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Victim Identified In Death at Spreckels Mansion

Nearly 18 hours after a morning distress call, authorities say she was homeowner's girlfriend.

UPDATE, 11:30 PM: Sheriffs investigators identified the dead woman as Rebecca Nalepa, 32, who lived at the mansion with the homeowner. The medical examiner released the information after reaching her family members. The cause of death remains unknown.

 

A San Diego County Sheriff's homicide unit remained at a historic oceanfront mansion late into the evening after a woman was found dead on the property Wednesday morning.

Investigators from the Medical Examiners Office arrived around 8 p.m. and officials said the examination of the Spreckels mansion, once owned by John Spreckels – an early owner of the Hotel Del Coronado who made his influence felt throughout San Diego – would continue into the night.

Sheriffs Sgt. Roy Frank said the victim, an Asian woman of undetermined age, was found by “a family member associated with the house,” despite initial reports that a guest had made the emergency call.

Frank also said the woman was someone “associated” with the property, but would not say if she was a family member or household employee or if she lived in the main house or elsewhere on the large estate.

The man who found the victim knew her, Frank added, but said authorities would not identify her pending notification of her kin. 

He also declined to speculate about rumors sweeping the neighborhood, which fronts the city's popular beach, that the woman was found bound or naked.

Neighbors also discussed a party that may have happened Tuesday night on the property and an incident earlier in the week at the home that left a child seriously injured.

The boy, 6, remained hospitalized at Rady Children's Hospital following the Monday incident, according to Coronado police.

The police said they only responded to the scene as part of a “medical aid” call at 10:10 a.m., not as part of an investigation.

Though authorities at the scene of Wednesday's investigation had said earlier that they did not believe the child's fall and the woman's death were connected, Frank refused to rule anything out.

“We're looking into (the victim's) associations and all aspects of the case,” he said.

Frank said investigators were focusing on the main house, a guest house and a garage. Hours earlier, at about 2 p.m., a van arrived and investigators carried a large bag of gear inside the Spreckels mansion.

Some of the workers could be seen collecting evidence in a yard to the left of the mansion where the victim's body lay for most of the day, while others were visible through a front window that partially faced the same yard.

The case grew still more twisty late Wednesday, when noted local attorney Paul Pfingst, the county's former district attorney, showed up on the scene saying he had been hired by someone connected with the investigation.

Pfingst, who has become a successful defense attorney since his departure from the DA's office, refused to identify the individual, saying he could not do so because  Sheriffs investigators would not grant him access to the scene.

The day began when officers responded to a 911 call from the 1000 block of Ocean Boulevard reporting that a death had occurred, according to Melissa Aquino, a Sheriff's Department spokeswoman.

They found a woman “in distress” and called in paramedics to administer aid, but the woman was pronounced dead.

Capt. Tim Curran of the Sheriff's Department said police received the first call just before 7 a.m.  Officers called in the Sheriff's unit at 8:30 a.m.

Curran also would not specify which structure the victim died in. The property has a main house and at least one guest house.

The current owner of the home is Jonah Shacknai, a pharmaceuticals executive who splits time between Coronado and his Arizona home, according to neighbors, many of whom are also part-time residents of Coronado and Arizona. Several said the injured child was his son.

Shacknai approached Coronado officials twice in recent months in an attempt to renovate the mansion, which is officially a historic structure under the state's Mills Act. The act requires that homeowners seek permission before making any changes. 

The home gained fame as the former residence of the influential Spreckels family. Spreckels had the home built before handing it off to his son. The mansion has been expanded, with a new wing, conservatory and roof. Though the house was altered in 1918 and again four years later, for the most part, it has not been changed since.

Tourists and residents alike gathered to watch on the street after authorities placed yellow tape in front of the mansion. Two vans, one from the Sheriff's Department and another from the Coronado Police, parked in front of the residence. Media vans lined the block, and many beach-goers paused on their way to the sand to get a look.

Many residents congregated on the side of the Spreckels property, keeping dogs on leashes and sharing stories about the drama unfolding before them. They offered wild speculation based upon rumors about the events at the home earlier this week.

 “There's a lot of police here for an island,” said Bob O'Donnell, a visitor from Sacramento.

 Sarah Kovash contributed to this report.

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