old Don is off the top of my head, I think he has mentioned 73????? Don't really know. But is is a long time he has been married, more power to him. To anyone that lasts longer than the 7 year average.

0

ateles2000 Sept. 15, 2011 @ 4:47 p.m.

As I see it the following six elements make this case if in fact a suicide a deviation from any known female suicide on record. 1. Woman committing suicide by hanging while naked? An Asian woman of moral upbringing with no known mental illness committing suicide naked. 2. Step-mother committing suicide over the loss of step-child? 3. A Woman with no prior history of suicide and no known mental illness binding hands and feet as part of suicide? 4. A Women with no known mental illness committing suicide with noose outside hair? 5. Women with no known mental illness gagging herself as part of hanging suicide? 6. Women with no known mental illness committing suicide using a combination of any the above?

0

Gail Powell Sept. 23, 2011 @ 7:30 p.m.

People who are wishing to aid the Zahau family in obtaining justice for Rebecca, please sign the online petition to reopen the case. All we concerned citizens can do is pressure the "public servants" to do the right thing and reopen this case. I am astounded that Sheriff Bill Gore and his band of merry men have so little regard for the intelligence of the people of San Diego, that they would dare to hoist that shoddy "suicide" designation on us! Shameful.

Thank you for your signature. http://www.change.org/petitions/california-attorney-general-open-an-independent-investigation-into-the-death-of-the-rebecca-zahau

0

jennjenn Oct. 2, 2011 @ 12:50 a.m.

Please sign this petition to help get Rebeccas's case get reopened. She was a very sweet and loving person. The manner of her death just doesn't add up.

http://www.change.org/petitions/justice-for-rebecca

0

hmezei Oct. 6, 2011 @ 3:34 a.m.

Hi have been whaching from the beginning....there's just too much to say.....I tptally agree with the person above Jennijenn...I mean ---Every one almost)...And "their dogs",,,,Can See ---this was Not a suicide...I have read many comments ---All,,@ especially women ...Know Right away ----No way this is suicide...@ yes ---like one of the 1st commenters wrote --Shame on the Sherrrif, ..@ the DA ....ms Bonni ---who's apparently running for Mayor..@ Yes ----wherver she goes ---Please Bring it Up....I would like to Her eyes Lowering Down ( for some reason...). In the beginning ---they Suspected Foul Play...then something changed...@ it feels like "somebody" was working hard on this....While Rebecca ---Laid there on the grass for some many hours...without any one covering Her....where was Adam to dot hat....Any one can say : Oh'....I went to get coffe"...when I saw Her..One can't Ignore ----the silence of these People..Adam has disappeared...Never been Interviewd, nor Jonah or Dina....There was No break In...If the thought of that had crossed her mind ----She would have called her sister right away!....No woman ---on the face of the earth or heaven -especially Asian ----would even think about doing it like that...This should be traced to the Top ---Why are they Not Interested....In Openning the Investigation ----Especially, that there are New and Very disturbing revelations....Like that a Man Heard a woman scream for Help from that House arownd 11 pm ?? the Police refuse to listen to Him ----If Jonah has "Friends in high Places"....then ?? This may have been Used to cover things...It certainly Looks Like an Act of revenge --from someone she knew...@ Footprints Not belonging to Police ---where fownd near Her Bad..+2 brashes + 2 knives.....I am Appalled by the story Mr. Black....Mr. Gore,...Mr. Jonathan ---have been "Pushing" this story of suicide....Rediculos.!!!....too many "Giveways" "Loopholes"..It's clear to Us..did somebody enter the house from the chimney ? or the veranda ? ----If No ---ther was One man there.......thanks..

0

hmezei Oct. 6, 2011 @ 3:54 a.m.

I'm in toal agreement with what "Fooforever" wrote...Very true..@ very Good......Evey word he wrote ----,,I support It...@ at the end He put ---"Shamefull"...for the sherrif Bill Gore ---I Totally Agree....It's like He --- the sherrif ---have "sold Joseff for a Piece of cloth"....( story in the Bible..) If Hes sherrif ----Show it then ----Open the Investigation according with the New Fowndings.....there are Severall Very Important Findings.....If Money was at "Play" here -----we want an Investigation....that will Lead to the sorce of It.......In the Meantime ----No one has been able to Interview Jonah or Adam...@ They are "Laying Low"....would anyone know as to why ?? People with Nothing to hide ---are not afraid of an Interview..JOnah said right away that he wants his life to contine " Buisness as Usuall"....But ----I don't think So.....

0

hmezei Oct. 23, 2011 @ 2:50 a.m.

Sorry ---I first want to Acknowlege the Wonderfull article By Mr. Fred Williams....( meant to do so earlier..)It's exactly as Many of Us see the situation..@ I'm glad ---that He's So Helpfull caring Person from the SD crime commition. I do Hope that Mary @ Ms. Ann Bremner pursue This advice --( hoping they read It..) Becouse so far ( oct 23rd ) I'm not aware of any change regarding the Sheriff @ "His marry Band"..@ I don't Understand ----Why on earth ---any of the Higher offices..aren't Steppping In....I do think / Feel @ Hope ---that this "thing" will get Uncovered....Who Is Above the Gore"..Kamla ( who hasn't stepped In yet)...So..Yes ---Turn to the congress Men --excellent Idea.. Something ---All of It ---Does Not make sense at All......

0

Fred Williams Oct. 23, 2011 @ 4:13 a.m.

hmezei, I'm forced to admit that for all the sound and fury, nothing has happened. The California Attorney General opted not to review the case, meaning it's going to stand as is unless a much higher power intervenes...

It stinks. It really, really stinks.

As an old song goes, "Justice isn't blind, it just looks the other way".

0

hmezei Oct. 28, 2011 @ 11:19 p.m.

Dear Fred Williams....thank YOu....You are very Helpfull..@ we are Gratefull for that...I woder if that is Ms. Kamla...I'm also sorry to Notice ---that She doesn't show Interest In Helping This Important case...Why are People ---who are Not Interested to Help @ are Inni a Position to Help ---don't show Interest...that Includs Ms. Bonni D. This Is a reflection on them....I Just heard ---that D. Phill....wil be dealing with this case ----I was very Happy to hear this...This Is a step in the right direction....@ Yes, like You said----This Needs to Go...as High as Possible ----where there's No chance of Bribe....I Must say ----It's a shame...On Whoever Has alllowed This to go that way...( astray...) with Love...

0

Twister Oct. 30, 2011 @ 2:28 p.m.

Bill Bass is an honest, highly competent individual who has exposed a lot of fraud in medical examiners and coroners. It is retired but still active. If asked, he would probably comment or assist.

0

Nightrider Nov. 29, 2011 @ 1:44 a.m.

What can we expect? K Harris was a do-nothing district attorney against criminals (even one that killed a police officer) in San Francisco. And apparently Bonnie D is running for some kind of office so she doesn't want to rock the boat. Yes, appeal to U.S. congressmen in CA and MO to get to DOJ to look into this. An Asian woman, such as Rebecca, would not kill herself, and would certainly not kill herself in such a way, taking her own clothes off and hanging herself on a building balcony for all to see and photograph.

0

Sign in to comment

Join our
newsletter list

Enter to win $25 at Broken Yolk Cafe

Each newsletter subscription
means another chance to win!

Close