To the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, the investigation into the strange death of Rebecca Zahau is over: She did it. The 32-year-old live-in girlfriend of a local millionaire—found naked, hanging by the neck, feet bound together, hands tied behind her back—committed suicide. Seattle attorney Anne Bremner, who represents Zahau’s family and helps stoke tabloid coverage of the case, still can’t believe it.
Bremner was scheduled to meet with a sheriff’s representative yesterday to ask that the case be reopened, but that meeting has now been postponed until next month, she says. Bremner, who suspects Zahau was the victim of foul play, calls it “the first case in the history of the world that a woman killed herself like this.”
But as a San Diego sheriff’s sergeant, Roy Frank, told reporters after Zahau’s death in July, “There are documentations of incidents throughout the country where people have secured their feet and hands as well to commit suicide.” They do it to make certain they can’t escape if they change their minds, he said. (Those victims were all men, however, notes Bremner.)
Zahau’s body was found hanging from a balcony in a historic Coronado, Calif., mansion owned by her boyfriend, big-pharma CEO Jonah Shacknai. His 6-year-old son had died two days earlier from a fall off a staircase in the same home.
In September, Sheriff Bill Gore pronounced Zahau’s death a suicide and young Shacknai’s an accident. Zahau’s family suspects foul play, and hired Bremner to push for a reopening of the probe, including petitioning the state’s attorney general to investigate. This week, Bremner said, “We have not made our submission to the AG as yet. We will be requesting an independent investigation.”
Extensive media exposure—one of Bremner’s specialties—has put the sheriff’s case before the court of public opinion. Most recently, forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht said on the Nov. 15 Dr. Phil show that a second autopsy revealed unexplained bruises on Zahau’s head. He also questioned the elaborate self-binding of Zahau’s hands and feet.
It is an unusual case without perfect answers, but Bremner has so far been unable to persuade the sheriff to take another look. And he apparently wasn’t moved by the TV theatrics: Gore called Dr. Phil’s evidence sensational and short on facts.
He is sticking to his investigators’ conclusions that Zahau, despondent over the 6-year-old’s death, impulsively took her own life—wrapping a red hangman’s noose around her neck, tying her limbs, tightening the last bit of rope with a cinch string, then propelling herself over the balcony, likely banging her head on it in the process.
Zahau’s fingerprints were found on a knife used to cut the death rope—on which her DNA was also found. “Science is our best witness in this case,” Gore told reporters. “It is not biased and it doesn’t lie.”