Dead woman found naked and gagged with eerie message days after boys fatal fall

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According to police, it was an open and shut case.

Rebecca Zahau's feet were tied tightly together. Her hands were bound behind her back. A gag had been shoved in her mouth and a blue t-shirt wrapped around her head.

A bizarre message had been scrawled in paint on a wall which read: "She saved him can you save her."

Complicated nautical knots had been made to tie a rope to some bedroom furniture and Rebecca was found dead, naked and hanging in the hallway of her mansion home in Coronado, California. She had also suffered a serious head injury.

To San Diego Police Department there was only one conclusion. She had killed herself.

And tragically, it was the second time in just two days the hallway had been a scene of tragedy.

When Rebecca Zahau's marriage began to fail and she began dating twice-married Jonah Shacknai, she apparently had no idea he was a real high-flier, the CEO of a pharmaceutical firm who earned £7 million in 2010 alone.

She eventually moved into his mansion where she helped care for his son Max, 6.

One morning, as Jonah was at the gym, Rebecca heard a crash and her dog, Ocean, barking.

On the hallway floor she found little Max, with his scooter and the wreckage of a chandelier around him. He said one word to her ("Ocean") before lapsing unto unconsciousness. He was then rushed to hospital.

It seemed Max had been playing on his scooter on the second floor corridor when somehow he had fallen over the railing.

Max's mother flew in to be at his bedside, along with his uncle, tugboat skipper Adam Shacknai, 48.

That night with Jonah staying at the hospital, Adam and Rebecca returned to the home.

The next morning police received a panicked call at 6:48am. With a shaking voice Adam said: “I got a girl, hung herself, same place you got the kid yesterday.”

He later said he had stood on a table to cut her body down and tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, despite the fact that rigor mortis had begun to set in. On the 911 recording he can clearly be heard yelling “Are you alive?”

Later he claimed she had presumably killed herself over "Asian honour" because Max had been in her care when his fall took place.

Days later Max also sadly died.

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But with two tragic deaths, the troubles had just begun.

Firstly, experts looked at Max's accident. A forensic pathologist claimed it was impossible Max could have fallen while playing on the scooter, with the scooter falling over the rails with him, and suggested he had been assaulted and thrown over the bannister.

They also claimed it was medically impossible he could have said the word "Ocean" to Rebecca after the fall.

The police were also slammed over their suicide verdict for Rebecca. As she wasn't a sailor, how had she tied the complicated knots? Why bind her own hands and feet? She was known to be shy about her body so why was she naked?

Where had the head injury come from? Tape residue was found on her legs – had she taped them together, and then taken the tape off and tied them with rope instead? The bizarre message on the wall was not in her handwriting. Why had neighbours heard a woman scream?

Adam was given a lie detector test which proved inconclusive, but if he had killed her, how was there no other forensic evidence left behind?

While police addressed these concerns – even going so far as to get someone of her size to show how they could tie themselves up – many were not convinced.

Critics slammed the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, who were also accused of leaving Rebecca's body laying outside in the sun so a news helicopter could take pictures.

In 2018 Rebecca's family launched a civil case against Adam claiming he had attacked her and then staged the suicide.

The jury found him responsible for her death and awarded the family $5 million (£3.6m).

He was going to appeal the verdict but the case was stopped after his insurance company paid out £600,000.

He has always protested his innocence.

  • Family
  • Crime

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