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New book to detail decade-old Coronado mansion mystery

Author Caitlin Rother shares new revelations
New book to detail decade-old Coronado mansion mystery
Posted at 5:54 PM, Apr 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-24 13:17:25-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Local best-selling author Caitlin Rother is sharing some new revelations ahead of the release of her book about the decade-old Coronado mansion death.

In July 2011, the nude body of Rebecca Zahau was found, bound, gagged, and hanging from a balcony at the Spreckels Mansion.

From the beginning, the case drew the attention of best-selling author and San Diegan Caitlin Rother.

“This case chose me. My husband committed suicide by hanging, so I had a personal connection to this case … and it did in fact become kind of an obsession because I really wanted to try and solve this mystery,” said Rother.

Almost a decade later, Rother's research is unveiled in her new book, Death on Ocean Boulevard. Part of that research included eight lengthy interviews with Zahau's boyfriend, pharmaceutical tycoon Jonah Shacknai.

Days before Zahau's death, Shacknai's son was hurt in a fall he later died from. Zahau had been caring for him. Rother reveals details about a voicemail an emotional Shacknai says he left for Zahau.

“The doctor said that the best-case scenario was the little boy would never walk or talk again, and Jonah said he was just very, very sad. He said he was even crying on the voicemail he left,” said Rother.

Investigators would contend that Zahau listened to the voicemail before her death, supporting their conclusion she committed suicide. After Shacknai initially told detectives Zahau wouldn't take her own life, he is now convinced she did.

“He had pretty much come to terms that people who commit suicide are not rational,” said Rother.

The book also looks into the past of Zahau. Rother spoke to an ex-boyfriend, who in 2005, says he got several calls from Zahau, claiming she had been kidnapped.

"Rebecca is crying. She says, ‘They took me. They took me.’ … She goes, ‘I don’t know where I am. I have something over my eyes. I've got to go,’” said Rother.

But the book cites the eventual police report, where Zahau stated that she hadn't been abducted, but instead was reconciling with her estranged husband. Keith Greer, the Zahau family’s attorney, says Zahau felt compelled to go with her estranged husband and give their relationship another try, and wanted to spare her boyfriend's feelings.

Rother says it fits a broader pattern for Zahau.

“It was clear that Rebecca was definitely telling stories and different versions of stories to her family, to her boyfriends, to her lovers, to her husband,” said Rother.

Greer calls that a mischaracterization, and says when Zahau did change details of a story, it was to protect the people she cared about.

The book also explores every piece of evidence and the many theories, even straying into the paranormal. Rother says a private investigator who obtained the bed Zahau's body was tied to, brought in a psychic.

“Her feeling … that Rebecca had literally had been choked to death and strangled, and that there were two men, and she knew one of them. And she was like, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’” said Rother.

Amid all the theories, the mystery endures. A civil jury found Shacknai's brother, Adam, responsible for Zahau's death, but the sheriff’s department continues to stand by its suicide finding.

With all her research, Rother has reached her own conclusion.

“It was staged. It was either a staged suicide trying to look like a homicide or a homicide trying to look like a suicide because there are just too many things that don't add up,” said Rother.

Death on Ocean Boulevard will be available in stores, e-books, and audiobooks on Tuesday. Rother will be participating in a series of virtual book events next week.