Evidence Sealed In Coronado Mansion Death Investigation

Rebecca M. Zahau Found Naked, Bound At Spreckels Mansion; Death Ruled 'Very Suspicious'

Autopsy results and evidence gathered in the case of a woman found dead at a Coronado mansion will not be available to the public as the investigation continues, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said Friday.

The woman found dead at a Coronado mansion on Wednesday was discovered naked with her hands and feet bound hanging from a balcony off the main house by a rope around her neck, the sheriff's department said during a Thursday press briefing, but authorities are not prepared to call her death a homicide.

According to the sheriff's department, an autopsy on 32-year-old Rebecca M. Nalepa was conducted Thursday, but final cause-of-death results could remain on hold for weeks or months, pending completion of follow-up lab work, such as toxicology screenings.

"Autopsy records as well as the search-warrant affidavit will be sealed during the course of the investigation," sheriff's spokeswoman Melissa Aquino said Friday morning.

Police officers responding to a report of a possible death in the 1000 block of Ocean Boulevard in Coronado shortly before 7 a.m. Wednesday found a woman in "distress" at the 27-room manor, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. Medics pronounced her dead at the scene a short time later.

The sheriff's department initially identified the woman as Rebecca M. Nalepa, but court documents obtained from the Superior Court of Arizona by 10News show that Nalepa restored her maiden name of Zahau in May.

Neighbors told 10News Zahau is the girlfriend of the mansion's owner, Dr. Jonah Shacknai, the CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Medicis Pharmaceuticals.

Shacknai's brother, Adam, cut the woman down, a Sheriff's Capt. Tim Curran said at an 11 a.m. press conference Thursday.

Authorities said Adam Shacknai called 911 to report the death.

Sky10 footage showed Zahau's naked body lying on the courtyard grass. Her hands and feet looked to be bound with what appeared to be an orange electrical cord.

When asked if the woman's death could be ruled a suicide, Curran said, "That is a possibility. [The] circumstances are bizarre."

On Thursday, Curran told reporters he could not comment on what investigators found inside the residence because it is active investigation. He said authorities cleared scene at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Curran said the case remained a "death investigation" -- not necessarily a murder inquiry -- as detectives try to determine if the woman was slain or if she might have committed suicide.

As of Thursday morning, the owner of the manor and his brother were considered witnesses, not suspects or "persons of interest," Curran said.

10News reporter Rachel Bianco said that investigators removed an outdoor table with a missing leg, what appeared to be a large painting and a full evidence bag from the home Thursday morning.

Coronado police have requested assistance from a sheriff's homicide team, since the small peninsula city does not have a full-time one of its own, sheriff's spokeswoman Melissa Aquino said Wednesday.

Investigators used a search warrant Wednesday afternoon to enter the property to finish their probe. They said the woman died "violently."

"I'm not really prepared to comment on what led us to believe that, but the scene does indicate some type of very suspicious circumstances," Curran told a local TV station on Wednesday.

10News learned a loud party took place at the house on Tuesday night. That is something neighbors are questioning after a 6-year-old boy suffered major head injuries during an accident at the house on Monday.

"It seems strange there would be a party after the accident … doesn't seem to be a very festive occasion," said the neighbor.

There have been conflicting reports about how the boy was injured. A neighbor told 10News that the boy, whose name was not released, was hurt by a falling light fixture and is still in the hospital. The boy's grandmother, meanwhile, has said that the boy was injured in a fall down some stairs. According to the grandmother, the boy's father and mother have been spending a lot of time with him in the hospital.

Neighbors reported seeing people being detained on Monday.

"They seem to be going in the house interrogating some people," one neighbor told 10News. "Twenty minutes later, they brought two women put them in squad car [and] took them away."

It's unclear what happened to the women.

During Thursday's press conference authorities said a woman called 911 and reported the unidentified child, who is the son of Jonah Shacknai and his ex-wife Dina, had fallen from a staircase at the home. Police and fire department officials responding to the scene said the child was not breathing and did not have a pulse. He was eventually taken to Rady Children's Hospital.

Authorities said there was no information that indicated the child's fall was anything more than a tragic accident. Authorities said the woman's death and the boy's injury are not related.

The boy's condition was not released.

Questions arose about Nalepa perhaps being depressed and suicidal because she was watching Shacknai's son that day, but a pet care business owner said he spent 15 minutes with her Tuesday and didn't see that.

"She was very nice, kind of subdued … mellow, quite probably due to the injury to [the] child," said Camp Diggity Dogs owner Ted Greenberg.

10News learned Nalepa's 14-month-old dog Ocean is in good condition at Camp Diggity Dogs. A family friend asked the camp Thursday to keep the dog for a few more days.

On Friday, Nalepa's sister, Mary Zahau-Loehner, told a media outlet about the last conversation she had with her sister.

"She was normal, fine, just getting ready to go to bed," said Zahau-Loehner.

When asked about her sister's relationship with Jonah Shacknai, she said, "They were together for two or three years, and I think they were happy … She goes to that Coronado house with his kids. They go there in the summertime."

Prominent San Diego defense attorney Paul Pfingst visited the home late Wednesday night but was refused entrance. Pfingst would only say that he was hired by someone involved in the case but was forbidden to speak with that person.

The estate, which includes two auxiliary residences and is valued at about $7 million, has been owned since 2007 by Jonah Shacknai, according to the San Diego County Assessor's Office. It was not immediately clear if Shacknai, 54, lives at the property.

Dina Shacknai resides in Coronado, not far from the historic estate, 10News' Salvador Rivera reported.

The Shacknai's recently divorced, but the details remain sealed due to an Arizona court order.

The 10News I-Team obtained court records that detailed a delinquent payment on a La Jolla rental house involving Dina Shacknai. She rented the property for a month in 2009 for $32,500.

It remains unclear why Dina Shacknai rented it when she and her then-husband owned their Coronado mansion.

"I think every entrepreneur has a fantasy of how big a company will become and I think what has happened to me is not inconsistent with my fantasies," Jonah Shacknai said in a corporate video.

Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp., which specializes in dermatology products, netted $123 million in 2010, the I-Team reported.

Nalepa's ex-husband, Neil Nalepa, expressed shock upon learning of her death.

"This is all overwhelming," he said. "I'm just trying to wrap my head around it."

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