SAN DIEGO -- A federal judge will decide next week whether one of San Diego County's most infamous cases deserves a civil trial.
On July 13, 2011, 32-year-old Rebecca Zahau was found naked and hanging from the second-story balcony of the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado.
Two days prior, on July 11, Max Shacknai, the six-year-old son of Zahau's millionaire boyfriend Jonah Shacknai, fell down some stairs. He died three days later in what was considered a freak accident. At the time, he was under Zahau's care.
After a months-long investigation, the San Diego County Medical Examiner and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department ruled Zahau’s death a suicide. Zahau was found with her hands and feet bound behind her back with red rope. Her mouth had been gagged. Investigators said she then hopped over a balcony and hung herself. But Zahau’s family refuses to believe she took her own life. They hired attorney Keith Greer to prove she was murdered.
Greer believes that Adam Shacknai, Dina Shacknai and Nina Romano were behind Zahau’s death. Adam is Jonah Shacknai’s brother. Jonah is a wealthy Arizona businessman who was dating Rebecca. Dina is Jonah’s ex-wife. Nina is Dina’s twin sister.
Max was Jonah and Dina’s son.
In July 2013, Zahau’s family filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against Dina. Also named in the lawsuit were Nina and Adam. Jonah was not named.
Greer alleges their motive for killing Shacknai was revenge for the accident in the mansion that killed Max, on Rebecca’s watch. Greer believes that Rebecca was strangled to death before she went over the balcony.
“When a person is hung, the rope is up here, on the upper part of the neck,” Greer told 10News. “That cartilage was down here, at the base of the neck. So, that cartilage is more consistent with a strangling type of death.”
Police investigators said Rebecca wrote a cryptic suicide note on a door with a paint brush and black paint that said, “She saved him can you save her?”
Greer hired a handwriting expert. According to Greer, the expert determined the note was likely written by a right-handed male. Based on how high the door was, the person was probably six-feet-tall. Rebecca was only 5-foot-3. Greer said he discovered that that Adam Shacknai was the only man at the mansion at the time of Rebecca’s death.
A hearing in the civil suit was scheduled for Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court in San Diego. However, the hearing was delayed to Feb. 26. At the hearing, a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to send the lawsuit to trial.