The death of Rebecca Zahau has Coronado buzzing.
  • The death of Rebecca Zahau has Coronado buzzing.
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Rarely has Coronado been so abuzz. In the early morning of July 13, a young naked woman hanged herself (or did she?) at the Spreckels mansion on Ocean Boulevard. Two days before, a six-year-old boy fell down the house’s grand staircase (or did he?) and was put in a coma from which he never recovered.

Sensational mystery deaths are a rare thing on the isle. The last great murder-or-was-it-suicide drama took place in 1892, when Kate Morgan died of a self-inflicted (or was it?) gunshot wound to the head at the Hotel Del.

Reaching Jonah Shacknai, the wealthy CEO father of Max and lover of Rebecca Zahau (she had dropped Nalepa, the surname of her ex-husband), will not be easy. He has turned over management of his media relations to Citrick and Company, a PR/crisis management firm.

So, meantime, I went around seeking not the truth, but the buzz. These are transcripts with, in most cases, changed names. The opinions and theories are all over the place because there is so little information.

* * *

KELLY and JAN are bank employees. It’s Friday night. They’re closing up. ALICE is their friend and last customer.

KELLY: It’s horrible. Just horrible. The first couple of days, every customer was saying, “What do you think?”

Also, if I was in a horrible frame of mind because my boy, my son, had just died, and I felt it was my fault that he fell down the stairs, why would I get naked?

ALICE: I have a friend, and he’s a world-renowned forensic psychologist. And he says that women never, ever commit suicide in the nude. Only if you’re in a bathtub and you slit your wrists.

KELLY: I think it’s interesting that the brother [Jonah Shacknai’s brother Adam] cut her down. Why, unless he thought she was still alive? I think the brother did it.

ALICE: I think it’s the husband.

JAN: I said the same thing.

KELLY: Because she let the little boy die.

ALICE: I met him before, though.

KELLY: What!? I hear they worked out at the gym I work out at, but I don’t remember seeing him.

ALICE: I actually met him at the [Coronado city] council meeting. Because...when he came to Coronado, he wanted the Mills Act [which provides tax relief for historic homes, but also restricts what alterations you can make]. Then after he got the Mills Act, he wanted to change that whole wing on the house. And they denied him. He’s one of those...he’s got the greed syndrome. Not trustworthy. That’s what I thought at the meeting. Manipulative. This is a man who gets what he wants.

KELLY: He’s so powerful, everybody around him are yes-man people. And [if] his girlfriend let his little boy die on her watch, well, you know what?

ALICE: And all that injections and stuff, it’s got to poison your head. All that Restylane and the Botox.

He injected himself?

ALICE: Well, that’s what business he’s in.

KELLY: I think the brother did it for the husband. And the reason he cut her down... Because I thought the reason he cut her down was “I tried to revive her” but maybe to explain why his DNA is on her.

ALICE: No. You don’t see someone hanging without calling 911.

KELLY: First. And then you tell 911, “She’s hanging, and I’m going to cut her down,” and they’re going to say, “Don’t touch her.”

ALICE: No, the whole thing’s fishy. That little boy didn’t fall down those stairs. It’s all marble.

KELLY: I wondered if he was playing with the dog, and that’s why she called the [dog-care] people. She said, “I can’t keep the dog because of what happened to the little boy.” So, I was wondering, did he trip over the dog?

ALICE: Six-year-olds climb on everything. Just like being at the park.

KELLY: So, you think it was really and truly an accident? Because you know what everybody was saying? That the chandelier fell on him. That’s what everybody in town was saying. And then the next day it was, “No, he fell down the stairs.” The story keeps changing.

* * *

GEOFF, contractor and ex–Navy SEAL. We’re in a hardware shop.

My theory? It’s a double murder, with the arrow pointed towards the boyfriend/father. The father has got an enemy. And the enemy went after somebody dear to him. He took both of them. [Killing the child] is what hurts him more than killing him himself.

The two are connected. But the Coronado police would like it to go away. Because they don’t want to tarnish the reputation of their golden city. They would like to think the first one [the son] is an accident, the second was suicide. But that’s not the case. They’re connected.

It might have something to do with his girlfriend’s ex-husband, too.

It has also crossed my mind that the mother has an axe to grind with the girlfriend. And if there was an accident where the boy fell down the steps or if the girlfriend actually hurt him, might the mother put a hit on the girl? There’s something there.

You’re serious?

They’re very influential people. They know people. They know people around the world. They can do these things.

The boy fell?

He might have been purposely dropped from a high altitude. On his neck or head. “Fell down the steps” is an old excuse. They use that one a lot.

Why hang her?

Make it look like it was a motive by the ex-wife, who lives in Coronado. Make it look like that.

A drug thing?

Could be. It could be he made somebody very angry. He knows what’s happened. But you or I or the police will never get to him. He’s got too much money. The lawyers will protect him.

Was it right to let Jonah Shacknai leave the state?

What are they going to do? They can’t arrest unless they have evidence. And letting him go back to Arizona? Give him a long leash. Doesn’t mean they’re not watching him.

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x76 July 27, 2011 @ 3:55 p.m.

Does anyone not think that the Coronado PD are handling this is a kind of... JonBenet Ramsey type of way?


Visduh July 27, 2011 @ 8:51 p.m.

The Coronado PD immediately called in the SD County Sheriff to handle this. CPD has no homicide investigators. So, the question is whether the Sheriff can botch this case, ala JonBenet Ramsey. The answer is yes they can. Thirty years ago or so, the SD Sheriff's Dept was woefully weak on basic police tactics and they made a total mess of a number of murder investigations. More recently they have done better. But when the cop in charge of the investigation says he's treating the kid's injury (at the time) and the hanging as unconnected issues, it worries me greatly. Of course they are connected! The hanging followed directly from the kid's injury! So, coppers, figure out the connection and you will have solved the case. This woman did not lynch herself from that balcony. No way! She was murdered. Where is Columbo when you need him?


Javajoe25 July 28, 2011 @ 11:02 a.m.

It's not a fable. There are two dead bodies to prove it.

I will not be surprised if little is said or done with this. This is a crime that occurred in "rich people's land," and things operate differently there: time moves slower for the rich; police are less inquisitive with the rich; and in rich people's land, evidence disappears like magic, and bodies dissolve into the ether. Pretty soon, you ask "What ever happened with those people that died in Coronado?" and the answer you get is "What people? What death?"


Visduh July 28, 2011 @ 3:46 p.m.

It is an observable fact that crimes affecting the very poor and dispossessed get little attention and end up "unsolved." Seems you are saying that way up at the other end of the income/net worth spectrum much the same things happen. If you could produce a few examples of that from recent years it would go far to convince me. I do remember that a member of the local Fletcher clan (of Home Federal Savings fame), an almost lifelong alcoholic, shotgunned a couple of his friends to death in his home in Borrego Springs and was convicted of murder and sent up for life. So, his wealth and connections didn't get him off or declared insane or incompetent.


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