Jonah Shacknai, the Arizona pharmaceuticals mogul who owns the Spreckels mansion, is calling for state Attorney General Kamala Harris to "evaluate" the conclusions drawn by local authorities in of his girlfriend and son.
The cases have spawned “unrelenting and often vicious speculation and innuendo,” he wrote in a Monday letter to Harris (see media box), leading him to seek another look, though he noted that he trusts the findings of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and Coronado police.
Harris' office confirmed receipt of the letter, but would offer no further comment Tuesday.
they had determined that Shacknai's girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, 32, committed suicide July 13 by tipping herself over a balcony at his oceanfront mansion. from injuries sustained in an accidental July 11 fall near stairs at the residence.
Tuesday brought a flurry of activity in the cases, which have drawn persistent national media attention.
The court released three search warrants (see media box) that authorities sought, and two more than a month later.
In the warrant issued July 13, detectives confiscated the rope, door, knives, paint and brushes that were cited in their detailed Sept. 2 news conference about the case.
In addition, several electronic items, including two computers, two cell phones and several cameras, were taken from the Ocean Boulevard home, along with a black latex glove and paper towels and tissues with “red stains” and a clump of hair.
The other two warrants, each dated Aug. 24, were issued to AT&T and Verizon, seeking phone records for Shacknai and his ex-wife Dina, Max's mother, from 10 a.m. July 11 to noon July 13.
Zahau was found nude and bound on the Spreckels property by Shacknai's brother, Adam, who told detectives he cut her down from a second-floor balcony.
There was rope on her neck, a shirt in her mouth, her feet were bound and her hands were secured behind her back. An odd message was also found painted on an interior door: “She saved him. Can he save her?”
Detectives characterized the words as a last message from Zahau after she received a voice mail in which she was informed that Max was not expected to survive.
Her distress over the news, they said, led her to find rope, and meticulously cut and secure it around the footboard of a bed, before binding herself. She then made her way to the balcony and leaned over the railing to fall to her death.
The medical examiner said she died of asphyxia due to hanging.
“Science is our best witness in this case,” Sheriff Bill Gore said when he took the unusual step of personally announcing the results of the probe. “Science is not biased, and it does not lie.”
Zahau's family has accused authorities of focusing on suicide early in the investigation and failing to look at other possibilities, despite their entreaties not to close the case.
Her autopsy also revealed cuts and bruises to her face that detectives did not bring up in the initial discussions of their findings. Zahau's loved ones are willing to have her body exhumed to have experts examine her for new evidence.
One of her sisters, Snowem Horwath, said Tuesday that Shacknai did not inform the family of his request to the attorney general. She said it's not enough.
“We are not asking for a review of this case,” Horwath said. “We are asking for this case to be reopened.” The family is gathering signatures for a petition they plan to submit to Harris.
The family's attorney, Anne Bremner, has appeared on national talk shows, including Dr. Drew Pinsky's and Nancy Grace's, calling for reopening the investigation.
Initially, Shacknai responded to Bremner through his attorneys, if she didn't stop making what the the lawyers described as “false and irresponsible statements.”
Monday's letter, in which Shacknai, not his attorneys, appealed to Harris, had a different tone. He noted the “horrible events of this summer” at his home and that “Rebecca's family and others continue to have questions.”
A state review of the case, he wrote, would bring “some clarity, dignity, and ultimately, closure to the devastating deaths of my youngest son, Max Shacknai, and my girlfriend and companion of two years, Rebecca Zahau.”
He added that he “was and continue(s) to be persuaded” by a “sound, scientific … thorough and competent investigation.” Skepticism about the findings, he wrote, has “tormented” his surviving children, other family members and his ex-wife's family.
If a new “assessment serves to validate the Sept. 2 findings, then hopefully this matter can be resolved finally,” he wrote.
Gore said in a statement (see media box), that he “strongly” believes ”a thorough and professional investigation was conducted” in cooperation with Coronado police and the Medical Examiner's Office.
But he added that the department “understands and supports Mr. Shacknai's request” and will cooperate with Harris' office if she decides to review the case.
The Sheriff's Department has maintained a Web page dedicated to the case since mid-August. Media materials released Sept. 2 are posted there, along with Shacknai's response to them, and his letter to Harris' office.