In the second of a two-part Dr. Phil series exploring the suspicious death of a woman at a Coronado mansion in July, a prominent pathologist weighed in with his opinion but offered no surprises.
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Rebecca Zahau's remains were examined by world-renowned pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht in Pittsburgh in an independent autopsy requested by her family. Wecht -- who has worked on multiple high-profile cases such as the JonBenet Ramsey case, the O.J. Simpson trial, and assisted in the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy -- announced his findings during the taping of the Dr. Phil Show in Los Angeles.
Nearly four months ago, Zahau died at the 27-room Spreckels mansion in Coronado. The mansion is owned by Zahau's boyfriend -- founder and CEO of Medicis Pharmaceuticals Corp., Jonah Shacknai -- and is where Shacknai's 6-year-old son, Max, suffered critical injuries while under her care.
Max Shacknai was hospitalized two days before Zahau was found dead. He died several days after her death.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner determined Zahau took her own life, but many refused to believe that Zahau, who was found hanging naked from a balcony with her ankles tied together and hands bound behind her back, killed herself.
In the program aired on Tuesday, Wecht expressed "grave and serious doubts" about whether Zahau committed suicide noting contusions beneath the woman's scalp that appeared to have been caused by a blunt force and that -- despite reportedly dropping nine feet during a suicide by hanging -- she should have had a broken neck. Wecht suggested that Zahau might have been unconscious from the blunt force when she was killed, which would explain why there were no signs of struggle. However, the medical examiner's office previously suggested that those injuries were from Zahau hitting her head during her suicide attempt and while her body was swinging from the balcony.
Wecht concluded that authorities rushed to judgement in this case, stating that similar investigations often take months to complete.
"How can all of this be analyzed in a matter of days?" he asked. "It just doesn't make sense."
In his opinion, the case should be re-opened and the cause of death listed as "undetermined." Wecht said he leans very strongly toward homicide or foul play in this case.
While new experts shared their opinions of the events involving Zahau's death, no new evidence was revealed during either day of the show that disproved the findings of the medical examiner's office.
However, Mary Zahau-Loehner, Zahau's sister from Missouri, said that she doesn't trust the San Diego Sheriff's Department and she wants a different agency to investigate the case.
Sheriff Bill Gore released a statement Tuesday evening in reaction to the show's findings. Gore said, "No new information has been provided by this second autopsy."
Gore "advised those who appeared on the 'Dr. Phil' show altered and misrepresented facts, as well as omitted pertinent details all together."
"This is nothing more than sensationalism at its lowest point and the family is only enduring more suffering from this insensitivity," Gore said.
Click here for Gore's complete statement
On Monday, a private investigator hired by the Zahau family countered the suicide determination made by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office.
"This is ridiculous. This is so staged," said private investigator Paul Ciolino.
Ciolino added his probe showed there was nothing to indicate that Zahau committed suicide.
Ciolino told 10News he believes Zahau was strangled and did not hang herself.
"Let me tell you, I don't think this girl was ever hanging," said Ciolino. "When the police get there, she's laying in the yard in pristine condition."
He believes she was strangled and placed on the lawn beneath the balcony.
Ciolino said if she had hanged herself, the injuries to her body would have been much worse.
"She should've had at the very least a broken neck," he said.
During the program, Zahau-Loehner, repeated what she's been saying since the San Diego County Sheriff's Department investigation concluded Rebecca killed herself, despondent over the impending death of her boyfriend's son: it was a homicide staged to make it look like suicide.
"My sister was killed, and somebody staged it to make it look like she did it to herself," said Zahau-Loehner
Zahau's relatives and friends have refused to accept the ruling, saying she was a religious woman who viewed suicide as a sin and a modest person who never would allow herself to be publicly seen without clothing.
"As soon as I found out that she was naked and she was bound, it confirmed my fear that she did not commit suicide," Zahau-Loehner said. "She was murdered."
Zahau-Loehner said she had no clear idea about who might have committed the alleged slaying.
Zahau-Loehner said her sister's behavior in the days leading to her death was not consistent with that of someone driven to self destruction by what happened to Max Shacknai.
"She felt horrible, and she said it was something she couldn't have prevented," Zahau-Loehner said. "But she did not feel guilty about it."
Zahau "never indicated that she felt responsible for Max's fall," added Doug Loehner.
Attorney Anne Bremner, who is representing the Zahau family, claimed the sheriff's investigation missed several items that should have been clues to a murder, among them the discovery of a pair of women's panties in the guest bathroom and a pair of black gloves found at the mansion.
Bremner also claimed that Rebecca Zahau's computer was used after her death, indicating that someone else had been there.
Other key parts of the case remain unexplained as well, Zahau-Loehner told McGraw.
"They don't know were the rope came from," she said. "There were two knives in the room. One knife had her fingerprint; but the other knife is clean of prints. The knife had to get there somehow."
Although the experts on the Dr. Phil show all indicated they believe Zahau's death was a homicide, no evidence was introduced to prove it.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore has repeatedly said that if new evidence comes forward, the Zahau case will be re-opened.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department released the following statement on Monday afternoon regarding the findings revealed on the Dr. Phil show:
"To date, neither our detectives nor the Medical Examiner's Office have been presented with any evidence from this second autopsy. If Dr. Wecht or Miss Bremner would like to share information they believe is pertinent with our investigators, we would be glad to meet with them, rather than hear their results on television provided as entertainment."
The California Attorney General's Office also denied a request for an independent inquiry at the state level.
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