The Latest Bizarre Twists In The Mystery Of Two Deaths At A Pharma CEO's Mansion

Jonah ShackneiJonah Shacknai and Rebecca Zahau

Photo: ABC News

More than a year after a pair of mysterious deaths at the home of pharma CEO Jonah Shacknai, there’s a new twist in the case.Shacknai’s 6-year-old son Max died in July 2011 after taking a tumble inside his Coronado, Calif. summer home.

Two days after the boy’s fall, Shacknai’s 32-year-old girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, who was watching Max when he apparently fell, was found dead herself.

Zahau was found hanging naked, with her feet and legs bound. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Shacknai’s ex-wife Dina now claims Max’s fall was no accident and Zahau was somehow responsible, NBC San Diego reported this week.

In light of new developments, Business Insider decided to take a look at everything we know about the scandal that plagued Medicis Pharmaceutical CEO Jonah Shacknai, who’s not a suspect in the case.



A rocky marriage that finally began to crumble in 2009.

Jonah and Dina lived in Paradise Valley, a wealthy Arizona community near the home base of Medicis, the LA Times reported in July 2011.

They were highly respected and volunteered together at local non-profits including the Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation.

But they had fights that on occasion became violent, the Times reported.

Jonah went to the police and said Dina had tried to choke him back in 2008. The next year, as their marriage was imploding, Dina reportedly told police her husband elbowed her in the chest.

It's not clear when Shacknai met Rebecca Zahau, according to the July 2011 article in the LA Times.

She was an ophthalmic technician near Phoenix, and her ex-boss described her as being wonderful with patients.

'Rebecca was a person who was full of life,' Michael Trier, chief executive of Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik centre, told the LA Times.

The couple eventually began spending time at Shacknai's historic mansion in Coronado, Calif. known as the Spreckels Mansion.

In September 2010, Dina asked Jonah not to leave their son, Max, alone with Rebecca.

Dina told HLN this week Jonah's new girlfriend lied about her background when the two women met.

Rebecca neglected to say she had been married or caught shoplifting, Dina Shacknai said.

The now-deceased woman also gave Dina a last name she'd never used before in this country, according to Dina. So Max's mum told her ex not to leave Zahau alone with her son.

'These things are concerning. As a mother, you want to know who's taking care of your child,' Dina said.

Jonah left Max with Zahau anyway on July 11, 2011.

On the morning of July 11, 2011, Jonah went to the gym and left Zahau and her 13-year-old sister, Mary, alone with Max at the Spreckles mansion, according to various news reports.

Max somehow tumbled over the side of a rail in the mansion, grabbing a chandelier and plummeting to the floor, police said. Zahau's sister was the one who called 911, UT San Diego reported last month.

The boy ended up in the hospital and fell into a coma, according to this report from the San Diego Sheriff's Department. But Zahau then received some 'positive' reports about the boy's condition, police said.

Two days later, Zahau received grave news just after midnight.

On July 13 around 12:30 a.m., Zahau received a voice mail informing her of Max's 'grave condition and imminent death,' the Sheriff's Department stated.

Adam Shacknai, Jonah's brother who was staying at the mansion, found Zahau hanging from a balcony in the courtyard, the report stated.

Her wrists and ankles were bound with red rope -- with her hands tied behind her back.

Adam told investigators he cut her down to see if he could save her, and investigators found her naked and dead in the courtyard.

Max died in the hospital on July 17.

Days after attending Zahau's funeral, Shacknai's company sealed a massive deal.

Medicis Pharmaceutical entered into a $58 million dollar research and development deal with India-based drug maker Lupin, Fox 5 reported on July 27, 2011.

On August 8, Shacknai addressed the tragedies in his family on an earnings call (Coronado Patch posted the transcript here), but he adopted a remarkably business-as-usual tone.

Here's an excerpt from the transcript: 'Our sales force, everyone has just been wonderful both in their expression of support and sentiment, and again, for this I am extremely grateful.

So that having been said, I'd like to turn to our normal course of business, our second-quarter results.'

On September 2, the San Diego Sheriff's Department told the media that Zahau's death was a suicide, and Max's was an accident.

At a 45-minute press conference on Sept. 2, the San Diego Sheriff's department definitively said there was no evidence of foul play in either Zahau's or Max's death.

Something caused Max to trip -- a ball or the family dog -- sending him over the railing of the stairs, officials said at that press conference.

While Zahau's death initially seemed suspicious, investigators said they found no sign of a struggle or rape. Her feet were dirty, which was consistent with the theory that she'd walked onto the balcony herself.

'I'll be the first to admit that this was a unique and unusual case,' Deputy Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas said at the press conference.

But, he added, 'We have to look past the unusual appearance of the death and focus on the facts and the evidence.'

New evidence came to light the day after that press conference, though.

The day after that press conference, CBS reported that the autopsy report found a bizarre message was scrawled on a door leading to the guest bedroom in the house:

'She Saved Him Can You Save Her,' the message read. Nobody knows exactly what the message means.

Two days later, on Sept. 5, ABC reported that details in the autopsy report raised questions about whether Zahau's death was actually a suicide.

Those details included findings that there was bleeding under her scalp, tape residue and blood on her legs, and that a t-shirt wrapped around her neck had been stuffed in her mouth, ABC reported.

Jonah Shacknai makes a surprising request.

On Sept. 20, ABC reported Jonah Shacknai asked California's attorney general to reopen the investigation into the deaths of Zahau and his 6-year-old boy.

'The circumstances of Rebecca's suicide were so unusual and upsetting that it was difficult to accept the hard facts that were presented,' Shacknai wrote the state AG.

California's attorney general rejected Shacknai's request, though.

The state said it only reopens such investigations under very specific circumstances, such as when investigators had a conflict of interest, the LA Times reported on Sept. 22.

In November, Shacknai sold the summer home he could never bring himself to return to.

In November, The Arizona Republic reported Shacknai sold the 12-bedroom, 11-bathroom home where his girlfriend met her gruesome end and where his son had his own terrible accident.

Scott Aurich, a real estate agent apparently involved in the sale, said at the time he didn't think the twin tragedies would put off interested buyers too much.

'I don't see it (deaths) as an asset, but I don't see it as a huge impediment. It is the most spectacular location in Coronado,' Aurich told the Arizona Republic.

Later in November, Dr. Phil entered the picture.

On Nov. 15, self-help guru Dr. Phil aired the results of a second autopsy on Zahau conducted by forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, who had the 32-year-old's body exhumed, ABC reported at the time.

Wecht found Zahau may have been hit on the head before the hanging, knocking her unconscious.

That could explain why there was no sign of a struggle, according to Wecht, who's known for taking issue with the Warren Commission's findings on JFK's assassination.

'The autopsy itself was thorough, I have no criticism,' Wecht reportedly said. 'It's the findings that were there and some that were not there that … leave me to express grave and serious doubts that the manner of death was suicide.'

Also in November, news emerged that Dina Shacknai's sister was at the mansion the night Zahau died.

News reports emerged in the fall that Nina Romano, Dina Shacknai's sister and Max's aunt, was at the mansion the night before Zahau's body was found.

In an interview with CBS, Romano admitted she went to the house to talk to Zahau about Max's fall.

'I kept saying to myself, 'I don't get it,'' Romano told CBS. 'I thought I'm just going to go ask Rebecca, can you please show me where you found him? Show me how you found him. I just wanted to see.'

But she left after nobody answered the door, Romano said.

Months later, Dina Shacknai raises her own doubts about her son's death.

In a surprise development this week, a pathologist hired by Dina Shacknai now claims evidence in the case supported Zahau's 'direct involvement' in Max's death, NBC reported on Aug. 6.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek called the investigators' original conclusion inaccurate.

'It would be more accurate to certify that manner as a homicide, where homicide is defined as death at the hands of another,

Now that you've read about mysterious deaths at a mansion ...

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